[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 18, 1998]
[Pages 242-245]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner
February 18, 1998

    Thank you very much. First of all, thank you, Ron and Beth, for having us here, 
and thank you for being such wonderful friends to me and to Hillary and 
to our administration and our party. Thank you for the wonderful words. 
A couple of days ago I actually got a picture of one of those billboards 
in Israel--not a particularly great picture of me--and that wonderful, 
wonderful message.
    Let me thank all of you for being here. Most of you I have now known 
a long time, and you've heard me give a lot of speeches, so I

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won't really give much of one tonight. But I would like to make just two 
or three very brief points.
    When I came here in 1993, I did not come to the White House in 
probably the normal way, and in many ways I was not the normal person 
who came to the White House. I had never sought to live my whole life in 
Washington or, indeed, to be in the circle of Washington influence for 
my whole life. I came here with a determination to change the country, 
to change the direction of the country, to try to change the way we were 
living and working, and to try to make America work again. And I think 
the record is pretty clear that the approach we have taken has worked. 
And for all of you who played a part in that, I am grateful. I am 
grateful to Governor Romer and Steve 
Grossman and Carol 
and Cynthia and all the officers of the 
Democratic Party and the staff and all of you who have helped all along 
the way, those of you who helped me and Al Gore.
    The State of the Union Address got an unusual response, even for the 
State of the Union Address, partly because more people watched it than 
normal, maybe. [Laughter] There are blessings everywhere you don't 
expect. [Laughter] But I think the thing I would like to say about that 
is that I really feel that I spent 5 years working very hard to try to 
fix things that weren't functioning very well. And we got the deficit 
down over 90 percent. And I presented a balanced budget. I think the 
budget will be balanced this year if the economy isn't slowed by the 
difficulties in Asia. And we're working hard on those to try to help our 
friends and, in the process, help ourselves.
    And the crime rate has come down for 5 years and we now have a 
strategy that works, born of what people were doing in community after 
community--all we're doing is supporting that. We have the lowest 
welfare rolls in almost 30 years. And we have--now finally, last year, 
the lower 20 percent of our working people had their income increased by 
a higher percentage than American income went overall. So we're coming 
back together again after 20 years of drifting apart. So there's a lot 
to be grateful for.
    And what I tried to do in the State of the Union was to say, ``Okay, 
now if we have things going right and the country is essentially 
working, we should''--to use Hillary's phrase--``we should be imagining 
the future. We should be asking ourselves, what do we have to do to 
strengthen this country for the 21st century, so that when we get there, 
we really will have the kind of country we want?'' And that's what the 
agenda I outlined was about.
    And the thing that all of you can do that would be most helpful is 
to demonstrate to the American people every day in every way that the 
Democrats are committed to a public agenda that changes their lives for 
the better, that we do not believe that politics is about power, nor do 
we believe politics is about personal advantage, nor do we believe 
politics is about all the things that some people seem to think it's 
about. We think it's about bringing them a better future.
    And that's what the--that's why I don't want to spend any of the 
surplus until we save Social Security for the next generation. Easy 
thing to do is--it's election year; give people a tax cut; spend a 
little more money. It would be a mistake. That's why I'm determined to 
reorder, do whatever we have to do to preserve the Medicare program in a 
way that works for the 21st century and honors our, sort of, 
intergenerational compact, why I think we have to keep working until we 
have not only--now we've basically opened the doors of college to 
anybody who will work for it. But we can't say--and everybody takes it 
for granted that we have the best system of higher education in the 
world. No one believes we have the best system of elementary and 
secondary education in the world, and until we do, we can't rest.
    It's why I think we have to keep working until we have closed the 
remaining holes in our health care system. It's why I believe we have to 
prove one more time that we can deal with any environmental challenge 
and still grow the economy. We have within our grasp the technological 
means to reduce global warming, or at least do our share of it, and 
still continue to grow the economy. We have to prove we can do that. 
It's why I am committed to proving that the increasing diversity of 
America will be a blessing, not a curse, amidst all the troubles of the 
world based on ethnic and religious differences.
    So I want you to keep going out there and talking to people about 
America in the 21st century. If you think about the present difficulty 
we're having with Iraq--I don't want to talk about it in any great 
detail tonight, but I want

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to say it has--it is not a replay of what happened in 1991. It is a 
forerunner of what could or could not happen in 2010, in 2020, in 2030.
    The very things we love about the world we're moving into--all this 
interconnection--we had 400,000 hits on our website after the State of 
the Union. We had a 650 percent increase in hits on the millennium 
website when we had our first lecture, when Bernard Bailyn talked the other night about how our country got 
started, and shut the thing down briefly. We can all get on a plane 
tonight and fly anywhere; we can do anything. The more open the world 
is, the more interconnected it is, the more vulnerable we will be to the 
organized forces of destruction, whether they come from drugrunners or 
crime syndicates or terrorists. And it is very important that we do 
everything we can to make the risk that those kinds of people can bring 
chemical and biological warfare into the lives of ordinary people 
anywhere in the world, including this country--we need to reduce those 
chances as low as we possibly can, whenever we can, however we can, as 
soon as we can.
    And there are very often no easy answers because of the way the 
world is working now. But I want you to know that's what's driving me. I 
want tomorrow to be good for America. And to do it, you not only have to 
seize the opportunities, you have to try to create a structure that will 
minimize the challenges and the threats as well.
    The last thing I'd like to say is this. I had a wonderful day 2 days 
ago. The Vice President and I went up and 
spoke to the Democratic caucuses, the Senators and House Members, and it 
was a great thing. We talked about our agenda for '98 and how excited we 
all were. And the Vice President was in overdrive that day; I said I was 
going to find out what he ate for breakfast and give it to everybody--
[laughter]--for free, give it to everybody. [Laughter] But I was 
thinking, trying to explain to people, you know, we've talked a lot 
about finding a third way between believing Government was the solution 
and Government was the problem, using Government as a catalyst, 
Government as a tool to give people--a means to get people the tools to 
make the most of their own lives. We've talked a lot about the new 
Democratic Party. But I said something to them I'd like to close with 
you. I believe at every profound moment of challenge in the history of 
this country, the party that was doing the most for America has always 
stood unfailingly for three things: for widening the circle of 
opportunity, for deepening the meaning of freedom, and for strengthening 
the Union.
    If you go back to the beginning of America, when people fled other 
countries to come here--why were they coming here? Because they despised 
absolute, arbitrary, abusive power. And they wanted to live in a country 
where there was a rule of law that restrained people and where no one 
was unaccountable. And they had to decide, can we do this with a 
collection of little States, or do we have to be a nation? And they 
decided that we had to be a nation. And then George Washington and all 
of his allies, and especially Chief Justice John Marshall, created a 
nation for us. They said it will take one nation to protect freedom and 
to provide opportunity or to allow, in Thomas Jefferson's words, the 
pursuit of happiness. Abraham Lincoln, that's what he did; he died to 
preserve the Nation and to deepen the meaning of freedom, stop making a 
mockery of the Constitution. The industrial revolution comes along, 
Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson basically applied those central 
values to the changes that were going on then.
    Now, from the beginning of our party, we always said we believed in 
those things. But frankly, as a party, we didn't perform all that well 
from the end of Andrew Jackson's Presidency until Woodrow Wilson got 
elected, with minor interludes. As a result of that, we didn't have the 
Presidency very often either. [Laughter] But I think it is fair to say, 
even though I have tried to modernize the party and point us towards the 
future, from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Harry Truman to 
John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter and our administration, 
we have not always been right; we have not always been moderate; but in 
the 20th century, we have been the party that pursued not power for its 
own sake but was always dedicated to widening the circle of opportunity, 
deepening the reach of freedom, and strengthening our National Union.
    And now that we are doing the right things in the right way, those 
old-fashioned, eternal elements of America's mission are more important 
today than ever before. You should be proud to be here, and I hope you 
can find a way to share that with as many of our country men and women 
as possible.

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    Thank you. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 8:43 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Ronald I. and Beth Dozoretz; Gov. 
Roy Romer of Colorado, general chair, Steve Grossman, national chair, 
and Carol Pensky, treasurer, Democratic National Committee; Cynthia 
Friedman, national cochair, Women's Leadership Forum; and Bernard 
Bailyn, professor emeritus, Harvard University.