[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[January 28, 1998]
[Pages 129-131]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 129]]

Remarks in La Crosse, Wisconsin
January 28, 1998

    Thank you so much. Thank you for the warm welcome--the ``warm'' 
welcome. [Laughter] Thank you for being here in great numbers and with 
great enthusiasm. Thank you for sending Ron Kind to 
Congress. He's a fine man, and he represents you well. Thank you, 
Attorney General Doyle. Thank you, Mayor 
Medinger. Thank you, Secretary Riley, for all you do. Thank you, Mr. Vice 
President, for getting our blood running--
[laughter]--and for your magnificent leadership. And thank you, 
Lee and Ruth Mathison, for reminding us what's best about the United States of 
America. Didn't they do a good job? Let's give them another hand. 
    Were any of you here back in 1992, when the Vice President and I came on the bus? [Applause] I remember we 
had been on the road 18 hours. We got into the Days Inn about 2 o'clock. 
I could barely speak, and I was bone tired. But the people that were 
there for us on that night, giving us high fives, making us feel at 
home, make it a wonderful memory, and it feels good to be back in God's 
country tonight. And I thank you so much for being here.
    The Vice President and I even got to 
speak on the Clinton Street Bridge. And I remember that.
    You've heard everybody talk already about the blessings our country 
enjoys, and I am grateful for that. I'm grateful for the chance that I 
had last night to outline the state of the Union and to talk about the 
future. I'm grateful that we really have opened the doors of college 
education to all Americans for the first time. And I hope everybody here 
who is a young person knows that because of the tax cuts and the 
scholarships and the grants and the work-study program and the Ameri-
Corps program, you ought to go out and tell everybody they can go to 
college now, and they never have to worry about that again.
    But I want to thank you for what you're doing here to make America 
work from the ground up, to make America work together to give our kids 
a better future. I can't mention all the local heroes behind me today, 
but I want to mention one, Jerry Freimark, 
who has worked with businesses and students to help students in rural 
areas gain the skills necessary for 21st century careers in banking and 
finance by learning over interactive TV.
    You know, we forget sometimes that people in small towns and rural 
areas have the same right to the 21st century future everybody else 
does. And I want you to know that Al Gore and I will never forget that.
    But tonight I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk very 
briefly about that future, because to me the most important thing we've 
done in the last 5 years is just to try to make America work again for 
ordinary people, so that we can be free to imagine the 21st century and 
we can be free to build it.
    In 1962, President Kennedy said, ``The time to repair the roof is 
when the sun is shining.'' And I couldn't say that any better tonight. 
I'm grateful that we have--almost have a balanced budget. We're going to 
get one this year or next year. I'm proposing one for next year, and I 
think it will be balanced before the year is out.
    Now, let's talk about what we're going to do. And I just want to 
mention two or three things. I want all of you to think about this and 
be involved in it. First of all, it's projected we're going to have a 
big surplus, cumulative, over the next 4 or 5 years; we haven't had one 
in 30 years. Naturally enough, people are thinking, well, let's cut 
taxes or let's spend the money, even though we've still got a debt we've 
piled up that's quite considerable. What I want to do is to say, before 
we spend any of that surplus, let's make sure that we have saved the 
Social Security system so we don't bankrupt our children when the baby 
boomers retire.
    Now, this is a place of community. I can look around--here's a 
couple who have been married 51 years, still working, with kids. I want 
to think about our intergenerational responsibilities. I saw a survey 
the other day that said young people in their twenties thought it was 
more likely that they would see UFO's than that they'd ever get to 
collect Social Security. [Laughter]
    Now, here's what I have to say about that. I don't want to stop 
people from watching the ``X-Files.'' Go on and do that. [Laughter] But

[[Page 130]]

I hope you'll also next year participate in the discussions we're going 
to have all across America--nonpartisan, across party lines, across age 
lines--about the Social Security system and what we need to do to make 
sure that when the baby boomers--and I'm the oldest baby boomer at 51--
when people my age and 18 years younger, when we retire--and there's so 
many of us that there will be more than ever before, more people retired 
compared to people working--how are we going to save the system in a way 
that doesn't put undue burdens on our children and, therefore, undue 
burdens on our children when they're raising their children? I think 
that's something we all want.
    And let me tell you something. We can do it. It won't be too 
difficult. But we have to do it in a nonpolitical way, and we have to do 
it as friends and neighbors and family members. La Crosse can be the 
model for how we save Social Security for the 21st century, and I hope 
you'll support us in that.
    The second thing I want to say is, we've got to save our education 
system for the 21st century. I could just feel it last night at the 
State of the Union. I was talking about all the things we had done to 
open the doors of college, and people were cheering all over America. 
They thought, ``Oh, my goodness, that's something I won't have to 
sweat.'' Why were we cheering? Why? Because we know we have the best 
system of higher education in the entire world. No one questions that. I 
want, in the 21st century, people to be able to say with the absolute 
same conviction, we have the best system of elementary and secondary 
education in the entire world.
    The third thing I want you to think about is what we can do--and I 
talked a little about it last night--to bring more investment into the 
inner-city areas and into the small towns and rural areas that have been 
left behind in this recovery. You know as well as I do, we still have a 
lot of people leaving the farm. The average farmer in America is 59 
years old today.
    Now, I don't have all the answers, but I come from a rural State 
that had tough inner-city areas. And I'm proud of the fact that we've 
got the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years, and I'm glad we've got the 
highest percentage of people in the work force in history. But you know 
and I know that there are still people who are working hard and don't 
have enough to live on, and there are still people who would like to 
work who don't have jobs. And you know and I know that the prosperity we 
have seen has still not swept into every neighborhood in America.
    So I ask you, let's find a way in the 21st century to make free 
enterprise reach every rural community and every inner-city 
neighborhood. We can do it if we'll do it together.
    The next thing I'd like to mention that I think is very important, 
and the Vice President talked about it a little bit, is the environment. 
We have a lot of environmental challenges. I'm very proud of the fact 
that, compared to 5 years ago, the air is cleaner; the water is cleaner; 
we have fewer toxic waste dumps; our food supply is safer. I am proud of 
that. But we do have--the Secretary made that joke about El Nino, and I 
loved it because I was shaking up here, too, but the truth is that the 
scientific opinion in the world is virtually unanimous that the climate 
of the Earth is warming at an unsustainable pace--even on this cold 
night. And we know that just small changes in temperature can affect 
great changes in the surface of the Earth and the way we live.
    We know what's mainly causing it: It's greenhouse gases, the stuff 
we put out in the air from powerplants, from homes, from factories, from 
farms, from cars, from trucks, you name it. We also know that without a 
lot of effort, if we really put our mind to it, we can reduce greenhouse 
gas emissions and grow the economy.
    Now, every time we have faced a new environmental challenge, 
pessimists have said, ``Oh, goodness, if we do that, maybe we can clean 
the environment, but it will shut our economy down.'' It has never 
happened. We have the cleanest environment in history and the strongest 
economy we've ever had. And I want you to make a commitment here that 
places like the University of Wisconsin can figure out how to find the 
technological ways to have the efficient cars, the efficient trucks, the 
efficient homes, the efficient office buildings, the efficient 
factories, the efficient electricity generators to make sure we save 
this planet for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. We can do 
that in the 21st century.
    Finally, I want us to really tap the full measure of the scientific 
and technological potential of this country. Ron Kind said he hoped that 
his child and the child he's about to have might be two of those that I 
talked about last night

[[Page 131]]

when I said children born in the next couple of years might well live to 
see the 22d century. That is literally true. We have proposed, the Vice 
President and I and our administration, to create a research fund for 
the 21st century to make an unprecedented effort in the National 
Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Science 
Foundation. I hope you will support that.
    I hope you will support something that may seem a long way from La 
Crosse. I hope you will support our mission in space and the 
international space station. Why? Because when John Glenn, at 77 years old, goes up into space, we're going to 
learn something about how people's bodies work down here on Earth. A lot 
of our space research is helping us not only to find out what's in the 
heavens and to protect ourselves in the future but also to find out 
what's going on here on Earth, how to preserve our environment, how to 
improve our health. It may seem a long way from La Crosse, but we have 
learned that we dare not turn away from the frontiers of knowledge. We 
need to embrace them and make them work for the good of humanity, and we 
can do it, and I hope you will support that.
    The last thing that I want you to think about for the 21st century 
is how we can make all of America work the way these local community 
heroes work in their communities. How can we reach across the lines that 
divide us?
    I know that in La Crosse you had a conference on race last month, 
with the leadership of Thai Vue and June 
Kjome and Roy Heath and 
other citizen heroes that are here today. I want to thank them for that. 
And I thank all of you who participated.
    Let me say to you--I said last night to the American people, we are 
more interdependent on each other and on the rest of the world than ever 
before. I mean, whether we like it or not, a third of our economic 
growth that we all celebrate came because we're selling things to people 
around the world. We represent 4 percent of the world's population and, 
thanks to our hard work and God's good fortune to us, we have about 20 
percent of the world's wealth. So we have to work with others around the 
    And when you do business with people, you also have to be good 
partners, good neighbors, good friends. You have to care about them, and 
you have to get them to kind of reach out of their own prejudices and 
problems. I spent a lot of time working on getting people to stop 
behaving like fools, frankly, and hating each other because they have 
different races or different ethnic backgrounds or different religious 
backgrounds, whether it's in Bosnia or Northern Ireland or the Middle 
East or in Africa--around the world, the whole world is tormented by 
that. Now, here in America, we're becoming more and more and more 
diverse. And if we can prove to the world that we can live together, 
work together, learn together, and serve in our communities together, 
you can bet your bottom dollar we'll get along together. And America 
will still be the shining light of freedom and hope in the world well 
into the 21st century. And that's what we have to do.
    I thank you again for having us here, for waiting in the cold--or 
the warm--[laughter]--and I don't know how many of you were at the 
Packers' welcome home party, but I thank them for showing up. [Laughter] 
Hang in there. There's always next year.
    I will never forget looking out on this sea of people tonight, this 
beautiful old restored street, all the American flags, reading the 
stories of the American heroes. This is the best of America. This is the 
best of our past and the hope of our future. And together, we can make 
America's best days ahead.
    Thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:31 p.m. at the La Crosse Convention 
Center. In his remarks, he referred to Wisconsin Attorney General Jim 
Doyle; Mayor John Medinger of La Crosse; Lee and Ruth Mathison, who 
introduced the President; and Thai Vue, June Kjome, and Roy Heath, 
community service volunteers.