[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[January 8, 1998]
[Pages 15-21]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Democratic National 
Committee Dinner in New York City
January 8, 1998

    The President. First of all, let me say to Alan and Susan, it is wonderful to 
be back here. I remember very well when I was here in 1992. I also 
remember an event that they were part of in 1992, about 10 days before 
the New Hampshire primary, when everybody said I was absolutely dead; I 
had no chance to win; I was dropping like a rock in the polls. And we 
showed up in New York City for a fundraiser, and there were 700 people 
in this room for a dead candidate. So I said, ``I am not dead yet.'' 
    And that night was memorable for two reasons: One was that we had so 
many people there, thanks to a lot of you in this room, who didn't 
believe that it was over and who believed in what I was trying to do. 
The other was that I had a very--what is now a very famous encounter in 
the kitchen, walking to the speech, with a Greek immigrant 
waiter who said that his 10-year-old 
son had asked him to vote for me because of 
what he'd heard me say, and he would do it if I would be more concerned 
about his son's safety. He said he lived across the street from a park, 
but his kid couldn't play in the park without his being there; he lived 
down the street from a school, but his child couldn't walk to the 
school. And he said that where he had lived, he was much poorer but he 
was free.
    It was a very compelling portrait of why crime and physical safety 
is an important public issue. And he said, ``So if I vote for you like 
my boy wants me to, I want you to make my boy free.'' And that man and 
his son became friends of ours, and they've been to lots of things, and 
they even went to Ohio once to an anticrime event with us.
    So a lot has happened because of my friendship with Alan and Susan. 
If he had said one more time that he wasn't a Democrat--I thought he was 
protesting too much. [Laughter] I'm a Baptist; I believe in deathbed 
conversions. It's not too late. [Laughter]
    Let me say what I thought would be helpful tonight. I do have to 
leave fairly soon, but before--because we've all been here and most of 
you have heard me give a zillion speeches, I'd like to just talk for 2 
minutes and then give you time--if you have any questions or anything 
you want to talk about, I'd like to just hear from you.
    Steve has already said what this 
investment is about. But let me back up a little bit. In 1992, I ran for 
President because I thought the country was divided and drifting, and I 
believed we were on the verge not just of a new century and a new 
millennium but a profoundly different time in human affairs. We now know 
that this whole process of globalization and the revolution in 
information in science and technology is dramatically changing the way 
we live and work and relate to each other and relate

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to the rest of the world in ways that are mostly good, but have some 
stiff challenges as well.
    We also know that we are much more interdependent than ever before, 
both within our country and beyond our borders. Today, you know, as I 
met people today, it was amazing how freely the conversations went back 
and forth between issues that once would have been thought of as foreign 
or domestic, but all were perceived as having a direct impact on the 
lives and welfare of the people with whom I was meeting today.
    Now, we have tried basically to focus the country on making the 
changes necessary to create a 21st century America where there will be 
opportunity for everyone who's responsible enough to work for it; where, 
out of all of our diversity, we will build a community that is still one 
America, united and strong; and where our country will have enough 
support for our continuing involvement in the world, that we can keep 
leading the world toward greater peace and freedom and prosperity.
    That has required a redefinition of the role of Government, 
basically, that the Republican Party tried for years with great success 
to simply discredit the whole enterprise of Government, and to say that 
Government was the problem, and to basically position individual freedom 
against Government. President Reagan was quite 
brilliant at it, and he did it very graphically and compellingly. But I 
think that the Democrats were not able to successfully counter, in part, 
because we seemed to be defending yesterday's Government. What we tried 
to do is to say that Government is the instrument of our personal 
freedom and our strong community, and there are some things that we can 
only do through our role as citizens. So I think the basic function of 
Government in the 21st century will be to establish the conditions and 
give people the tools to make the most of their own lives and build 
strong families and communities and make this country strong--not to do 
everything but not to sit on the sidelines. And I'm very mindful of that 
because of all the obvious challenges we're facing today at home and 
    Now, if you look at where we are compared to where we were 5 years 
ago, basically, we've changed the economic policy, the crime policy, the 
social policy, and the education policy of the National Government, I 
think, to good results. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 24 
years, the lowest crime rate in 24 years, the biggest drop in the 
welfare rolls in history, a really serious attempt to deal with the 
conflicts of family and work that people face through things like the 
family and medical leave law, and a serious attempt to prove that we can 
grow the economy while improving the environment.
    In the last 5 years, while we've had 13 million new jobs, the air is 
cleaner; the water is cleaner; the food supply is safer. We have cleaned 
up more toxic waste dumps than at any comparable period in history and 
put more land in trust in one form or another than any administration in 
American history except the administrations of the two Roosevelts.
    So I think that we would have to say the record about the philosophy 
has been pretty good. In addition to that, the United States has been a 
force for peace and freedom and expanded mutual trade agreements to 
reinforce prosperity.
    Now, as you look ahead to the future, just very briefly, what will 
we be dealing with in '98? What still needs to be done before I leave 
office in 2000? On the economy, first we must do no harm. We have fought 
very hard. We're going to have very close to a balanced budget this 
year. When I took office, the estimate was that the deficit would be 
$357 billion this year. The last thing we need to do is to explode the 
deficit again. So anybody who's got any kind of proposals, whether it's 
for spending or tax cuts or anything else, my view is, first, do no 
harm. We have fought too hard, and we see evidence all around the world 
that no country is big enough or strong enough to sustain its prosperity 
in the face of financial irresponsibility.
    Second, we have got to do a better job of bringing the benefits of 
enterprise in the modern economy to poor areas. You heard Alan talk 
about how we once were interested in this. We see a real renaissance in 
some urban neighborhoods, but not in most urban neighborhoods. We must 
do better there.
    On the environment, we have a number of challenges; I'll just 
mention one. I think this agreement we made at Kyoto will prove to be a 
very historic agreement. It wasn't perfect, it didn't have everything we 
wanted, but it's the first time that major nations of the world ever 
committed themselves to the proposition that they could grow the 
economy, cut greenhouse

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gas emissions, and do it primarily through market mechanisms. And I 
believe it's profoundly important, and I intend to work very hard on 
implementing it this year.
    We have an entitlement challenge in this country because the baby 
boomers are so numerous that we have to make some adjustments in both 
Social Security and Medicare if we expect to preserve them for the baby 
boom generation at a bearable cost for our own children. And I think you 
will see significant progress on that in the next 2 years.
    In education, the fundamental problems it seems to me are--I'm very 
proud of the fact that in the balanced budget act we basically make 
community college free for people with the tax credits and open the 
doors of college--we did more for college access than anytime in 50 
years, since the GI bill. It's a stunning piece of work that, for some 
reason, doesn't seem to have acquired a lot of notice in the press. But 
when I talk to ordinary people about it, they think it's the greatest 
thing since sliced bread. So that's a big deal.
    But what we have to do now is make our schools work again. There's a 
report just today saying that urban schools basically are performing 
vastly below suburban schools on all national measures of testing. I've 
done my best to try to promote a set of structural reforms and high 
standards and rigorous testing with consequences. The report shows that 
in Virginia, where they have urban schools that have done much better 
than the national average, it's because they have specific, rigorous 
standards; they measure the standards, and there are consequences to the 
results they find. This is not rocket science. These children can learn. 
Most of the teachers are fully capable of doing what they need to do. 
The system is not adequate to meet what the children deserve and the 
country needs, and we intend to keep working on that.
    Well, there are a lot of other issues I can--yesterday we announced 
the biggest child care program in the history of the country, that we 
will have to pay for. I think that's a good thing. But it must be paid 
for with the successful resolution of the tobacco issue, which I hope 
the Congress will resolve satisfactorily. On the international front, I 
hope we will approve the expansion of NATO. I'd still like to have more 
trade authority. And I hope the Congress will pay our debts to the 
United Nations and we can resume our global role and I think that will 
    I do believe that we will give some gifts to the millennium. I think 
you'll see a significant increase in medical research and a number of 
other things that are of interest to a lot of you in this room. I think 
'98, even though it's a political year, will be a good year. Some of you 
asked me about political reform, I will do my best. We have a vote 
scheduled in the springtime--in March, I think--and both the leadership 
in both Houses has promised to vote on some kind of campaign finance 
reform. They've not promised to vote on the bill that I support, McCain-
Feingold, but a vote on some kind of campaign finance reform.
    And I have said this repeatedly--I'll say it again--I think the 
trick is, if we're going to have limits on soft money, then the hard 
money contribution limits ought to be realistic in light of today's 
cost, number one. And, number two, we ought to have access to free or 
reduced air time for candidates who observe overall spending limits. The 
Supreme Court has made clear that you can't control how much money 
people spend on their own campaigns, because money is speech. I'm not 
sure I agree with the decision, but there it is, and it's been there for 
over 20 years.
    What's driving the costs of campaigns is the cost of air time, the 
cost of communicating directly with the voters. If there were some 
standards for how that could be done, if you got the benefit of free or 
reduced air time, I think you might see a big turnup in voter turnout 
because you could have more, if you will, interactive air time--longer 
programs, call-in programs, townhall meetings, questions and answers. 
The whole thing could be changed. But we're going to have to have some 
help on the expenditure side, as well as on the money raising side.
    So I think it will be a good year. I'm excited about it. We've 
already got more than one foot in the 21st century, but we also have 
some really significant challenges. And when you think about all the 
medical research that's going on, on the one hand, and the dangers of 
chemical and biological warfare on the other; when you think about how 
we're getting along in America with a couple of hundred racial and 
ethnic groups, on the one hand, and the fights that still go on from 
Africa to Northern Ireland to the Middle East to Bosnia on the other, 
you see the

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two sides of the 21st century. We have to make sure that interdependence 
and community triumph over anarchy and chaos. And I think we can do it 
if we stay on the course we're on.
    Thank you. Anybody got a--I'll answer two questions. Anybody want to 
ask a question? Yes.

Projected Federal Budget Surplus

    Q. [Inaudible]
    The President. Well, let me say first, we shouldn't spend it 
mindlessly because we have to realize that the surplus is produced in 
large measure because Social Security taxes are still higher than Social 
Security outlays on an annual basis. And we are now--we have under 
careful review what our various options are and--I'd like to be more 
candid, but I have to go through a consultative process with members of 
my party and others in Congress as well before I can announce a final 
position. But I've tried to make it as clear as I could that I favor 
being as prudent as possible with this money.
    And I also think you've got to realize, we've got to think about, 
before we run off and spend all the money that is going to be generated, 
number one, it has not been generated yet. I mean, we hope that we can 
keep this economy going. We hope we can keep the growth going. We hope 
that--but this surplus everybody is talking about is a projected 
surplus. It's not a bird in the hand. So that's something you should 
    Number two, we have not yet decided as a country what we're going to 
do about Social Security and Medicare and how to handle the attendant 
changes and whether there will be costs to those changes, how they will 
be borne, and where the money will come from. So I'm taking a very 
cautious approach and I'm going to look at all the alternatives, but the 
number one thing is we've got to realize that this economy is humming 
along because we got the deficit down in large measure--not entirely--
there's a lot of productivity in the American economy, millions of 
people make great decisions--but we got the deficit down and people 
perceive that we know what we're doing and that we're going to proceed 
with discipline and prudence in a world that is full of some 
    And the one thing I can tell you is whatever I do, I'm not going to 
do anything that will make anybody think we have abandoned our 
commitment to discipline and prudence and long term growth and 
investment. You make room for domestic spending if you pay the debt 
down; because if you pay the debt down, you reduce the percentage of the 
budget going to debt service. So you have more money that way. There are 
all kinds of things, I mean, there are lots of ways to look at this. 
I've not reached a final decision. And even if I had, frankly, I 
couldn't discuss it in great detail because I haven't finished my 
consultations yet. But I'm going to do something I think is economically 
prudent, that's the most important thing.
    And, secondly, I want to think about the long run. We have to think 
about our intergenerational responsibilities on this entitlement 
    Q. Mr. President, one thing that I think most people--[inaudible]--
    The President. Thank you. Yes, in the back.

President's Initiative on Race

    Q. Mr. President, I'm very impressed with your initiative on race, 
but I'm concerned that you seem to be the only person in America who 
cares about this issue. And I wonder what you can do to have other 
members of your administration--Cabinet members and other prominent 
Democrats, Governors, whatever, speak out on it.
    The President. Well, interestingly enough, first of all, my 
Cabinet--they've all been doing things. When I did my townhall meeting 
in Akron, my Cabinet that week, they were all doing different things 
around America. And Andrew Cuomo has, in 
particular, been very active in HUD in the last few months largely, I'm 
sad to say, because there is still a lot of housing discrimination in 
this country, a lot of old-fashioned discrimination in this country in 
housing. And he's done a lot on it.
    We're trying to do more and more visible things. But let me say, 
we're trying to achieve--let me tell you what we're trying to achieve 
with the race initiative. First, we're trying to make sure that there is 
an honest dialog in every community--community-based approach to this--
about how each community is going to deal with whatever their racial 
composition is and whatever the challenges of working together are. And 
the evidence is clear that the answer is to get people to work together, 
learn together, and serve together in the community.
    The second thing we're trying to do is to catalog promising 
practices of really exhilarating

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things that are going on around this country now, put them on our 
homepage, and make them widely available. And we now have a lot of them 
at our website, and we have huge numbers of people tapping into that and 
then getting in touch with others around the country to learn what they 
can do in their own community.
    The third thing we're trying to do is to recruit leaders. I sent a 
letter to 25,000 student leaders and asked them to get involved in the 
race initiative, and we've gotten literally hundreds of replies from 
young people telling us exactly what they're doing. Some of them are 
fascinating, including a young white football player, star football 
player, who involved athletes in an interracial initiative in the 
Washington, DC, area.
    And the fourth thing we're trying to do is to identify specific 
governmental policies that will help to not only address race problems 
that disproportionately affect minorities but will do it in a way that 
will bring people together, like the initiative we had to give 
scholarships to people who go teach in inner-city schools.
    So we'll keep trying to turn it up. But I think it's been quite a 
productive thing, and I think the American people are actually quite 
interested in it. You know, people know--they pick up the paper every 
day. They see that there are tribal warfares in Africa. They know that 
we're still having trouble resettling the Croatians and the Muslims and 
the Serbs in Bosnia. They know that the Irish just had another round of 
killings, right on the verge of breaking through the Irish peace 
process. They know that there's still trouble in the Middle East. And 
they know there's still trouble in America. In the Washington papers, 
we've been living through the efforts of a Muslim school that wants to 
expand trying to find a location in a community that feels comfortable 
accepting it. And a Muslim symbol was defaced on the Capitol during the 
Christmas season, and Jewish leaders came out and condemned it--
    So we're trying to work through this stuff. I think being explicit 
and open about it is helping us to get it right. In some ways the most 
important thing--if we can prove that along with all of our economic 
strength and our native political system that we can figure out how to 
be bound together and still celebrate our differences, but say what 
unites us is more important, that may be the most important meal ticket 
to the 21st century we have.

Asian Economies

    Q. Mr. President, how bad do you see the situation in Asia right 
now? What are your nightmare concerns----
    The President. Well, I hope you will understand that because of the 
fact that what is going on in Asia is the function of markets and they 
operate on perceptions, that I should be very careful about what I say 
about that.
    Let me tell you what I think. I think that the United States has an 
interest in a stable and successful Asia. I think there's an enormous 
amount of productive capacity in those countries. And I think if we can 
get the policies right, we'll get through this. And I'm working as hard 
as I can to try to get it right. And there are some encouraging signs 
and some troubling signs, and it's a complex thing; we have to work it 
hard. I can say this, I think we've been very well served to have Bob 
Rubin and Larry Summers and the other people we've got at the Treasury Department 
working on this. I think they're making about the best stab at it 
anybody could. And we have worked very long hours for some extended 
period of time now on it, and we're just going to keep at it and try to 
make it come out okay.

Middle East Peace Process/Iraq

    Q. [Inaudible]
    The President. Well, on the Middle East peace process, I'm going to 
see Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat in the next few days and try to move the thing forward 
a little bit. And I think it really depends upon whether the recent 
change in Israel, political change, is seen as a spur to action or a 
break on action, and whether we can find a way to keep this thing going 
    The real problem with the Middle East peace process is it's like a 
living organism that gets sick if it doesn't move, you know. It's got to 
move. You've got to just keep something happening, even if it's not 
ideal--you've got to keep something happening. So we're working very 
hard on that, and I'm very hopeful about it.
    With Iraq, keep in mind what happened. We've already achieved a not 
insignificant portion of our objective. Saddam Hussein's goal was to say, ``I'm going to throw all these 
inspectors out and leave them out until you drop some or all of the 
sanctions.'' And we said, ``You don't understand. We'll leave the 
sanctions on until

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hell freezes over unless you let the inspections go forward.''
    Now, I have not ruled out--or in--any further action of any kind 
because there are still all kinds of unresolved questions about the 
integrity of the inspection process, and we're working on that. But keep 
in mind, Iraq's capacity to do damage to its neighbors has been 
dramatically eroded because of the sanctions process. There are a lot of 
countries that would like to relax it because they would benefit from 
that relaxation. But we have an obligation to try to limit the 
vulnerability not only of Americans but of the rest of the world to 
chemical and biological warfare.
    This is not about refighting the Gulf war. It's not about Kuwait or 
anybody else. It's about--there's a reason those U.N. resolutions passed 
and a reason the world is rightfully concerned about trying to contain 
the damage of chemical and biological warfare.
    So we're going to stay firm, and I'm not ruling in or out anything, 
but we're being vigilant. But keep in mind, what he tried to do didn't 
work. What he wanted was a relaxation of the sanctions in return for 
just going back to business as usual, and that strategy failed. And 
therefore, his capacity to do more harm is not materializing.

Federal Funding for Medical Research

    Q. [Inaudible]
    The President. Well, let me basically say, I think you will see a 
significant increase in medical research coming out of this Congress. 
It's one thing we have bipartisan agreement on. It is something we know 
we have to do to try to offset the cutbacks to our health institutions 
that have come not only from the HMO's but from our attempts to save 
money in the Medicare and Medicaid programs which indirectly, at least, 
funded a lot of the teaching and research hospitals of the country. And 
I think you will see a big step forward there.

Support for the Arts

    Q. [Inaudible]
    The President. She asked if we saw any future in national support 
for the arts. I think that we have defeated the effort coming from the 
Republican right to destroy the National Endowment for the Arts and the 
National Endowment for the Humanities. I don't think that will be 
revived; I don't think it will. I think the real question is--since in 
some cases it's life or death; in other cases it's largely symbolic 
support. It says that we think this is important, an important national 
    What I have looked at is whether or not there was some way we could 
institutionalize and make permanent more of a genuine endowment on the 
arts--and we're batting that around and asking for ideas around the 
country--in a way that would take it out of the annual political debate, 
which would be helpful to some of our Republican friends who really do 
want to help, want to be supportive. I personally think it's very 
important, and I think that there will not be the onslaught there has 
been in the past to kill it. The question is whether we can 
institutionalize it maybe even at a higher level and make it permanent.
    Go ahead.

Cuba-U.S. Relations

    Q.  [Inaudible]
    The President. Well, I hope so. But that's up to Cuba. You know, we 
were making real progress in our relations with Cuba, and even in the 
Cuban-American community there was ample evidence of changing attitudes 
and an attempt to change within Cuba, reciprocated by change in the 
United States. That was the concept of the Cuba Democracy Act, which 
passed before I became President. The Democratic Congress passed it; 
President Bush signed it; I supported it 
strongly, and I used it. And it was a series of carrots and sticks 
designed to say, as Cuba opens, we will open to Cuba, like two flowers 
coming to bloom at the same time.
    And then they murdered those people. They shot those people out of 
the sky, in international waters. And it would not have been legal for 
them to shoot them down if they had been in the territorial waters of 
Cuba or flying right over Havana, for that reason, under the Chicago 
Convention to which Cuba was a signatory.
    So innocent people were killed. That put a deep chill on our 
relationship. It led to a new and more rigorous act being passed, which 
would prevent me from lifting the embargo without the support of 
Congress, among other things.
    But my position, however, is the same as it has always been: I think 
there ought to be a reciprocal relationship here where, as Cuba shows 
more support for human rights and democracy, we should open up. We 
should try

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some reciprocal effort. But it has to be reciprocal. We can't--I don't 
think, after what happened to those people, I don't think that--I don't 
have any confidence that a unilateral gesture would have any success.
    Now, I would be interested to see how the Pope's visit goes and what happens there. I'm very encouraged 
that he's going. I was encouraged that the Cuban people were permitted 
to observe Christmas. And we'll just see what happens. I've got--the 
Pope is a very persuasive fellow and he, after all, is the voice of God 
to those of us who believe that. And we hope that he does well.
    I've got to run. I'm sorry. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 8:18 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Alan and Susan Patricof; Greek 
immigrant Dimitrious Theofanis and his son, Nick; Prime Minister 
Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel; Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian 
Authority; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and Pope John Paul II.