[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 31, 1997]
[Pages 1465-1469]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Democratic National 
Committee Luncheon in Palm Beach, Florida
October 31, 1997

    The President. Harriet got on a roll; I didn't want her to stop. 
What did you say? No, I was just thinking Harriet was on a roll. I 
didn't want to stop her.
    Thank you, and thank you, Jerome. We are old friends. And I want to 
thank Sidney and Dorothy for having me back in their wonderful home. I 
was here a little over 5 years ago. They look much younger even than 
they did then, and I have all this gray hair to show for the last 5 
years, but I've enjoyed it immensely.
    You mentioned the St. Mary's Hospital Board, and for those of you 
who don't know, that was the hospital that took care of me when I tore 
my leg off by falling 8 inches here a few months ago. I visited the 
little school in Jupiter that I was supposed to visit that day when I 
couldn't go. And I'm delighted to be back here.
    We're in Florida, among other things, pushing the fast-track 
legislation. There's going to be a vote in Congress next week. And 
Secretary Daley, the Secretary of Commerce, and my Special Counselor, 
Doug Sosnik, who has a wife from Argentina, the three of us just got 
back from Latin America. And I came back even more convinced than ever 
that it's the right thing to do for our country.
    Let me just be very brief. What I'd like to do is to talk a minute 
or two, and then if you have a couple of questions, maybe I could hear 
from you. That would help save my voice, and it will be more interesting 
for you.
    We learned today that growth in the last quarter--this quarter--is 
3.5 percent, and growth has averaged almost 4 percent over the last 
year, the highest in more than a decade. I think that has come about 
because we both broke political gridlock in Washington in 1993 with the 
economic plan and in 1997 with the Balanced Budget Act and because, 
perhaps even more important, we broke an intellectual gridlock.
    Harriet mentioned that she knew me a long time before I became 
President. Most Americans didn't. And one of the things that never 
ceases to amaze me is when I read things written about our policies and 
they say, ``Well, he's adopted this Republican policy and that 
Democratic policy and just making it up as he goes along.'' I was 
reading the other day--last night, getting ready to come down here, an 
article I wrote in 1988 that basically sounds like the speeches I'm 
giving today. But if you're a Governor out in the hinterland, you don't 
exist for people that interpret you to America until you move to 
Washington. So I thank Jerome and Harriet for being my old friends.
    But what I wanted to do when I came to Washington 6 years ago was to 
get people to stop thinking in these sort of outdated left-right terms 
and start thinking instead about what we were trying to do, what is the 
mission of America. And if you think about it in that term, it helps you 
to pick the proper course.
    With our economic policy, it seemed to me there was a huge fight 
between whether we should run a huge deficit and cut taxes or whether we 
should run a slightly smaller deficit and spend more money. And I 
thought both of those were wrong for the modern economy. And people 
laughed at me when I went to Washington and said, ``Here's what we're 
going to do. We're going to reduce the deficit, balance the budget, and 
spend more money on education and the health care of our children and 
empowering our poorest communities.'' And they said, ``Yeah, and the $3 
bill is coming back.'' But that's what we've done, and it worked.
    On crime, it seemed to me we were having a phony debate in 
Washington about whether we needed to talk tougher and have harsher 
sentences or do more to help prevent crime in the first place. The 
sensible thing to do is to sentence more harshly people who should

[[Page 1466]]

be, and prevent everybody you can from committing crimes, and also work 
on the environment. That's what the Brady bill, the assault weapons ban, 
100,000 more police on the street were about. And we've contributed to a 
dramatic decline in crime in the last 5 years.
    On welfare, the debate was, ``It's an unfortunate system, but don't 
you have to take care of these children?'' or ``These people don't 
really want to work, so you have to make them work''--sort of polarizing 
debate. My experience as a Governor was that nearly every person I ever 
met on welfare was dying to go to work; that the system penalized them 
because they generally didn't have the education and skills they needed, 
on the one hand, or on the other, if they took a job that was a minimum 
wage job, they lost Medicaid health coverage for their kids, and they 
didn't have the money to pay for child support.
    So we said, ``Let's be tough on work, require people that can work 
to work, but take care of their children, because everyone's most 
important job is taking care of their kids.'' We've had over 3 million 
people drop off the welfare rolls, the biggest decline in history, the 
smallest percentage of Americans on welfare since 1970, after 20 years 
of high levels of immigration.
    I guess what I'm saying is, what I think works is saying: The 
Government can't sit on the sidelines. The Government can't be a savior. 
The Government's job is to create the conditions and give people the 
tools to make the most of their own lives and to build good communities 
and families.
    And I believe we're much closer than we were 5 years ago to my dream 
of the 21st century America where there's opportunity for everybody 
responsible enough to work for it, where we're still leading the world 
for peace and freedom, and where the country is managing its diversity, 
even celebrating it, but coming across all those lines into one America. 
And for all of you who have helped me to do that, I'm very grateful.
    Now, we still have some challenges. One of them is this fast track 
bill. A third of our growth in the last 5 years has come from trade. 
This bill gives me the power to negotiate trade agreements. If the 
Congress doesn't like them, they can vote them down. It has all been 
caught up in, I think, worries of uncertainty and instability among 
certain workers, because not everybody wins when there's more trade, 
although most job loss in America, 80 percent, is due to technology.
    So what should we do? We ought to provide more education and better 
transition for people who lose their jobs through trade or technological 
changes, not walk away from trade. These jobs pay more, on average. And 
we have no choice. Latin America is going to grow, on average, 3 times 
the rate of America. We're 4 percent of the world's people. We've got 20 
percent of the world's income. If we want to keep it, we better sell 
more to the other 96 percent. So the fast-track debate is a big debate.
    We had a big meeting with China this week; the President of China 
was here. We have severe disagreements over human rights, political 
rights, religious rights. But the best way to advance those issues, in 
my view, is to work with China and try to make a partner out of China in 
the 21st century, not create a new cold war with a different country on 
the other side. If it comes out that way, it ought not be our fault. We 
ought to have the sure knowledge, if there is a polarizing situation in 
the 21st century, that it's not our fault--that we did everything we 
could to create a responsible, international system of free trade, 
peace, common efforts against terrorism, weapons proliferation, shared 
environmental and disease problems, and respect for democracy and human 
rights. So I think we're doing the right thing.
    We've got a number of other challenges. I'm in a big debate with the 
Congress--in some ways, the most fateful one--over whether the United 
States should have national academic standards in the basics in schools 
and an exam--voluntary--to see if our children are meeting those 
standards. And I suggested we start with a reading test in the fourth 
grade and a math test in the eighth grade--just had another study this 
week that said that kids who take algebra in the eighth grade are far 
more likely to stay in school and far more likely to go to college and 
far more likely to do well in college. We're the only major country 
without any kind of national academic standards, and I think it's crazy 
not to do it. I'm still fighting that out.
    We were thwarted this year in our efforts to pass campaign reform, 
but I think we've got a good chance to pass it next year. And I might 
say, I appreciate the fact that all of you who are here at this event 
are giving us what in the current jargon is called ``hard money'' and 
what also will be provided for under the new

[[Page 1467]]

campaign finance reform law. We need to change the finance system.
    But I would also point out--those of you politically active a long 
time know this--the money has not driven the cost up, the costs have 
driven the money up. It's like every other endeavor in human life: The 
cost of communicating with voters has exploded exponentially. So if we 
really want to get a handle on this problem, we also have to say, ``If 
you observe the campaign finance limits, you should get free or reduced 
air time and access to voters.'' If we do that, we can also change the 
nature of debates and elections.
    You look at a British election, for example, where each party gets a 
certain amount of time in different time blocks, and where people have 
reasoned debates, and they're much more like the Presidential debates 
are here, and almost nothing else is like that. And I'm convinced if we 
have free and reduced air time, more citizen participation like the 
debates we did in '92 and '96, that our campaign insisted on to bring 
real people into the debates, the voting record of the country would go 
way up.
    Well, anyway, these are just a few of the things I wanted to talk 
about. The last thing I wanted to say is, in the '98 elections going 
forward, people will not be able to paint this sort of gnarled, twisted 
picture of Democrats anymore. You can't say we're weak on foreign policy 
and national defense. You can't say we can't be trusted to manage the 
economy. You can't say we're spending the country blind. You can't say 
we're against responsible tax cuts or that we're not strong for welfare 
reform or sensible criminal justice policies.
    If you look ahead to the future, the major issues that will affect 
the lives of ordinary Americans--education, the environment, health 
care, the overall strength of the country--these are issues that our 
party, with its new direction, is strong on. And you are helping to 
contribute to that, and in doing it, I think you'll help make America a 
better place.
    Thank you.
    I've got time for one or two questions if anybody wants to ask a 


    Q. It's really not a question. It's just sort of a comment and sort 
of a personal anecdote--when people have talked about the public schools 
and a lot of criticism about it. My daughter is in seventh grade at the 
School of the Arts here, and recently was sick--in St. Mary's Hospital, 
actually--missed 3 weeks of school. And in the public schools where I 
would expect very little to happen, every one of her teachers called her 
to find out how she was. Her principal sent her balloons to cheer her 
up--[inaudible]--been involved in the School of the Arts and I guess the 
foundation quite a bit.
    There are some really good stories, and it would be nice if they got 
out somehow. This is just one that I know personally. And I never would 
have dreamed--as my daughter had gone to private school up until this 
year--and for whatever it's worth, people ought to try to find out more 
success stories from the public schools.
    The President. Ninety percent of our children are in public schools. 
If most of them weren't doing a good job, they wouldn't be there. That's 
the first point. Second thing is--it's very important to make this point 
because I've been working at this now since, seriously, since 1979, and 
I think I've been in enough schools and looked at enough data and talked 
to enough people to know--the schools are better than they used to be, 
and they're getting better.
    The real problem is there are some that aren't good at all. And what 
do they need? You can do one of two things. You can say, ``Okay, well, 
we ought to just make it possible for people to abandon them.'' The 
problem is, only a portion of the people would abandon them and the 
people that are left will be even worse off, because they'll have less 
money and a lot of them are in financial trouble now. Or you can do what 
I think should be done: You have to have high standards; you have to 
have accountability; you have to have reform; and then you have to have 
adequate investment.
    Now, this school you mentioned--one of the things that I think every 
school district ought to do is, I think they ought to give the parents 
of the children a choice of the schools they attend within the 
districts, and I think every district--I hope some day before too long 
every district will have what educators call a charter school, which is 
a part of the public schools but it's created--for example, suppose 
there were no art school here--where teachers can get together and 
create a whole new school with a separate mission, with fewer rules and 
regulations, and it only stays in existence as long as the parents and 
the students are satisfied that

[[Page 1468]]

its's fulfilling its mission. There are now 700 of these schools. In our 
budget, we're going to create 3,000 more. Once you get enough of them to 
be in every district in the country, and if we can get more people to 
give choice to the parents within the school districts, you're going to 
see dramatic improvements.
    We need the national standards. We also need--I have been a very 
strong supporter of the national board for teacher certification to get 
board-certified teachers as master teachers, one in every school in the 
country. There are only about 1,000 now. Our budget contains funds to 
help train 100,000 in the next 4 years, and they are dramatically better 
trained than most people.
    So I'm with you. They're getting better. They can do a good job. 
Most of them are doing better than they used to.


    Q. What is your position on the joint venture between the Malaysian-
French oil group that is hoping to get financed by Goldman-Sachs to mine 
new oilfields in Iran and will increase Iran's economy by about $400 
billion over 20 years?
    The President. Well, you know what my position is: we don't like it. 
We're in an intense debate within the administration now about exactly 
what we ought to do about it. I just have a different view of--the 
United States generally has a different view than most of our allies. 
They all think we're all wet. But I just believe that we should not be 
conducting ordinary business with a country that funds, trains, and 
supports terrorists. I don't have the same opinion that--they can have a 
different religion than we do; they can have different politics; they 
can attack me on the evening news every night--whatever they want. But I 
don't think we should be doing business with a country that funds, 
trains, and supports terrorists. And I don't think we should be bashful 
about telling our friends that we think that's wrong. And if we're the 
only country in the world that thinks that, I think that's still what we 
ought to say.
    Now, what we have to decide is, within the parameters of the law 
which was passed--which I signed because I support that position--what 
the appropriate action is in this case. And frankly, I haven't gotten a 
recommendation from my administration yet, and I haven't had a lot of 
time to even talk to them about it because we've been so preoccupied 
with what's going on with our relationship with China in the last couple 
of weeks.
    But I keep hoping that Iran will take a different course. It's a 
very old culture. It's a very great country. There are still a lot of 
people there that were educated in our country. And the people voted in 
the last election, obviously, at least for a relaxation of their 
ordinary lives at home. And I would like it very much if they would take 
a different course. But until they do, I think we have to be quite firm, 
even if we're all by ourselves.

Child Care and Brain Development

    Q. [Inaudible]--programs. Recently it has come to our mind that at 
the University of Miami we conducted a study with rats, and it has to do 
with the warehousing of our children at day care centers. And the rats 
that were brought up in a nonstimulating environment versus the rats 
that were stimulated had a profound effect, once those brains of those 
rats were dissected. And it's something else now that the Life 
Foundation has become extremely interested in, because I'm a mother of 
six and grandmother of nine. This is the future. And these rats that 
were not stimulated became violent, did not live as long, and brains, 
when dissected, were atrophied; versus the brains of the rats who lived 
in a stimulating environment, lived a longer life, were more productive 
in every way, and had brains with arteries that were clear to the brain 
and obviously were happier rats.
    So, therefore, it goes to say that the children--our children that 
are being warehoused, this is a very big problem in America. And I 
really believe that it's not just the Government's obligation and 
responsibility to take care of these children and to help out, it's our 
responsibility as well.
    The President. Well, let me say it's both our responsibilities. And 
given that the budget realities of where we are now, that's the way it 
has to be attacked. But very briefly, this year Hillary and I hosted two 
conferences at the White House. One was on early childhood and brain 
development and the other one, last week, was on child care.
    We now know, scientists know that an enormous percentage of the 
brain's capacity develops in the first 3 years of life. We also know 
that children in supportive environments, whether

[[Page 1469]]

it's from their parents or in a child care facility where they get not 
only love and affection but I mean actually stimulating environments, 
have an average of 700,000 positive interactions in their first 4 years 
of life. Children who are left to sit in front of a television, even by 
a loving parent, or at a child care center where they're not being 
stimulated, have an average of 150,000 positive interactions in the 
first 4 years of life--700,000 to 150,000, while the infrastructure of 
the brain is being developed. It's not rocket science.
    Now, the child care thing--the basic fundamental problem is lower 
income parents spend as much as 25 percent of their income on child 
care. And if you want to raise the standards for the child care centers 
and make sure that a higher percentage of them have more stimulating 
educational programs, the money has to come from somewhere. Now, we may 
be able to increase the child care tax credit. I'm working on some 
options of things we can do. We can help to actually fund the training 
of more child care workers. But we also have to do more to make child 
care, that is quality care, affordable. It's a huge issue for the 
    Q. I'd like--if we could, I know that you're having a little problem 
with your voice----
    The President. [Inaudible]--to lose my voice. I lost it once. It was 
pretty scary. [Laughter]
    Q. ----ask that you sort of try to--I know you'd like to go on--but 
if we could call off the questions now if you don't mind, Mr. 
    The President. Thank you. I enjoyed being with you. Thank you so 

Note: The President spoke at 3 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to luncheon cohosts Harriet and Jerome Zimmerman 
and Sidney and Dorothy Kohl; and President Jiang Zemin of China.