[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[December 10, 1997]
[Pages 1741-1745]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Hispanic Dinner in
New York City
December 10, 1997

    Thank you. I was--please, sit down--I was sitting over there when 
Hillary was talking, thinking how grateful I am that she wrote that 
wonderful book, ``It Takes A Village,'' and how many copies it sold and 
how it embodies what we believe in. And then I was thinking that after 
we leave the White House, she could write another book and sell even 
more copies if the subject of the book was ``all the things I wish I 
could have said all the times I introduced my husband.'' [Laughter] 
Thank you once more for refraining. [Laughter] Let me say to all of 
you--some nights she kind of--she says, ``Here's Bill,'' or who knows. 
    I am profoundly honored to be here tonight. This is a very special 
night. Hillary and I both wanted to be here. I thank the members of the 
Cabinet and the administration who are here that have been introduced 
for the work they have done, as well as for their presence here. I thank 
the Members of Congress who are here. I thank the Lieutenant Governor 
and the public advocate and the other officials from New York City and 
from the boroughs who are here. I thank Miguel and Marife and Dennis and 
the other leaders of this dinner.
    This is truly an historic event, because the Latino business and 
labor communities have come together as never before to support the 
Democratic Party. And for that we are grateful. This is a fitting way 
for me to end the day because I started my day today in New York in the 
Bronx and in that borough with the highest percentage of Latinos. And I 
was standing on the very spot where, over 20 years ago, President Carter 
bemoaned the condition of the Bronx and said he would try to help; and 
then when President Reagan, nearly 20 years ago, said it reminded him of 
London during the Blitz in World War II.
    Today it reminds you of any other thriving, successful, middle-class 
neighborhood, with beautiful homes and well-kept sidewalks and streets, 
and a beautiful school in the background, and enthusiastic, exuberant 
children, because of what people have done over the last several years 
together. I want to thank, in particular, Secretary Cuomo for the work 
that he has done in the last several years that he has been at HUD to 
try to help make this happen.
    But if you think about what we have been about, trying to prepare 
this country for the 21st century, and you ask yourself, ``Why am I a 
Democrat; why am I doing this?'' I think you have to answer, first of 
all, because I don't buy the argument that was made by the other side 
for the 12 years before we came in that Government is the problem, it is 
inherently bad, and if we just got rid of it and it sat on the 
sidelines, everything would be hunky-dory--that's not true. Neither is 
it true that we can go back to the time when Government handed

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down edicts from Washington. Government should be a partner with people 
in their local communities working together. That's our philosophy.
    Our philosophy is, the role of the National Government in our 
domestic life is to create the conditions and give people the tools to 
make their own lives, to build successful careers and families and 
communities, and make those streets safe and give people a chance to do 
the things that I saw done in the Bronx today. And it was exhilarating. 
I was walking down that street, and I thought, this is why I ran for 
public office the first time, and this is why I ran for public office 
the last time. This is public service at its best, grassroots people 
working with national policy together, public and private sectors. And 
it was a truly thrilling moment.
    And I think of all the communities in America, the Latino community 
knows best that people should never ask Government to do something for 
them that they can do for themselves; nor can Government ever pretend to 
replace the strength and joys of family life or the integrity of work 
life. But neither can people who are struggling to make the most of 
their own lives be denied a hand up when it's important to give it to 
them. That's what we stand for.
    The other thing that I think we stand for that is unique now is that 
we really like the fact that we're so different from each other. We like 
the fact that America has so much diversity. We think in a global 
economy, in a global society where we have to cooperate with all 
different kinds of people and do business with all different kinds of 
people, it is a great thing. And we think that if you're a good, 
upstanding citizen who obeys the law and pays your taxes and if you're 
grown you go to work and if you're a kid you go to school and if 
you're--through no fault of your own--in trouble, you get help--we think 
that we're all part of the familia. That's the difference. And I'm proud 
to be on that side of the divide in America. I want every American to 
have a chance to be a part of our future. I feel good about that, and I 
want you to feel good about that.
    There are other differences as well. We had a different view about 
economic policy. We tried trickle-down economics for 12 years, and we 
had a $290 billion deficit, enormous interest rates, a high unemployment 
rate. Then we set about balancing the budget, and before the last 
balanced budget bill was passed in a bipartisan way, the Democrats-only 
budget passed in 1993 had succeeded in reducing the deficit by 92 
percent, driving interest rates down. We have now almost 14 million new 
jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years. I think invest-and-
grow is better than trickle-down. I think we are right with our economic 
    We changed the crime policy. The crime policy of the National 
Government, as near as I could tell, was either to do nothing but talk 
tough, or to talk tough and say we need to lock them up and throw away 
the key. We said, ``How about stopping crime in the first place? Let's 
put more police on the street. Let's take assault weapons off the 
street. Let's not let people who have got criminal records have 
handguns. Let's give some money so that communities can give kids 
something to say yes to in the first place.'' We've got the lowest crime 
rate in 24 years. I think our crime policy is better. It works. People 
support it at the grassroots level.
    We have different views about the environment. We believe we can 
grow the economy while we improve the environment. We've cleaned up more 
toxic waste dumps in 4 years than they did in 12; we need to do some 
more. We've got a lot of serious environmental challenges. We're trying 
very hard. We've been working like crazy--and I want to thank the Vice 
President especially--we have been working so hard for the last several 
weeks, and especially in the last few days, to reach agreement at the 
international conference in Kyoto on climate change, to try to find a 
way to drive down our emission of greenhouse gases here, drive down the 
world's emissions of greenhouse gases, and still grow the economy. We 
Democrats, we believe we can do that. We believe we can do that.
    Our friends on the other side of the aisle, if there is the 
slightest question, they say, ``I'm sorry, it would be nice to have a 
good environment, but we've got to go for the economy. We can't afford 
to burden it.'' If you look at the high-technology world in which we're 
living, we're going to create more new jobs if we commit ourselves to 
cleaning the environment in the proper way. We will explore new 
technologies. We will create new businesses. And more important, we will 
fulfill our moral obligation to leave our children and our grandchildren 
a planet upon which they can live in peace with one another, because of 
the resources that

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are left. I think the Democrats are right about that, and I am proud to 
be a part of that.
    I believe that we were right to stand up for family and medical 
leave. I believe we were right to give a tax cut to the lowest income 
families with children. I believe we were right to raise the minimum 
wage. I believe we should do more of that. We should help to do more to 
help people reconcile the demands of work and family. I believe we were 
right to try to provide access to health care to all Americans, and I'm 
proud of the fact that we're going to cover 5 million children. I'm 
proud of the fact that it's now against the law to take somebody's 
health insurance away from them just because they change jobs or 
somebody in their family gets sick. And I want to pass the consumers' 
bill of rights in health care, because I think as more and more people 
are insured by health maintenance organizations, they at least have a 
right to know that they'll know what's going on, that they can have 
access to the best professional opinions, and that they can get quality 
as well as access to health care. And I think the Democrats are more 
likely to provide that. I'm proud to be on that side of the divide, and 
I hope all of you are as well.
    And let me just mention one other thing. I want more than I can 
convey to you to see every neighborhood in every distressed area of 
America look like the neighborhood I walked through in the Bronx today. 
I want every child to be able to have access to world-class education. I 
want every adult who loses his or her job or can never get a raise 
because they're not so competitive in the global economy to be able to 
go back and get further training.
    And I'm proud of the fact that in the last year we put more money 
into education than had been put in since 1965 at the national level, 
that we did more to help people go to college than we've done in 50 
years. I think you can really say we've opened the doors of college to 
all Americans, with a $1,500 tax credit for the first 2 years of college 
and tax credits for the other years and help for people who have to go 
back after they've been working a while, and more Pell grants and more 
work-study positions and more national service positions. I'm proud of 
all that.
    But we've got a lot more work to do. You know as well as I do that 
you cannot stand here and look at me in the eye and tell me that every 
child in every community represented in this room is getting a world-
class education. You know that it's going to provide new challenges to 
us--you know, we have this sort of bilingual debate going on around the 
country now. Do I want every child in America to be able to speak 
English and read English and learn in English? You bet I do. Do I think 
they should have to quit learning anything while they do? No, I don't. 
That's why I support bilingual education, because I think that we ought 
to have both.
    But the Latino community now has got to go out and tell America, 
this is not a Latino-Anglo issue anymore. You know how many languages 
are spoken by the kids in the school district nearest me across the 
river--across the Potomac River in Virginia? One hundred languages. Now, 
our party has got to lead the way toward high standards and access and 
opportunity. We've got to lead the way. We've got to give every single 
one of those children a way to find their way into a 21st century 
America where they can be winners. And that's just one of the many 
challenges we're going to face.
    So I say to you, our record in the last 5 years is good; I'm proud 
of that. Our record in the years ahead can be better if we continue to 
build on the strengths of the last few years.
    I want to thank the Lieutenant Governor for joining the Democratic 
Party, and congratulate Judith Hope--and I want to congratulate Judith 
Hope, the chair of the New York party, and all the other Democrats here. 
They picked up over 200 local seats in the elections of 1997 in the 
State of New York. Fine. Because I think people do believe Government 
ought to give people the tools to make the most of their own lives and 
not sit on the sidelines. And they know that we're not yesterday's 
Government; we represent something different. Why? Because I think 
people do want us all to be one family. I think they think everybody 
that obeys the law and does their job deserves to be treated with 
dignity and equality in this country. And that's the last thing I want 
to say.
    I have done my best--maybe because I grew up in the segregated South 
and I saw all the dark side of people not getting along and working 
together, but when I say that I want us to be one America, in the end 
that's the most important thing of all. My work here will be over in 3 
years. And I'm doing the best I can to deal--like we've got a Medicare 

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now. We want to deal with the long-term problems of Medicare so we can 
secure Medicare without overburdening our children and grandchildren. I 
will do everything I can to solve every big problem that I can that I 
think will load up America for the next 25 or 30 years. But I will not 
be able to completely foresee the future. No one can.
    One thing I know, this country is still around here after 220 years 
because every time we faced a real challenge, we pulled together and 
somehow we found the strength, the courage, the wisdom, the 
determination to do the right thing.
    Now we're going to become more diverse than ever before. That's what 
this race initiative is all about. California, our biggest State, will 
soon have no majority race. People of European heritage will not be in a 
majority. Sometime in the next century, probably in the first half of 
it, that will become true of America. We have many other differences as 
well. And I'd just like to emphasize that this race initiative of mine 
is basically about three things.
    First of all, we've taken a few licks about talking, but it's about 
talking. Why? Because people are both fascinated by and afraid of people 
who are different from them when they haven't had contact and they don't 
understand each other, and we've got to have a community process in 
every neighborhood in this country for people to talk together across 
the lines that divide them.
    Secondly, it's about enforcing the laws against discrimination. A 
lot of you have stood up with me to support the idea that Bill Lann Lee 
ought to be head of the Civil Rights Division. I thank you, those of you 
who have done that. I must tell you, when I appointed him and I saw what 
an even-tempered man he was and what a fine record he had and how he was 
a Chinese immigrant's son from Harlem who then lived in Los Angeles and 
spent his whole life trying to keep people from being discriminated 
against, I thought, now, there is no way in the wide world anybody could 
vote against this guy. [Laughter] He has one totally disqualifying 
characteristic: He agrees with his President about affirmative action. I 
find that very curious that I'm being told that I can appoint anybody I 
want into the Civil Rights Division unless they agree with me. 
[Laughter] I thought we had an election about that.
    Now, if my position was not to enforce the law, not to recognize the 
restrictions on affirmative action the Supreme Court has imposed upon 
it, that would be one thing. That is not my position. I will vigorously 
honor the law--the letter and spirit of the law. But that's--the thing 
that bothers me is that we have not obliterated all discrimination in 
housing. Secretary Cuomo is working day and night to try to deal with 
legitimate and severe claims of discrimination in housing. We haven't 
eliminated all discrimination in the work force. We haven't eliminated 
all discrimination in education. And virtually 100 percent of the 
American people, without regard to party, agree that what is illegal 
should be illegal and that the law should be enforced.
    So I wanted somebody who had lived a lifetime in this, who also was 
committed to getting people together and changing the environment so we 
don't have to have so many of those kinds of problems lead that 
division. And I still think he deserves the job. And I thank all of you 
who stood with him.
    The last thing that this ``One America'' race initiative is about is 
finding ways that we can work together across racial lines that will, by 
definition, obliterate a lot of the problems we have today. And I can 
tell you that there are three that dwarf all others: the more we learn 
together, the more we work together, and the more we serve our 
communities together across lines that divide us, the more likely we are 
to build that kind of one America.
    That's why I'm so grateful we've got 800 colleges with their 
students working in our schools to teach children to read independently 
by the third grade. That's why we're working very hard on an initiative 
to reduce the Hispanic dropout rate, and a lot of you in business can 
help us with this. We now have almost no difference in America in the 
high school graduation rate between Anglos and African-Americans--it's a 
stunning statistic--almost none. There is still a big gap between both 
of them and Latinos. And I am convinced it is because so many Latin 
Americans come here as first generation immigrants, and they want to get 
out there and go to work and support their parents and support their 
children and do the responsible thing. And historically that's worked, 
but we're now living in a world where people who don't have a high 
school education are going to suffer dropping

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earnings in the workforce; they won't even be able to hold their own.
    So we have got to find ways to make it possible for our first 
generation Latin American children, no matter how difficult their 
circumstances at home, to stay in school and to go on to college and to 
get the message that that is now the responsible thing to do for their 
families because we don't want them stuck in a place where they can't 
have a future. And you've got to help us with that.
    So I say again, let's work on this and be proud that you're here. 
And know this, too, I want you to be involved in the life of this 
country and the life of this administration and the life of this party 
in a positive way, with your ideas and your experience. We're grateful 
for your contributions, but your contributions should also include not 
just a check but your knowledge and your experience and what you can do 
to prepare this country to go forward as one America with opportunity 
for everybody, with responsibility from everybody; coming together, not 
drifting apart; leading the world for peace and freedom. That's what I'm 
working for, and tonight you have helped to make that more possible.
    And let me just say, finally--this is the last thing I want to say--
all my life I wanted to dance with Rita Moreno--[laughter]--all my life. 
And it only lasted 30 seconds, but it was worth the trip.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:05 p.m. at the Rainbow Room. In his 
remarks, he referred to Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross of New York; Mark 
Green, New York City Public Advocate; Miguel Lausel, Marife Hernandez, 
and Dennis Rivera, event chairs; Judith Hope, State Democratic chair; 
and actress Rita Moreno.