[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 31, 1997]
[Pages 1469-1473]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner in Boca 
Raton, Florida
October 31, 1997

    Thank you very much. You may or may not have already noticed that I 
don't exactly have all my vocal capacities. The good news is you'll get 
a shorter speech. [Laughter] The bad news is you'll have to listen 
harder to what does come out.
    I want to start by thanking John and Peggy for bringing us into 
their magnificent home and even more for their commitment, which was so 
powerfully expressed in what John said.
    You know, I tell people all the time that I have been in public life 
now almost continuously since 1974. I have been in public office all but 
2 years for the last 20 years. Most of the people I've known in politics 
were good, honest people who worked a lot harder than they had to work 
and fought for what they believed in and tried to make this country a 
better place. And I really appreciated what you said about those Members 
of Congress.
    Even our friends on the Republican side, when that pitched battle we 
had over the Contract With America--virtually all of them really 
believed they were doing the right thing. But I didn't, and Mr. Gephardt 
didn't, and Mr. Frost didn't, and the other Members of Congress who are 
here--Congressman Deutsch, Congressman Kennedy, Congressman Baldacci--we 
didn't. And we won.
    But you don't work like that, under those kinds of conditions, if 
you don't feel it. And I must tell you, John, that it means a lot just 
to know it got across to somebody, because we're very well aware of the 
presentation that's given to the American people about people in public 
life, the nature of the political process, and then even the nature of 
    To hear people tell it, the very act of getting people to support 
you is somehow suspect. You just described your activities in 
Washington, and I must tell you, that's consistent with probably more 
than 80 percent of the people who help us. And if the others have 
something they want to talk to us about, well, that's democracy, too, 
and there is nothing wrong with it. So I thank you very much.

[[Page 1470]]

    I want to thank Dick Gephardt and his legion in the House, first for 
the help they gave me in 1993 when we passed the economic plan which was 
principally responsible for reducing the deficit by 90 percent, without 
a single vote from a Republican Member in the Senate or the House, not a 
single, solitary one. Before this new balanced budget law, which I'm 
very proud of--but before it takes effect, don't forget the deficit 
dropped from $290 billion to $22.6 billion because of what a lot of 
brave people in our caucus did in 1993. And a lot of them lost their 
seats because of it, because the benefits were not apparent by the '94 
election. And it made me more proud than ever to be a member of the 
Democratic Party.
    There were a lot of other things that were done, thanks to the 
leadership that the Democrats here gave us. In 1994 we passed a crime 
bill, bitterly opposed by the leadership of the other party. They said 
it was all wrong. They went out in rural areas and tried to convince 
people we were going to take their guns away. And again, they cost us a 
few seats. We had some Members in Congress who gave up their seats to 
vote for 100,000 police, to vote for the Brady bill, to vote for the ban 
on assault weapons. But we've had 5 years of steeply dropping crime 
rates, and now we know whether we were right or they were right. The 
voters didn't know in 1994, but we were right.
    And the President gets the credit. When the economy is up, the 
President gets the credit. John Kennedy thought it was fair. He said, 
``Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.'' So if it 
goes down, I'll be here, folks. [Laughter]
    But that plan could not have been passed without the support of our 
people in Congress. The crime bill could not have been passed without 
the support of our people in Congress. We wouldn't have the right kind 
of welfare reform bill without the support of our people in Congress 
because I had to veto two bills first to get the one I wanted. We had 
record--3 million plus people moved from welfare to work.
    And I'm very proud of what these members of this caucus have done. 
I'm also proud that we got caught trying to provide health insurance to 
people in America who don't have it. You know, our opponents said when 
we tried to pass the health insurance program in 1994, they said, you 
know, ``If you support the President's health insurance program, the 
number of people without health insurance will go up.'' And as one 
Democrat said to me the other day. ``I supported your program. We got 
beat, but I supported it. And they were right; the number of uninsured 
people went up.'' And now we're trying to do something about that. In 
the last budget, we got funds to give health insurance coverage to half 
the children in America who don't have it.
    But I want to make it clear, even with a Republican majority in 
Congress, nothing I do would take place without support of our caucus in 
the Congress. Do you believe that this balanced budget would have the 
biggest increase in health care for poor children since 1965 if it 
weren't for enough Democrats who could support my veto? Do you believe, 
for example, that we would have, for the first time in the history of 
the country, in this budget, opened the doors of college to everybody, 
literally, with a $1,500 tax credit for the first 2 years of college, 
tax credits for the other years, better loan programs, more 
scholarships, more work-study funds, education IRA's? It happened 
because we were together and we worked together.
    So I'm grateful, and you can see--I'd like it very much if we could 
win 11, 12, 20, 30 more seats. What are the stakes, though? Let's talk 
about this. What are the stakes, and what are the chances? Why is the 
country working now?
    First of all, when I started running for President 6 years ago, I 
basically was driven by two things. The first reason was, I didn't 
really think the country had a plan for the 21st century. It's a big, 
complicated country, and I thought we were just going to kind of wander 
into a new millennium, and I didn't believe we were very well-prepared.
    The second reason was, I thought the debate in Washington was 
downright counterproductive, and that our Democrats had turned into sort 
of cardboard cutouts of real people, just what you were talking about. 
They said we were weak on defense and weak on welfare and weak on crime 
and couldn't be trusted with tax money and all that stuff they said 
about us. And as a result, it sort of relieved people of the burden of 
having to think, because if they made us unacceptable, particularly in 
races for President, well, then the voters didn't have to think. I think 
that's why folks in the other party get so mad at me sometimes. We've 
gotten the

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American people to thinking again. [Laughter] They're not on automatic 
    For example, why should we have had this old debate on the budget: 
Are we going to explode the deficit with tax cuts or just have a little 
smaller deficit with spending? So I said, ``Vote for me, and we'll cut 
the deficit and spend more money on education.'' And people said, 
``Yeah, right.'' But that's exactly what we've done, and it worked, 
because we're Democrats.
    Take the crime debate. Every time you read about crime, it was to 
hear the way they had framed it: ``You've got to be tough on crime.'' 
``Well, what do you mean by that?'' ``Put everybody in jail longer.'' 
And, ``The other guys, they just want to let them out because they're 
soft-hearted.'' So we said--I said, ``I don't know anybody who thinks 
like that, not a single living soul.'' So we said, ``Why don't we find 
the people who really deserve to be in prison longer and keep them, and 
spend more time trying to keep our kids out of prison and take these 
guns off the street and out of the hands of people who shouldn't have 
them? '' And it worked; we put the police on the streets. This was not 
rocket science. This was the way people think out here in the real world 
when they're not being presented in artificial terms from a long way 
    On welfare, the debate was structured as: ``All these people on 
welfare, they don't want to work, and we're tough. We're going to make 
them work.'' And the other side, our side, was, ``Well, that's probably 
right, but we feel so bad about the kids we don't want to do it.'' I 
didn't know a single living soul who really thought that way, and I'd 
spent a lot of time in welfare offices. I never met anybody on welfare 
who didn't want to go to work.
    So we said, ``Okay, make people who are able-bodied go to work, but 
get them the education and training, and let's don't hurt their children 
because their most important job is raising their children. Provide the 
child care for the children. Provide the medical care for the children. 
Then you can be tough on work and good to the kids.'' Guess what? It 
worked. Why? Not because it was rocket science. It was common sense, 
mainstream values, thinking about tomorrow, and getting away from the 
hot air.
    Same thing on the environment. I believe in preserving the 
environment. I've worked hard on the Florida Everglades. We've got an 
agreement in this Interior bill to save the Yellowstone Park from gold 
mining and to save a bunch of the redwood forests that are precious, and 
there are not many of them left in California.
    But I always thought it was crazy--you know, they said, ``Well, the 
environment is nice, but we've got to grow the economy.'' And then we 
were made to look like sort of blissed-out tree huggers who never got 
over the McCarthy campaign. [Laughter] And that wasn't consistent with 
my experience. It looked to me like, for example, if we had a really 
sensible economy, we could organize it in a way that would promote a 
clean environment and create more jobs, not fewer jobs.
    They said when we tried to take--and this was before my time--we 
took CFC's out of the atmosphere to stop the hole in the ozone layer. 
Have any of you missed them? Do you know the name of anybody who has 
lost a job because of it? But the hole over the ozone layer is 
shrinking, and the layer is thickening, and it's good for your children 
and grandchildren.
    We had all these coal-fired powerplants that were putting out a lot 
of sulfur dioxide and making acid rain. The Democrats in Congress--
before my time--the Democrats in Congress authorized a trading system so 
that the free market could trade permits to allow the most efficient way 
to take the sulfur dioxide out of the atmosphere. We're 40 percent ahead 
of schedule at less than half the projected cost because the Democrats 
found a way for the free market to clean the environment and grow the 
economy. That's our policy, and that's what we intend to do in the 
future. And it's the right thing to do.
    I say this because I think it is terribly important that we look to 
the future. I'm glad the economy is in good shape. We learned at the 
last--over the last--this year, this quarter, compared to last year, we 
grew at 3.5 percent. We've got the lowest inflation since 1964. That's 
good, but we've got more to do. Not everybody who needs a job has one. 
Not everybody who is losing jobs in the technological changes and the 
trade flows is getting the kind of training that he or she needs to move 
on with their lives. We've go more to do on the economy.
    Dick talked about education. We need desperately to have national 
standards in education, and we need to measure whether our children are 
measuring up. And we ought to give them more choice in the public 
schools they attend. I want every grade school kid in America to

[[Page 1472]]

go to a school like the one I visited in Jupiter today, the one I should 
have visited a few months ago before I hurt myself.
    We've got more to do. We've got more to do in so many areas. And if 
you think about it, our Democrats are not vulnerable anymore to the old 
cardboard pictures they painted of us, not just because of me or the 
Vice President but also because they were with us. They can't say, ``You 
can't trust that crowd anymore. They're not good with your money. They 
won't give you a tax cut. They can't manage the economy. They can't 
manage crime. They're weak on welfare. They're no good in foreign policy 
and defense.'' All that stuff is out. We can have a real conversation in 
    And what is it about? What is it about? Just what you said: How are 
we going to prepare this country for the 21st century? What still needs 
to be done? How are we going to preserve Social Security and Medicare 
for our generation, the biggest generation, without asking our kids to 
pay too much to take care of us because we're bigger than our kids are 
in numbers? How are we going to give a world-class education to every 
American? How are we going to embrace all this diversity we have and 
still be bound together as one America? How are we going to stop being 
the biggest polluter in the world when it comes to carbon dioxide, which 
is warming the planet with potentially serious consequences to our 
people and people around the world, and still keep this economy growing 
so everybody can make a good living? How are we going to provide working 
families with the tools they need to succeed at home and at work--still 
the biggest challenge we've got?
    I'm glad everybody has got a job, folks, but now--you ask our hosts; 
they now have a one-year-old daughter--that little child has become 
their most important work. It dwarfs everything else. Every day--every 
day--there are people in this country--from hard-working lower middle 
class people who are spending 25 percent of their income on child care 
and still can't afford child care where their children are stimulated, 
to upper middle class people who feel like they can't hold on to their 
jobs unless they spend so many hours at work they're not with their 
children when they need to be--every day there are people in this 
country who are making choices between being good parents and good 
workers. And that's why the Democrats ought to expand family leave so 
people can get a little time off from work to go to a parent-teacher 
conference or take their kids to the doctor's. That's why the Democrats 
need to keep working until all the children in working families can be 
insured with health insurance. That's why we need to keep working until 
we have uniform standards of excellence and lots of local reform in 
schools. That's why we need to keep working on these things.
    We have done so much, but believe me, maybe it's just because I've 
just got 3 years and a few months left, but I think all the time about 
2010 and 2015 and 2020 and what this country is going to be like when my 
child is my age. And I'm telling you, the best days of America are still 
ahead if we keep on doing what we're doing.
    That's what this election in '98 is about. Why is it important that 
you're here? Because the voters--there are a lot of voters out there who 
are still like you were for a long time. They don't think it matters. 
They think everybody is just screaming at each other in Washington. And 
what happens? Usually at the end of these campaigns, the party with the 
most money wins because the airwaves get full of these 30-second ads 
which either persuade people who are undecided or turn them off so much 
they stay home. And the marginal voters that stay home are the working 
people who would vote for us if they showed up.
    That's why this dinner is important. You ask Martin Frost to go 
through the 20 closest congressional races in the last election, 1996, 
when the Vice President and I were honored to be returned to office with 
the electoral votes of the people of Florida. We were honored. We won a 
nice victory. But you go through those races, and you will see that in 
the 20 closest races, in the last 10 days, we were outspent 4 to 1.
    So I have to tell you, I am unapologetic about being here. I am 
proud of you for being willing to help carry on this debate. We can have 
a discussion, an honest discussion about the future in 1998, but we have 
to make it possible for Patrick Kennedy and John Baldacci and Martin 
Frost and Dick Gephardt and Peter Deutsch and all those people we've got 
running, fabulous people who are not in office, to be heard, because we 
now are in a position to finish this work of preparing our country to be 
what our children deserve.

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    I'm proud of you for being here and very grateful. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:54 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to dinner hosts John W. and Peggy Henry.