[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[April 26, 1998]
[Page 623]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 623]]

Remarks at the Premiere of ``Ragtime''
April 26, 1998

    Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, when we were being 
ushered up the aisle and backstage and we were preparing to come up 
here, I was full of ambivalence, frankly. I wanted so badly to come up 
here and thank Garth and the magnificent 
cast, musicians, people backstage, everybody who had anything to do with 
this unbelievable gift we have been given. I wanted to thank the leaders 
of the Democratic Party and the staff. I wanted to especially thank all 
of you for being here and for making this weekend, celebrating our 150th 
birthday as a party, a success. But I was absolutely convinced that 
anything I would say would be a complete anticlimax after the wringer 
they have put us through today. [Laughter]
    I was thinking on the way over here about the time when Mr. Doctorow published this magnificent novel, over 20 
years ago now, and Hillary and I were young law professors living in the 
mountains of north Arkansas. And I read the book almost immediately 
after it came out. I couldn't put it down. I just sat there, read right 
through it. And after it was over, I felt just as I felt after the show 
was over.
    But I don't think even then I fully grasped the life force behind 
the stories in ``Ragtime.'' And I think what I would like to say to you 
is that, yes, this is the story of America, and it reminds us that we 
have a good system and the best ideals, but we always fall a little 
short. And the story of our country has to be the continuing effort to 
overcome our own individual flaws and imperfections and tendency to fall 
into injustice and bigotry and oppression and greed and shortsightedness 
or just plain tone-deafness, but that there is also a part of the human 
condition which makes us vulnerable as people.
    I was walking down the aisle and several of you said, thank you so 
much for what you did to try to help the Irish peace process along. And 
then I saw the representative of my ancestors, the Irish fireman here--
[laughter]--playing the heavy. We got a book last week, Hillary and I 
did, entitled ``How The Irish Became White.'' [Laughter] And it 
basically talks about how, when the Irish immigrants first came here, 
they really identified with the African-American slaves because they 
were treated the same way, and they had much the same experience.
    I say that to remind us all that there will always be the tendency 
of people to abuse power if they can abuse it. That's why we have a 
Constitution which seeks earnestly to limit that. And all of us will 
always have our imperfection, and so will our children and grandchildren 
and their grandchildren. The thing that makes America great is that we 
have the right ideals and that through history we have constantly sought 
to overcome our own limitations, to stand for deeper freedom, to stand 
for wider opportunity, to stand for a more perfect Union.
    And I hope that all of you will always remember what you saw on this 
stage tonight. I hope you will never, ever abandon what brought you here 
to this performance tonight. And I hope all of your lives you will try 
to create more of the joy you saw here, eliminate all the oppression you 
can, and be very proud to be both an American and a Democrat.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:30 p.m. at the National Theater. In his 
remarks, he referred to Garth H. Drabinsky, chairman and chief executive 
officer, Livent, Inc.; and author E.L. Doctorow.