[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 25, 1997]
[Pages 1430-1432]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the National Italian-American Foundation
October 25, 1997

    Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the warm welcome. Thank you for 
singing ``Happy Birthday'' to Hillary. I think the reason she--
[applause]--I think the reason she wanted to come here is she wanted to 
make sure she got an Italian birthday cake, and she did. [Laughter]
    Thank you, Frank Guarini, for your warm words and your friendship 
and for your service on behalf of our country at the United Nations. 
Thank you, Frank Stella, and I'm glad to see all the Members of Congress 
here. We have some members of the administration here. We have Jack 
Valenti here, who lets me watch movies at the White House. [Laughter] 
The best perk of being President is the movie theater, plus knowing Jack 
Valenti. [Laughter]
    I'm also very glad that the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Walter 
Veltroni, is here, and I thank him for his leadership. You know, I've 
been spoiled coming to these dinners. A couple of years ago I came and 
Danny DeVito was here, and he jumped in my lap. [Laughter] I was afraid 
Al Pacino would jump in my lap tonight--[laughter]--but I had other 
    I want to thank you for the people you're honoring tonight for their 
service and for their representation of the values of the National 
American-Italian Foundation. Especially, I want to thank you for 
honoring my friend Leon Panetta. You heard Frank Guarini mention some, 
but I must say not all, of the Italian-Americans who have prominent 
positions in our administration. I'm sad to tell you that the complaint 
has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming 
that I have overrepresented Italians in my administration--[laughter]--
and I plead guilty.
     I can't say enough about Leon Panetta. We went to Rome together, 
and I spoke, and Leon translated my speech. Most people thought he

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was giving the speech. [Laughter] I felt like that old joke about the 
Pope, you know, everybody said, ``Who is that guy up there with Leon 
Panetta?'' [Laughter] I miss him and Sylvia terribly, but I know they're 
having a good time in California. And I can tell you that if this 
country had a few more citizens like him, we would have a lot fewer 
problems, and I'm glad you're honoring him tonight. I would also like to 
congratulate and thank Congressman Tom Foglietta for his service, about-
to-be service as our new Ambassador to Italy.
    Ladies and gentlemen, this is a night of joy and a night for the 
honorees, and I don't want to take a lot of your time. But I would like 
to say that, in a very real sense, what I have tried to do as President 
is to pursue a course that would reflect the values that are held so 
deeply by Italian-American families who have come to our shores and who 
have enjoyed such great success.
    When I came here, I thought that Washington was, frankly, too 
divided, not just politically between Democrats and Republicans but 
almost intellectually divided. Everything was either/or. Should the 
Government do everything, or should it do nothing? The answer is, it 
should do neither. It should focus on giving people the tools to succeed 
and helping other people to climb the ladder that so many of you have 
    With so many people having to work and having children, should they 
have to choose? Of course not. Sometimes I still believe that our 
greatest challenge is to enable Americans to succeed at work and at home 
at their most important job, raising their children. Should we be able 
to grow our economy and preserve our natural heritage? I think we 
should. I think that is a false choice.
    So I ask you all, whether you're Republicans or Democrats or 
wherever you are on the political spectrum, to always, always say that 
the United States should pursue a course that is consistent with our 
values and not be fooled into thinking that we have to sacrifice things 
that are fundamental to move ahead. The truth is, when we find a way to 
move ahead consistent with our values, we do better more quickly.
    I'm very grateful for the success that the United States is enjoying 
today, and I'm grateful for the role that Italian-Americans have played 
in it, and I hope we can continue to do more.
    Finally, let me say I'm very grateful to this organization for the 
support you've given to our administration in this great national 
conversation we're having about our racial and ethnic diversity. It's 
going to be quite a challenge, you know: sometime in the next century 
the United States will have no single majority ethnic group, even 
Americans of European origin. I know you hate being lumped with we Irish 
and the Germans and all the rest of us--[laughter]--but even the 
Europeans won't be a majority in America anymore.
    And somehow, we have to find a way to celebrate our differences, 
just as you come here to celebrate your heritage, and still be bound 
together by fundamental values that are more important, into one 
America. If we do that--and I believe we will--it will be in no small 
measure because of the accomplishments, the achievements, the attitudes 
of people like you, people who are proud to have succeeded and want 
other people to have the same chance.
    Sometimes, I think late at night about if I could say in one 
sentence what it is that I want, I'd like for every single child in this 
country to have that chance at the brass ring. And so many of you have 
enjoyed it; so many of you have been helped by your parents to do so. I 
hope that when we're done here--it won't be much longer, just a little 
over 3 years--virtually every child will be able to feel that he or she 
has that chance. If so, we will have fulfilled the mission that so many 
of you have been on.
    So, once again, my congratulations to all the honorees. I thank you 
for giving Leon a chance to come back to Washington. He tries to stay 
away from here as much as he can now. [Laughter] I thank you for 
bringing all these wonderful Italian-American artists here so that I can 
see people I usually only watch on the screen or listen to with my CD's. 
But most of all, I thank you for all you've done to make America a much, 
much greater country than it would have been without you.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 8:35 p.m. in the International Ballroom at 
the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Frank J. 
Guarini, vice chairman, and Frank D. Stella, chairman, National Italian-
American Foundation;

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Jack Valenti, president, Motion Picture Association of America; actors 
Danny DeVito and Al Pacino; and former Chief of Staff to the President 
Leon Panetta and his wife, Sylvia.