[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[May 31, 1995]
[Pages 777-783]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Community in Billings
May 31, 1995

    Thank you very much. Thank you for that wonderful, wonderful 
welcome. It is great to be back in Montana and great to have that kind 
of reception. I know it's hot, and I was thinking you might just feel 
the need to stand up and down now and then to keep cool. [Laughter]
    I want to thank the Billings High School Band. Didn't they do a good 
job on ``Hail to the Chief ''? Thank you, Chancellor Sexton, for making 
me feel at home. Thank you, Governor Racicot, for coming out here and 
meeting me at the airport and coming over to be with us here. You know, 
I was a Governor for 12 years, and I served with 150 other Governors. 
Most of my friends in Arkansas thought that I just couldn't get another 
job. [Laughter] But in a lot of ways, it was the best job I ever had. At 
least you could know people, and they knew you, and--because I come from 
a State that's a little bigger than Montana but not much, more populous 
but smaller. And I always loved being Governor. Three people I served 
with are also here today, and I'd like to introduce them: the Governor 
of Colorado, Roy Romer; the former Governor of Wyoming, Mike Sullivan; 
and your former Governor, Ted Schwinden. They're all over here with me. 
I hate to tell Governor Racicot this, but when we started, Governor 
Romer and Governor Schwinden and I didn't have any gray hair, and 
Governor Sullivan had lots of hair. [Laughter]
    Congressman Williams, thank you for your wonderful introduction and 
for your incredible enthusiasm and for occasionally playing golf with 
me. [Laughter] I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation to 
Senator Baucus, who is not here but who has given me a lot of good 
advice over time, and I've been better off when I've taken it than when 
I've ignored it. [Laughter]
    I also want to tell you, I'm glad to be here at this campus. You 
know, the last time I was here, I appeared at the other college, so this 
is sort of equal time. And I thank you for giving me a chance to give 
you equal time.
    I feel very much at home here. I was saying before, before I became 
President, for 12 years I was Governor of Arkansas. And I knew every-

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body and everybody knew me, and they called me by my first name. And 
even my enemies smiled when they saw me. And if people were mad at me, 
they told me to my face, but they didn't have to hear it indirectly from 
somebody else; we all really knew what was going on.
    And one of the most frustrating things about being President is, 
with 260 million people in this country and so many intermediaries 
between you and the White House and the people out where they live, it's 
hard to know sometimes--I mean, look, half the time when I see the 
evening news, I wouldn't be for me, either. [Laughter] So I'm glad to be 
back at a place where we can be directly involved and know the truth, 
    I'd also like to thank my friends from the American Indian tribes 
from Montana for coming today. Thank you very much. I'm glad to see you.
    I see another person from Montana back in Washington from time to 
time that some of you know and all of you must admire very greatly, 
Senator Mike Mansfield. You know, he's 90-some-odd now, and he still 
gets out and walks every day, and he's still just as blunt and 
straightforward as he ever was. About a year and a half ago, we had a 
ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House, naming former Vice 
President Mondale to be the Ambassador to Japan. And Mike Mansfield 
showed up because they had served together in the Senate. I saw him back 
there, and I thought, well, I'll just mention that Mike's here, and he's 
probably gone out and had his walk for the day, and he'll like that. So 
I said, ``And I see Senator and former Ambassador to Japan Mike 
Mansfield in the back, and I'll bet he's already walked his 5 miles 
today,'' And there was total quiet before they started applauding, and 
he said, ``Seven.'' [Laughter]
    When I was a young man in college in Washington, I worked for my 
Senator, Senator Fulbright, who served with Mike Mansfield and who just 
died at the age of 90, just before his 90th birthday. And when I showed 
up in Washington, he was 87. And the day before he had lunch with me, 
he'd had lunch with Mike Mansfield. And Mike Mansfield said, ``Now, 
Bill, how old are you again?'' And he said, ``I'm 87.'' And Senator 
Mansfield said, ``Oh, to be 87 again.'' [Laughter] I say that to tell 
you he's still in real good shape, and you can still be very proud of 
    Ted Schwinden and I were laughing as I was coming in here today. Ten 
years ago this summer, my family and I came here to Montana and spent 
the night in the Governor's Mansion and got up the next morning about 
4:30 and piled into a helicopter to explore the wildlife of the Missouri 
River area where you have the wildlife refuge. Then we got on a rail 
line and went from Cutback all the way to Whitefish, except we weren't 
in a railcar, we were in one of those Blazers that has the attachments 
to the rails. Now, I thought I had been in remote circumstances and 
rough conditions--[laughter]--but we went over a gorge that was about 
300 feet high in a Blazer on a narrow set of railroad tracks, and I 
wasn't nearly as courageous as I thought I was. But I still remember how 
beautiful it was all the way down in that gorge and how well I could see 
it. We went to Glacier National Park. We stayed on a little lake in a 
lodge I think that's now closed. It was one of the great experiences 
that our family has had together, ever, in our whole life, and I'm 
always grateful for that.
    Tomorrow I'm going to have a townhall meeting here, and we're going 
to bring in all kinds of people with things they want to say about what 
they think the National Government should be doing. And a bunch of them 
are going to say things they think we ought to stop doing. And I'm just 
going to listen and then try to respond.
    Tonight what I'd like to do is to tell you a little bit about why I 
ran for President and what I've tried to do, where we are now, and some 
things that are going on in Washington that I think very much affect you 
and your future. And I want you to think about it and then just tell 
your elected representatives what you think about it. I wish it were 
possible for this kind of atmosphere to be recreated all across America 
and for people to see and feel the kind of informal communication and 
openness that I feel here.
    I ran for this job because, frankly, I was worried about the 
direction of our country. And in 1992, we were in a recession. We'd had 
the lowest job growth rate since the Depression. We'd had almost 15 
years then--actually more--of stagnant incomes for most Americans. I can 
now tell you that for the last 15 years, 60 percent of the American 
people are working longer every week for the same or lower incomes they 
were making 15 years ago. And we kept piling

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up a big national debt and at the same time reducing our investments in 
the things that make us richer and stronger, like education and 
technology and things that grow the economy and finding a way to 
preserve the environment and still permit economic opportunity to 
    And I went to Washington with some pretty simple goals. I wanted to 
get our economic house in order so we could grow the middle class and 
shrink the under class. I wanted to see us face problems that had been 
long ignored, like the deficit problem and the crime problem in many of 
our high crime areas. I wanted to find a way to promote environmental 
protection and economic growth. I wanted to give the American people a 
system of education and human investment that would permit people to 
make the most of their own lives, whether they were moving from welfare 
to work or we were just giving everybody a better chance to go on to 
college or providing apprenticeship programs for young people who didn't 
go to 4-year schools but did want to have good jobs. And I wanted to 
shrink and reorganize the Federal Government so we could give more 
decisions back to State and local governments and private citizens but 
so that we could do what we have to do in Washington well and give you 
greater confidence in doing it. That's why I went there.
    In the last 2 years, we have made, I think, some remarkable progress 
in changing the circumstances in Washington, less progress in changing 
the circumstances in people's lives in America because when a country 
gets going in one direction for 10 or 20 years, it's hard to turn it on 
a dime. But let me just give you a little bit of a progress report.
    To use the 7-year figure now favored by the Republican majority in 
Congress, the budgets we adopted in 1993 and '94 reduced the deficit by 
$1 trillion over 7 years, 3 years in a row, for the first time since 
Harry Truman was President. So much so--I want you to understand, we've 
still got a big deficit problem, but the Federal budget would be in 
balance today--today--but for the interest we have to pay on the debt 
that was run up in the 12 years before I moved to Washington. So we've 
made a good beginning on the deficit.
    We expanded trade in ways that really help agriculture, and we 
fought for fair trade. We've been able to sell things from the West that 
I never thought we'd sell in Japan, like apples and other kinds of 
fruit. We got a deal with Canada on wheat at least for a year and set up 
a joint commission to try to get wheat farmers here in the northern part 
of our country a fair deal in growing and selling their wheat. We have 
taken some very strong action, as you know, in Japan with regard to 
their trade practices on automobiles and auto parts. But we've also been 
able to sign over 80 trade agreements with various countries, including 
Japan, in the last 2 years. And as a result of that, the economy is 
    We've had over 6.3 million new jobs. The unemployment rate in 
virtually every State in the country is substantially lower than it was 
2 years ago. And we're in the second year in a row when the economies of 
all 50 States are growing. It's been a long time since that happened, 
and I'm proud of that.
    We were also able to cut Federal programs, many of them, eliminate a 
lot of them, and focus more money on things that I thought would matter. 
We increased funding for Head Start. We increased funding to make sure 
everybody could get immunized, all parents could immunize their children 
under the age of 2 by the year 2000. We put more money into child 
nutrition, and we put lots more money into various education programs, 
especially programs to increase access to higher education.
    We reformed the student loan program to lower the cost of student 
loans, make the repayment easier, but collect more of the loans. It's an 
unbelievable story, what has been done there. It may not be popular to 
say at a student audience, but I went through college and law school on 
student loans, and it really burned me up that we were spending nearly 
$3 billion a year of taxpayers' money covering for the loans of people 
who took out student loans and wouldn't repay them. I don't think that's 
right. And we cut that by two-thirds in 2 years. So we had more 
investment in education but also more accountability. We made progress 
    We shrunk the size of the Government. Forget about the budget that's 
being debated in Washington now. If not one more thing were done, the 
size of the Federal Government would shrink by 270,000 people over 5 
years, to its smallest size since John Kennedy came here to Billings, 
Montana, in 1963--if nothing else were done.

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    We also did something I'm very proud of, and there's some people in 
the audience that are the beneficiaries of it. We created a national 
service program to promote community service and give people education 
credits. If they would work in their community, they could earn money to 
go to college. And I know we've got some national service people from 
Montana here, and I thank you for your service. Up there they are.
    There were a lot of difficult and controversial issues that the 
Congress had to face in the last session. One of them was the crime 
bill, which split the country over the issue of gun control, I think 
largely because of the rhetoric as opposed to the reality. I supported 
and signed the crime bill that put another 100,000 police out in our 
country. It put police, I think, in some 40 communities here in 
Montana--already have received funds to hire more police officers here--
perhaps more. It increased the application of capital punishment to 
about 60 new offenses. It provided for more funds for States that have 
to build prisons. It provided some funds for prevention programs to give 
young people in trouble something to say yes to as well as something to 
say no to. You know, if every kid in the inner cities in this country 
belonged to the 4-H, we wouldn't have much of a crime problem, but they 
don't have that option here, and a lot of you know that.
    And it had the infamous assault weapons ban, which some people I 
hear have characterized as ``my war on guns.'' Now, I want to say 
something about that. Senator Howell Heflin from Alabama, a great friend 
of mine, 73 years old, got up in the Senate, and he gave--this is almost 
verbatim, the brief speech he gave on this. He said, ``I have never been 
for gun control, but,'' he said, ``I read this list of 19 assault 
weapons, and,'' he said, ``I have never seen an Alabama hunter with one 
of these guns.'' [Laughter] He said, ``But I read the other list in this 
bill everybody talks about. There are 650 weapons in this bill that now 
can't be regulated by the Government, that are protected from Government 
regulation, and every weapon I have ever seen in the hands of an Alabama 
hunter is on that list. So I'm going to vote for this, because I think 
the bill does more good than harm.''
    Now, I say that to make this point. Whether you're for or against 
that, we have made a big mistake in this country, with all the tough 
issues we've got, to let an issue like that become more symbol than 
substance. So we've got a tough problem in a lot of cities in this 
country. I've gone to hospitals and met with emergency room personnel 
who tell me that in some of our urban areas, the mortality rate from 
gunshot wounds is 3 times as high today as it was 15 years ago because 
people are more likely to have more bullets in their bodies when they're 
hauled in.
    Now, that may be very foreign to you here. But the Congress and the 
President sometimes have to make legislation that applies to the whole 
country and that deals with the problems of America, and we try to do it 
in the fairest way we can. That doesn't say that we never make a 
mistake. I think we did the right thing there, because I got tired of 
hearing police officers tell me that they were scared to put on their 
badge and go outside and go to work every day. And I got tired of 
reading about little kids who were honor students in their inner-city 
schools being shot at bus stops because they got caught in crossfires. 
And I decided that we should take a chance to try to make a difference. 
This is a terrible, terrible problem. I say that to make this point in 
general--[applause]--thank you.
    I say that what we need in this country desperately today is more 
meetings like this. And I wish we could stay all night, and you could 
just ask questions, and I'd answer them, and I'd ask you questions, 
you'd answer them. That's what I'm going to try to do tomorrow night. 
I'm going to go out tomorrow and meet with some farmers, and we're going 
to do that and talk about the farm bill, because I think that's a big 
part of it.
    But we have got to stop looking for simple answers to complicated 
problems, and we have got to stop demonizing each other as Americans. 
And just let me give you an example. Let's look at what we're facing 
now; all these things affect you. Should we--let's just look at all the 
issues we're facing.
    We've got to pass a budget now, and we have to continue to bring the 
deficit down, and we ought to be able to tell you that we're going to 
balance the budget. That's true. Why? Because in a global economy, if 
you run a big debt all the time and you have to keep borrowing money 
from other people, they have too much control over your economic well-
being, and because if you have to keep spending tax money paying off 
yesterday's deficit and today's

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deficit, you don't have the money you need to invest in education. And 
sooner or later, all the money you take in in taxes, you're paying out 
in interest. So that's a good thing to do. But the reason it is a good 
thing to do is, it will contribute to raising the living standards and 
increasing the security of the people of our country. Therefore, it 
ought to be done in a way that raises the living standards and increases 
the security of the people of our country, which is why I say we should 
not cut education to do it, we should find a way to do it and increase 
our investment in education.
    We all know that we have to slow the rate of growth of the 
Government's medical programs, Medicare and Medicaid. They've been 
growing at about 9, 10 percent a year, when inflation's about 3 percent 
a year and health care inflation generally was 4.5 percent last year. We 
know we've got to slow the rate of growth of that. But we don't want to 
do it in a way that closes a bunch of rural hospitals that are the only 
access to health care people in places like rural Arkansas and rural 
Montana have. Does that mean we can walk away from the problem? No, it 
just means we need to have our head on straight when we're dealing with 
it. We need to do what's practical and understand how it will work.
    We all know that the Government can overreach in its regulatory 
authority. Does that mean there should be no national standards on clean 
water or clean air or safe drinking water, after what happened to those 
poor folks in Milwaukee? I don't think so. So we've got to find a way to 
make the bureaucracy more flexible.
    The Environmental Protection Agency, under our administration, is 
going to cut paperwork burdens by 25 percent in one year next year. The 
Occupational Safety and Health Administration is going to dramatically 
slash regulations on businesses that will work with them to be in 
compliance with safety rules. The Small Business Administration has cut 
their budget and increased their loan volume by 40 percent. There is a 
right way and a wrong way to do this. And the only way we can do it in 
the right way is if we stop looking for simple answers to complicated 
problems and talk common sense to one another, if we stop treating each 
other like enemies and start treating each other like we're all friends, 
we're all Americans, we're all part of a big American family.
    I believe that if we'll keep our eye on the prize--what is the 
prize? We have to increase the incomes and the security of the American 
people. We have to protect what is good about our country and what works 
and change what doesn't and get ourselves into the next century with the 
American dream alive and well for our children.
    I'll just give you one last example: You look at this farm bill. 
Most Democrats and Republicans in the Congress are from urban or 
suburban areas. Most of them want to do the right thing. Most of them 
think we spend too much money on farm programs. Well, the farmers in the 
audience know we have already substantially cut farm subsidies in the 
last 5 or 6 years, substantially. I've fought like crazy to get the 
Europeans to make a deal on agriculture so we could cut agricultural 
subsidies some more. I don't know a farmer in my home State that 
wouldn't give up every lick of Government support if every other country 
would give up all theirs and we just had a fair chance to compete in a 
global marketplace.
    So, do we need to deal with this agricultural issue? Yes, we do. But 
if you just blow off all these supports and everybody else keeps doing 
it, what's going to happen? One of two things: We either lose markets, 
or we'll lose all the family farmers, and big corporations will be 
running all the farms in the country, or a little bit of both.
    So let's do this in a sensible way, and let's listen to one another. 
You'd be amazed how many of these hot-button issues we have in 
Washington are basically more rural-urban issues, more regional issues 
than they are partisan issues. And I'm telling you, a lot of these 
things have a commonsense, sensible resolution if we will simply work on 
    Now, this is a great country. And if you look at where we are, going 
into the next century, I'm telling you, I have had the privilege of 
representing you all over the world. And no American who understood the 
facts of the 21st century would trade places with anybody in any other 
country, because of what we have here.
    But what we have to realize is, the thing that gives us all this 
juice for this global economy in this information age--where people in 
Montana can hook in on the Internet and find out things that are in a 
library in Australia and do all kinds of things that I can't even figure 
out how to do but my child, because she grew

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up in the computer age, understands--the reason we are in this kind of 
position is because of everything we have in this country, because of 
the natural resources and the phenomenal beauty and the massive space, 
because of the ethnic diversity, because of the strength in the cities 
as well as in the rural areas, because of all these entrepreneurs, these 
high-tech people, in these burgeoning suburban areas. But the thing that 
makes it work is that we've got all this stuff in one place, one 
country, but we are all so different.
    So we have to have some common values, some common allegiance to the 
law of the land, and some way of working out our differences. But 
instead of thinking our differences ought to make us put our head in the 
hole and try to tell everybody else to go home and leave us alone, or 
just vote against anybody that we think disagrees with us or comes from 
some different place, we should learn to resolve these differences in a 
humane and decent way, because it is the differences in America that are 
our meal ticket as a whole country to the 21st century and the American 
    I'll tell you something: One of the reasons I wanted to come here to 
have this townhall meeting, apart from the fact that I have such 
wonderful memories about this State and I'm grateful to you for voting 
for me last time, but the other reason is that out here in Billings, 
Montana, a while back when a group of skinheads threw a bottle and a 
brick into homes of two Jewish families displaying menorahs, you didn't 
throw up your hands and sit around and just take sides. You said that 
this was a community issue. Your police chief--your former police 
chief--said hate crimes are not a police problem, they're a community 
problem. And I guess that's what I want to tell you about the political 
divisions in this country today. They're not just a political problem, 
they're a community problem.
    The publisher of the Billings Gazette, Wayne Shile, published a 
full-page drawing of a menorah. And I want to tell you something: In the 
orthodox Jewish communities in New York City, they knew about Billings, 
Montana, and they felt more like Americans because you did that. Ten 
thousand families pasted these drawings in their windows. That's what we 
need to do in other areas as well.
    I spoke at the Air Force Academy commencement today down in Colorado 
Springs. There were 11 foreign students graduating from the Air Force 
Academy. All of our service academies take a limited number of students 
every year from other countries. And it's a great thing for our country. 
They go back home; they do very well; it builds a lot of good will. The 
number one student this year was from Singapore. And when he stood up to 
be recognized, all those red-blooded American kids that he scored higher 
than clapped for him and were proud of him. That is the American way. 
They did not feel threatened by that.
    I stood there and shook hands with nearly a thousand of those 
graduates, the finest looking young men and women you can possibly 
imagine, from every State in this country, from all kind of backgrounds, 
all different racial and ethnic groups. They were all Americans. And 
they learned to live with each other and to work out their differences 
    And I'm telling you, if I could wave a magic wand and do one thing 
for this country, just one thing--it would be more important than who 
the President is, how the Congress votes on a particular bill--it would 
be to try to get us out of this way we are communicating with one 
another so that every time we have a difference, we turn it into a wedge 
and a divide and we try to beat each other to death with it. That's not 
right. It's not the American way.
    Look, we got a lot of complicated problems. And we are a very 
different, divergent country. But it's our meal ticket to the future. 
It's what makes us the most relevant place in the world in the 21st 
    Why do all these people want to come here? Why do they ask us for 
help everywhere? Because they think, with all of our problems, we've got 
our act together. And we ought to have it together.
    So I say to you, my fellow Americans, whatever your party, whatever 
your views on any particular issue, this country is slowly turning, and 
we are moving toward the 21st century. And what we don't want to do is 
take a position on a complicated issue that starts throwing the babies 
out with the bath water.
    What makes us great is our people, our land, our vision, our system 
of opportunity. And we have the opportunity now to tackle some long-
delayed problems, like the budget deficit, and some long-ignored needs, 
like competing with other countries in our investment deficit so that we 
invest in our people's education; we invest

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in the technology and the research and the things that will generate 
high-wage jobs; so that we show prudence in the budget, but we still 
figure out how we're going to keep a viable agricultural sector, for 
example, into the 21st century; and so that we face up to the fact that 
a whole lot of people's anxieties are because of all these changes that 
we haven't adjusted to. We can't keep the American dream alive if 15 
years from now 60 percent of the people are still working harder for 
less money.
    So let's talk about what's really eating us. Let's deal with each 
other as neighbors. And let's make ourselves a promise that as we go 
through these next 6 or 7 months, that we won't take the easy way out. 
We will bring the budget into balance, while investing in our future. We 
will make the Government less bureaucratic, but we will protect our 
environment. We will find a way to give local control to people, but we 
will still do the right thing.
    When it's all said and done, we'll still have heated disagreements--
nobody will know if they're right, and nobody will be right about 
everything--but at least we can recreate a process, an environment, a 
spirit of community that will permit us to go on. We cannot get from 
here to where we need to go if everything we do is dictated by the most 
emotional, highly charged 15-second sound bites we can think of to send 
our opponents up the flagpole. We cannot get there.
    And let me just close with a story, a true story, that will show you 
my bias in all this. In 1989 I was the Governor, and I was trying to 
decide whether I should run for a fifth term. And everybody in my State 
believed in term limits, but they sort of liked me. And they couldn't 
figure out what to do about it, and neither could I, frankly, because I 
had this big education program I wanted to get through the legislature 
before I left office.
    And I went out to the State fair one day, and I visited all the, you 
know, the livestock barns and saw all that, and then I came into this 
hall where I always had a Governor's Day every day. And anybody in the 
State could come up and talk to me and say whatever they wanted, which 
was hazardous sometimes for me. [Laughter]
    And along toward the end of the day, this old boy came in in 
overalls. He was somewhere in his mid-seventies. And he put his hands in 
his overalls, and he said, ``Bill, you going to run again?'' I said, ``I 
don't know. If I do, will you vote for me?'' He said, ``Yeah, I guess 
so. I always have.'' And I said, well--I'd been Governor 10 years by 
then--I said, ``Aren't you sick of me after all this time?'' He said, 
``No, but everybody else I know is.'' [Laughter] He said, ``I'm going to 
vote for you because of the way you nag us all the time. All you talk 
about is education and the economy and forcing everybody to work 
together and making things better.'' And he said, ``You're just a nag.'' 
But he said, ``Frankly, I think it's finally beginning to work.'' And my 
State had an unemployment rate above the national average in every year 
I was Governor until the year I ran for President, when we led the 
country in job growth.
    It takes a long time to turn and to face things. But this country is 
still around here after 200 years because we found a way to disagree in 
a way that permitted us to work together and move forward. And we can 
win the struggle for the American dream in the 21st century if we will 
find that way now.
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 7 p.m. in the Alterowitz Gymnasium. In his 
remarks, he referred to Ronald Sexton, chancellor, Montana State 
University, Billings.