[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[March 12, 1998]
[Pages 369-370]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner
March 12, 1998

    Thank you very much. Thank you, Steve, 
and thank you all for being here. I would just like to briefly make a 
few points. I've seen almost everybody around this table in the last few 
weeks, and I wouldn't think of putting you through another speech. 
[Laughter] But I would like to say a couple of things.
    First of all, I want to thank you for your extraordinary labors on 
behalf of our party. Second, I want to say that I believe the upcoming 
150th anniversary of our party is a great opportunity for us to send a 
signal to America that we expect to be around for another 150 years by 
continuing to press our country forward into the future together.
    I spent a lot of time in the last few weeks reading about the 
beginning of the Democratic Party and Andrew Jackson's Presidency and 
all the things he did right--and one or two things he probably did wrong 
in the light of history. [Laughter] But I have very strong convictions 
now, that are stronger than they were when I came here even, that our 
party has shed a lot of the baggage that was holding us back in public 
perception. We have proved that together we can take the country into 
the future with a strong economy, a declining crime rate, a mending 
social fabric, a strong position in the world, and that we have a great 
obligation at this good time for our country to bear down and press 
forward. And I hope we can all do that around the 150th celebration.
    Steve mentioned the victory of Lois Capps in 
California in the remarkable special election for Congress. Let me say 
it was a truly remarkable victory because I think that that seat, which 
was previously occupied by her husband, was one of only three Democratic 
seats in the country where Al Gore and I did not win in '96. I think we 
lost by a point because of the Ralph Nader vote, but nonetheless, we 
didn't quite win it.
    The overwhelming lion's share of credit goes to Lois Capps, who is a remarkable person. Many of you know that her 
daughter, Laura, works for me and has for some 
time. A lot of the credit goes to the feelings that the voters in that 
district have about her late husband, Walter, who was also an 
astonishing human being. But I think that she ran the race in the way 
that I think that the Democrats ought to run their races. She ran a 
grassroots campaign, a local campaign. She did not ask for it, nor seek 
any outside politician to come in and tell the people of her district 
how to vote.
    In so doing, she did exactly what I did when 
I was Governor of my State. For nearly 12 years, I felt the same way. 
But she embraced the issues that were reflected in my State of the Union 
Address and that our party is advancing this year. And she was able to 
do it because that's what she heard people talking to her about. In 
political terms in the way people write about these races up here, 
perhaps one of the most significant things is that she was able to win 
with a torrent of so-called independent third party expenditures against 
her on any number of issues. But she did it with old-fashioned 
grassroots campaigning, common sense, a great heart, and a real fidelity 
to the kinds of issues that I think we have to continue to press, 
including the Patients' Bill of Rights, the whole range of educational 
issues, and the resolution of the tobacco litigation in a way that helps 
to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco.
    It was a very impressive campaign. It is a mark, if you will, of the 
future of what we could do all over the country this year. But if we 
want to do it, we have to do what she did. We have to have good 
candidates. They have to be closely tied to the people. They have to be 
interested in grassroots work and not ashamed to get out there and 
really hustle and listen to people and work with them. They don't have 
to have more money than their opponents,

[[Page 370]]

but they have to have enough money to have their message heard and to 
answer whatever onslaught is put against them. And if we do that, I 
believe we have a good chance to win, because I think the tide of public 
opinion is moving our way because of the level of confidence people have 
in our country and where we are, and the sense that they have, 
notwithstanding that confidence, that we have great challenges to face 
and we need to embrace them.
    So I feel wonderful about this race, both personally because Hillary 
and I care so much for Laura, Lois's daughter, 
and because I cared so much about her husband as well as our new 
Congresswoman from California. But I think it 
bodes well for the Democrats if we are prepared to realize that politics 
is not about what has been said and done in Washington, politics is 
about what is said and done and felt passionately in the neighborhoods 
of this country.
    Finally, let me say that this is an interesting time for me. We are 
trying to--and for our country now--we are trying very hard to work out 
an agreement that would pass comprehensive tobacco legislation. I know 
you're all seeing the press reports of it. There are obstacles. There 
are differences, but I think we've got a good chance to pass it. And 
there are only 68 days left, work days left in this session of Congress. 
And that doesn't sound like a lot of time, and it isn't. But I think it 
would be unbelievable neglect for the Congress to leave this year 
without passing that tobacco legislation.
    A thousand children a day have their lives shortened because, 
illegally, they began to smoke in response to advertising campaigns and 
other inducements--1,000 a day. That's too high a price to pay to fool 
around and wait until next year just because this is an election year 
and people have other things to do. So that's the first thing I wanted 
to say; we're working on that.
    Secondly, I am about to leave on a trip for Africa, and I'm going to 
countries that no sitting President has ever visited before. No 
President's ever made a serious trip to Africa. And I think it is very 
important for our economy, very important for our foreign policy, very 
important for our efforts to protect the global environment and to deal 
with the spread of disease and other major global issues we'll all be 
facing together. We can build a great partnership there. I'm excited 
about that.
    When I get back, I then have to go on a long-planned trip to South 
America to the second Summit of the Americas. We had the first one in 
Miami 4 years ago, and we are looking forward to continuing to work in 
our hemisphere. Every country but one is a democracy. Our fastest 
growing trading partners are our neighbors in our hemisphere. And the 
fact that the United States has reached out and tried to build economic 
and other partnerships with these good people who share our part of the 
globe is an important thing.
    I'm then going in May to meet with the other leaders of the largest 
seven economies, and our political partnership with Russia, in England. 
And then I just announced that I have moved up my trip to China for late 
June because of the strong recommendations of our people and the 
progress we're making in working with the Chinese on a whole range of 
subjects. And obviously, the welfare of the American people in the 21st 
century will be shaped in large measure by the partnerships we have with 
the largest country in the world.
    So this is a good time. We're working; we're doing remarkably well 
as a country. But I want to say, as I say every time, the Democratic 
Party is not the party of self-congratulation; it is the party of 
forward motion. We have no business engaging in self-congratulation 
except to cite it to the voters as evidence that we can be trusted to do 
more, even better, if we're given the chance to do it. We should be 
worried about the future; that's what elections are about. We should be 
grateful for the conditions that exist today. We should recognize there 
are a whole range of challenges out there, and we should be intensely 
focused on meeting them. Because of your help, that's exactly what we're 
going to be able to do.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 p.m. in the Balcony Room at the 
Sheraton Luxury Collection. In his remarks, he referred to Steve 
Grossman, national chair, Democratic National Committee; and Laura 
Capps, Staff Director for the Office of Speechwriting at the White