[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[December 13, 1997]
[Pages 1760-1764]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Arkansas Democratic National Committee Dinner
December 13, 1997

    Thank you very much. Thank you, Maurice, not only for chairing this 
dinner but for never saying no for 6 years or more now, in good times 
and bad. Thank you, Alan Solomont, for your leadership and those 
wonderful, thoughtful, and highly perceptive remarks. [Laughter]
    I think these other folks are about to get us, don't you? I think 
he's finally figured it out.
    I'd like to thank all the non-Arkansans who are here tonight, 
particularly those who have positions in our party, Tom and Jill 
Hendrickson from North Carolina. And I'd like to thank Jack and Phyllis 
Rosen for being here. Jack's been involved with our financial efforts 
for a long time at the DNC, and this is his very last event. He wanted 
to go out with a home touch. So thank you especially, Jack, for doing 
    I probably shouldn't do this, but I'm going to try to acknowledge 
the Arkansans in the administration who are here. If I omit you and you 
quit, I will never speak to you again. [Laughter] I am doing my best. 
[Laughter] Normally, Presidents don't have to remember this stuff. 
[Laughter] But I think it's important.
    I just want you to get a feel for how many people are here: Mack and 
Donna McLarty, of course; Bruce Lindsey; Nancy Hernreich; Marsha Scott; 
Bob Nash and Janis Kearney; Stephanie Streett; Mary Streett; Catherine 
Grundin; Patsy Thomasson; Ann and Grady McCoy. Ben Johnson told me he 
was from Arkansas tonight, that he was born in Marion and his wife, 
Jacqueline, said she was born in Joiner--[laughter]--and I'd say that 
qualifies. [Laughter] Steve and Jennifer Ronnel; Darren and Vivian 
Peters. And in the administration, of course, Secretary Slater and 
Cassandra; James Lee and Lea Ellen Witt; Hershel Gober and Mary Lou 
Keener; Harold and Arlee Gist; Wilbur Peer; Gloria Cabe has done great 
work for us; and in the DNC, Carroll and Joyce Willis; Lottie 
Shackleford; Mary Anne Salmon.
    I'm so glad they're here. There are others I wish were here tonight. 
I wish Maurice Smith and Betsy Wright and Bill Clark and David Matthews 
and Linda Dixon and a host of other people could be here. But I want to 
thank you, all of you, those of you in the administration, those of you 
who have been in the administration, and most of all, those of you 
without whom there never would have been an administration. I thank you 
very much.
    I don't want to embarrass him, but about 2 hours before I came over 
here tonight, I was

[[Page 1761]]

finishing up some paper work in my office. And Nancy always collects 
interesting letters that come from people from home and puts them in a 
little folder for me, and I get them at least once a week. And at the 
top of the folder was a letter that Richard Mason just wrote to the Wall 
Street Journal. And it said, ``I got about as much chance of getting 
this letter printed as Dan Quayle does of getting elected President.'' 
    But he went on to say he was a businessman; he had read the Journal 
faithfully for years. He said, ``For 5 years I've watched you bad-mouth 
my President and my State and say things that weren't true. And if your 
advice on business is as bad as your understanding of politics, I'll be 
in deep trouble if I keep reading this newspaper.'' [Laughter] ``Please 
cancel my subscription.'' [Laughter]
    I did what I always do. You know, I was saying, ``But, Richard, you 
know, you can't blame the editorial page. They have good articles, all 
that kind of stuff.'' I was making my good Government argument. He said, 
``Look, the economy is better. The world is at peace. The crime rate is 
down. The country is in great shape. Sooner or later some of those 
people that are trying to tear your guts out and lying about our State 
are going to have to fess up and admit it. Get over it, the country is 
in better shape. This is working.''
    Since under our new policy all these are covered by the press, they 
may have to run your letter now, Richard. [Laughter] We'll see.
    Let me say to all of you, when I was getting ready to come over here 
tonight--and I'm sorry Hillary is not here, but she is, to put it 
mildly, under the weather, and she said to send you her love--but when I 
was getting ready to come over here, I was reliving many of the things 
that have happened since October 3d of 1991 when I declared for 
    I remember how people sneeringly referred to me as the Governor of a 
small southern State. I remember how people talked about how we had 
failed to do all these things. I remember when I was pronounced dead 
before arrival in New Hampshire. And the Arkansas Travelers, who had 
been traveling all around the country anyway--and then all of a sudden, 
150 people just dropped everything they were doing at home and came to 
New Hampshire and went around knocking on people's doors, total 
strangers, introducing themselves, saying, ``This is my Governor; you 
cannot do this. Don't let them stampede you into this. Don't one more 
time let the kind of negative, hateful, personality-destroying politics 
that has kept our country back--don't do it one more time.'' One hundred 
fifty people up there in colder weather, some of them, than they had 
ever been in their lives--[laughter]--knocking on doors in New 
    I remember when that great ad appeared in the Manchester Union 
Leader, with hundreds of Arkansans' names and their phone numbers, 
saying, ``Instead of believing what they're saying about him, if you 
want to know about this guy, call me.'' I will never forget that.
    I remember how surprised--the people that ran against me in '92 are, 
by and large, good friends of mine now, and I remember how surprised 
they were that we kept doing well in odd places. And it took them a long 
time to figure out that 25 percent of the voters in Chicago were from 
Arkansas. [Laughter] That there was something to be said for being poor 
throughout the thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties. [Laughter] I 
keep waiting any day now for all of them to be subpoenaed by Mr. Starr. 
[Laughter] You know, a 50-year-old conspiracy to take over the White 
House--[laughter]--which started with our running people out of Arkansas 
back in the thirties and forties in a dark and devious way.
    I came upon a little town outside Flint, Michigan, one day, full of 
auto workers. And literally 90 percent of them had roots in Arkansas, 
and I thought to myself today, those people are going to be called to 
testify any minute now. [Laughter] There's a presumption there's 
something wrong with them; it was some dark plot.
    I was in the Bronx--did you see the pictures, where I went back to 
the Bronx to the place where President Reagan said it looked like London 
during the Blitz, and now it looks like a neighborhood any American 
would be proud to live in--to celebrate what this community organization 
had done. They're called the Mid-Bronx Desperadoes, because they were so 
desperate to turn their community around years and years ago. Half the 
housing this particular group has built has been built since I have been 
President because of our approach, which is to basically support 
community groups and people that are working together and let them 
define their own future.

[[Page 1762]]

    So I get out; I shake hands with Ralph Porter--he's the current 
president of the Mid-Bronx Desperadoes--and we are walking down the 
street in the Bronx. He looked at me, and he said, ``You know, my wife 
worked with your mother at Washita Hospital for 15 years--[laughter]--
and I graduated from Langston High School in Hot Springs.'' [Laughter] I 
said, ``No, they'll never believe this.'' [Laughter] I hope Ralph 
doesn't get a subpoena. [Laughter]
    And he went on to tell me that his mother was living in the Bronx 
and was ill, and he'd been living in--he grew up in Hot Springs and his 
wife worked in the hospital with Mother; and that he went to see about 
his mother, and he's decided the Bronx is in terrible shape and that God 
wanted him to be in the Bronx and help turn it around. And I'm telling 
you, it will take your breath away if you could walk down some of these 
streets, not just nice houses but safe streets, clean streets, going to 
remodeled schools that are working, where communities that were given up 
for dead are working.
    And sometimes I think what our adversaries, that are almost 
pathologically obsessed with personal destruction, don't get is that 
that's what politics is about. That's what you taught me. That's why 
we're all here after 5 years, and that's why the country is in better 
shape. Politics is about real people and their hopes and their dreams. 
So, to me, all this stuff--you all always say, ``Gosh, I don't know how 
you put up with it.'' How do you put up with mosquitoes in summertime in 
Arkansas? [Laughter] You just swat them and go on, it's a part of 
living. That's what you do. If rice farmers thought farming rice was 
about mosquitoes, we'd all starve. [Laughter] It's about planting rice 
and bringing it in when harvest comes. Politics is about people and 
their dreams and building a better future. And that's what you taught 
    All the stories--I saw a great little special on one of the 
television networks the other night, that the State of Tennessee is now 
sponsoring a story-telling contest every year. And there was a very, 
very large African-American woman telling stories, and all these east 
Tennessee hill people were sitting around the circle listening to her, 
and their eyes were big as dollars, and they were all--and they were 
taking turns telling stories, and then they'd pick a winner. And I 
thought to myself, it would do this town a lot of good if we had a 
story-telling contest every year--[laughter]--to remind people about 
what life is all about.
    So they were telling their stories. You want to know why we survived 
up here? Because I still remember the stories. I got to telling some of 
the young people that work for me the other day in the White House 
stories about my first two or three campaigns in Arkansas; they were 
laughing so hard they had tears in their eyes. [Laughter] When David 
Pryor and I started, you had to know that kind of stuff. I mean, you 
were expected to know people, and you cared about their parents and 
their children and their brothers and their sisters. You knew that 
misfortune happened. It wasn't a denigrating thing to say you felt 
someone's pain; that just meant you were a real live human being with 
blood flowing in your veins and you had some imagination about what life 
was all about.
    And I just want you to know that that's what we've tried to do here. 
If I hadn't been Governor of Arkansas in the time I was--and keep in 
mind, until the year I ran for President, every single month I was 
Governor but one, the unemployment rate in our State was higher than the 
national average--every single month. And I stood on those factory lines 
when people came off the line for the very last time before they shut 
down in the recession of the eighties. I knew farmers that had gone 
broke. I understood what things happened to people when older people 
couldn't buy medicine and younger people couldn't afford to send their 
children to the dentist.
    I understood those things because you taught me them, and I knew 
what politics was about. And I ran for a very clear reason: I thought 
our country was divided and drifting, that we were not succeeding, that 
we were clearly the greatest country in human history, and that we were 
too dominated, completely paralyzed, and in the grip of the mosquitoes 
instead of the planting. That's what I thought then. And so we decided 
that we would endure the mosquitoes so that we could plant and reap. And 
I think it's been worth the effort.
    When you go home tonight I want you to think about this: You were 
standing and freezing your feet off in New Hampshire in '92, or you've 
had to do some other kind of service above and beyond the call since 
then; you gave us the chance to serve, and your country has the lowest 
unemployment rate in 24 years. That's

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the statistic. The story is, there's 14 million people out there with 
jobs who didn't have them before, and every one of them has got a story. 
There's 3.8 million people who were on welfare when I became President, 
who are now living in homes, with paychecks, and they've got a different 
story. There are over 13 million people who got to claim the benefits of 
the family and medical leave law when a baby was born or a parent was 
    There are 8\1/2\ million people whose pensions were gone that were 
rescued in one of Senator Pryor's last legislative acts, great 
legislative acts, when we reformed the pension system, and we saved 40 
million other people's pensions from having to worry about it--8 million 
people who saved their retirement. That's a story. There's 250,000 
people with criminal records or mental health histories who couldn't buy 
handguns because we passed the Brady bill, and we don't know how many 
people are alive because of that, and they're out telling stories 
tonight of their lives because we did that.
    We set aside more land--I'd forgotten this until I read Richard's 
letter--we set aside more land in national trusts in one form or another 
than any administration in the history of America, except the two 
Roosevelts'. And there will be millions and millions of people just 
before the end of this decade that will be someplace or another having 
an experience with nature and God and their families because of that, 
that they would not have had. And that will become part of their story.
    The air is cleaner. The water is cleaner. The food is safer. There 
are fewer little children living next to toxic waste dumps. And every 
one of them will have a different story now.
    We're about to pass another Christmas in Bosnia, where we no longer 
have the bloodiest conflict since the end of World War II. We've made 
another year in Haiti. We're on the verge of seeing a profound and 
permanent peace, I hope, in Ireland this coming year. We've made real 
steps in making the world less likely to be subject to chemical warfare 
last year--this year, when we ratified the Chemical Weapons Treaty.
    This race initiative--a lot of people say it's just talk; I'd rather 
see people talking than fighting--it's not just talk; it's a lot more 
than that. But there's something to be said for that. The more 
complicated and different this country gets and the more contentious and 
conflict-oriented the larger means of communications get, the more 
important it is for people who are different to sit down and talk to one 
another and understand their stories and understand that we have things 
that bind us together that are even more important than the very 
interesting things about us which are different, one from another. And 
that's what this whole race initiative is all about.
    We've got a lot of challenges in the world. The challenge in Iraq, 
the general challenge of weapons of mass destruction, the chemical and 
biological weapons. They could bother our kids a lot, and we're going to 
work hard to see that they don't. We've got financial upheavals in Asia 
now. And since Thanksgiving, Secretary Rubin and I have been talking at 
all kinds of odd hours because of the time difference in Asia and here. 
I was on the phone last night at 11 to Asia. But we're managing the best 
we can.
    And there are lots of other things we have to deal with: the 
challenge of the entitlement, the challenge of educational excellence in 
our public schools, the challenge of extending health care further.
    But you just look at this balanced budget. All the other 
politicians, I heard them all talk about balancing the budget up here 
for years; it just got worse. The deficit has been cut by 92 percent 
before we passed the Balanced Budget Act. Now we've got a balanced 
budget bill that gives a tax credit or a scholarship to virtually every 
person who needs to go to college in America. We can literally say we've 
opened the doors of college to everyone. The balanced budget has the 
biggest increase in aid to go to college since the GI bill passed in 
1945. That will make a lot of different stories. It has the biggest 
increase in health care for children since Medicaid was enacted in 1965. 
Five million more kids in working families with modest incomes will be 
able to get health insurance. Who knows how many of them will live to be 
adults because of it. Who knows how many of them will be healthier 
intellectually and physically and emotionally because of it. They'll all 
have a slightly different story, and it will be better. That's what I 
want you to think about.
    The reason it's important for you to be here is that part of the 
counterbattle, the mosquito biting, this year was a calculated, 
determined effort to use the hearing process and the legal

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process to force all the Democrats--and especially people associated 
with the party--to hire a lawyer every 15 seconds in the hope that we'd 
never have another penny to spend on campaigns. Somebody pointed out I'd 
been to so many fundraisers in the last year that I'd gotten tired a 
time or two, and I plead guilty to that. It's okay to get tired; you 
just can't give in.
     So when you go home and people ask you why you did this, say 
because they tried to end the two-party system in America by forcing the 
Democrats to spend all their money hiring lawyers, and you think the 
two-party system is a pretty good idea, especially since one party, the 
one you belong to, was right about the deficit, was right about the 
economy, was right about crime, was right about welfare, was right about 
so many things, and that's why this country is in better shape today, 
and you think that's a pretty good indication about which party ought to 
be able to lead us into the new century. That's why you're here, and 
that's why I'm very proud of you.
    Let me just say, lastly, I want you to go back home and tell the 
people who aren't here what I said tonight. And remind them, because 
they're a long way away, never to get confused between the mosquitoes 
and the planting, because as soon as you do, you won't be able to bring 
in the crop. We have brought in the crop, and you made it possible, and 
I'm very, very proud of you.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:16 p.m. at the Decatur House. In his 
remarks, he referred to Maurice Mitchell, Arkansas Democratic 
fundraiser; Alan D. Solomont, national finance chair, Democratic 
National Committee; C. Thomas Hendrickson, chair, Democratic Business 
Council, and his wife, Jill; Jack Rosen, chairman, national finance 
council, Democratic National Committee, and his wife, Phyllis, member, 
President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities; Kenneth Starr, 
Whitewater independent counsel; Ralph Porter, executive director, Mid-
Bronx Desperadoes; and former Senator David H. Pryor of Arkansas.