[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[May 4, 1998]
[Pages 688-690]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 688]]

Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Dinner in Chicago, 
May 4, 1998

    Thank you very much. Well, first, let me--a lot of things have 
already happened here tonight that I didn't intend to happen. [Laughter] 
And I feel that I should quit while I'm still not too far behind. 
[Laughter] It's not often that a man in his declining years can 
demonstrate a loss of hearing, a loss of memory, and a loss of the 
muscles necessary to play a saxophone all in one fell swoop. [Laughter] 
But even when I was a kid, when I was a teenager and I could play pretty 
well, there was one unbroken rule that all of us who actually played and 
tried to earn a little money--never, never walk into a strange place and 
pick up a strange horn. [Laughter] And if you do, always have your own 
mouthpiece. [Laughter] And if you disregard both rules, you deserve 
whatever happens to you. [Laughter] But I had a good time. And the 
musicians and Shelley covered my sins pretty 
well. You were terrific. Thank you, Bill and 
Shelley, for having us here. [Applause] Thank you.
    I want to thank Bill and Shelley and Jim and all the people who 
worked on this dinner tonight. I thank all of you for coming. I thank 
Dick Durbin for his great service in the 
Senate and for his good humor. I wish I'd written down those cracks; 
they were pretty funny. [Laughter]
    Thank you, Mayor Daley, for everything 
you do. And everything they said about you, I agree with, and then some. 
I'd like to also thank Bill Daley for being 
a truly terrific Secretary of Commerce and doing a great job for us. I'd 
like to also tell you that another Chicagoan whose parents are here 
tonight, Todd Stern, who served for some time as 
basically the White House secretary--he organized all the affairs of my 
life, virtually--has now taken on a huge responsibility to lead our 
administration's effort at complying with the climate change treaty we 
signed onto, to try to figure out how we can make our contribution to 
fight global warming and continue to grow the American economy. We were 
out in California today illustrating just exactly how we intend to do 
that. And so, he has done a great job.
    You know, I love to come to Chicago. I am so indebted to Chicago--
for my wife, for a great convention, for two elections. I still have the 
picture on my wall in my private office in the White House where Hillary 
and I were together at the hotel here in Chicago on St. Patrick's Day in 
1992. It was on that night when the votes from Illinois and Michigan 
came in, in the primary, that I knew I would be the nominee of my party. 
And I owe Illinois a very great deal in this great city.
    I want to just take a couple of minutes--you know, you're all here; 
you've made your contributions; you're warm; and you want to go home. 
[Laughter] And you had to put up with our music, and I thank you. But 
I'd like to ask you to leave and ask yourselves, why did I go there 
tonight, and if somebody asked me tomorrow morning, what answer will I 
give--somebody I know who had never been to a fundraiser, asked me 
tomorrow morning why did I go there, what answer will I give? It 
certainly can't be that you wanted to hear me play the saxophone. 
    In 1992, and indeed, in '91, I ran for President because I thought 
our country was moving into a dramatically different era, the way we 
work, the way we live, the way we relate to each other, the way we 
relate to the whole rest of the world would be challenged and would have 
to change.
    And at every great time of challenge in this country's history, we 
have always met the challenge by throwing off the dead hand of the past 
in terms of policies and finding new ways that were consistent with our 
oldest and deepest values. We've always found a way to deepen the 
meaning of our freedom, to widen the circle of opportunity, to come 
together as one country.
    And a lot of people said to me, ``That's not going to be possible in 
a global economy. Our country is just going to be pulled apart by all 
these economic forces moving through the world. And we're not going to 
get closer together, we're going to get more divided because we're 
becoming simply too diverse.'' It's all very well to talk about it, but 
you've got county after county after county with people from more than 
100 different racial and ethnic groups. The school district across the 
river from the White

[[Page 689]]

House that I can literally see when I walk to work every morning has 
children in it from 180 different racial, national, and ethnic groups, 
speaking over 100 different languages, in one school district.
    And people have said to me, ``But look at this deficit--you're a 
Democrat, you'll never be able to do anything positive because you've 
got this big deficit.'' And I believe we could do better. And for 5\1/2\ 
years, with the help of the two people who just spoke before me, we've 
been working at it steadily.
    So the first thing I'd like you to think about is, we're all very 
fortunate tonight and no one can claim full credit for it, but we live 
in a country that has its lowest unemployment rate in 28 years, its 
lowest inflation in 30 years, its highest consumer confidence in 30 
years, its highest homeownership ever, its lowest welfare rolls in 27 
years, its lowest crime rate in 24 years--as a nation. And we should be 
grateful for that.
    The second thing I'd like to say is, the last thing we should do is 
to stop doing the things that got us to where we are in the last 5\1/2\ 
years. The last thing we should do is to be complacent, smug, arrogant, 
or lazy, or, I might add, small-minded. Because all you've got to do is 
follow the news, events around the world, events at home--the world is 
still spinning very fast; times are still changing profoundly. And this 
is a time to take advantage of the good things that are happening in our 
country, of the high level of confidence people feel in our ability to 
deal with our challenges, and get on about the business of moving our 
country into the 21st century.
    The second point I want to make is that we represent a party--Dick 
Durbin, Carol Moseley-Braun, the mayor, the 
Secretary, all of us--that is not trying to 
sit on its laurels and spend a lot of time crowing and claiming credit. 
We're trying to drive an agenda of change that will see us through to a 
new century and a dramatically new era.
    What is the agenda in Washington today? Our agenda is we're going to 
have the first budget surplus in 30 years; let's don't spend it until we 
save Social Security. Our agenda is let's do something to protect our 
kids from the dangers of tobacco; 3,000 kids start to smoke every day, 
even though it's not legal, and 1,000 will die sooner because of it.
    Our agenda is let's adopt a health care bill of rights. Over half 
our people are in HMO's; they can do a lot of good, but they ought to 
know that their choices and their quality is not going to be 
compromised. Let's provide affordable child care for all the working 
families that need it. Let's reform the IRS in a responsible way. Let's 
pass campaign finance reform. In the House of Representatives, our 
Democrats and a handful of very brave Republicans risked the ire of 
their superiors and said we're going to get one more shot at it this 
    And most important of all, let's begin to deal with education on a 
national level, the way Chicago is trying to deal with it here in this 
community. If it were for no other reason--and there are more reasons--
but the most important reason, I believe, to reelect Carol Moseley-
Braun for the rest of the country is she 
has come to symbolize the idea that the National Government has a 
responsibility to help communities make our schools the best in the 
world again. She has come to symbolize that.
    She started with the idea that we 
ought to help rebuild a lot of these schools that are breaking down, 
that we ought to build new schools in the places were kids are being 
educated in housetrailers, that we cannot meet my goal of hooking up 
every classroom in the country to the Internet by the year 2000 when 
half the schools can't even take a computer hookup because they're in 
such desperate conditions.
    We also are trying to have smaller classes in the early grades. All 
that is part of the plan that she and I 
and Dick and our allies are trying to push 
in Congress. We also have a part of our budget which would give schools 
more money to open after school. Most juvenile crime occurs after school 
lets out, before the parents get home. And we're doing our best to 
actually get massive help to cities who will agree to do what Chicago 
has done, stop social promotion and give somebody the authority to make 
decisions in our schools.
    A big part of the problem in American schools today in the cities--
there are good teachers everywhere; there are bright kids everywhere; 
there are dedicated principals everywhere; but somebody has got to be in 
charge. And if you have two or three different bureaucracies with four 
or five different sources of funds and people can keep batting the ball 
back and forth and nobody gets to say, up, down, or sideways,

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you cannot reform a reluctant bureaucratic system. Our children deserve 
    When the history of these schools is written on what is happening 
now and people look back on it, they will say one of the most important 
things that was done is they changed the way the laws work so someone 
could make a decision and then live with the consequences, good or bad. 
That has to be done. You cannot hope to do it.
    But we're saying in Washington, if you pass our budget and another 
city wants to undertake the efforts that Chicago is making, we'll give 
you some funds, we'll help you, we'll bring in experts, we'll do 
everything we can, but you have to take responsibility for your children 
and your future, and you have to be responsible first.
    So we have an agenda. The third point I want to make is, we're 
thinking about the long-term interest of the country. If you vote for 
Carol Moseley-Braun and she gets 6 more 
years--and I'll have by then, after that election, 2 more years--I'll 
tell you what I want to do. When I finish, I want to know that we've got 
a huge headstart on the long-term problems that will affect our country 
for the next 30 years.
    What are they? We have to reform Social Security and Medicare for 
the 21st century for the baby boom generation. We've got to prove we can 
grow the economy without continuing to deplete the environment. We have 
to prove that we can bring the spark of enterprise and jobs and 
opportunity to these inner-city neighborhoods and isolated rural places 
and to Native Americans living on reservations that have felt none of 
this economic recovery, so we can say everybody's got a fair chance in 
America. We have to prove we can build the best education system in the 
world--not just universities but elementary and secondary schools. And 
we've got to prove we can live together as one America.
    The other thing we have to do that I hope to persuade the American 
people I'm right about--I'm having a mixed record of success according 
to all the polls--is we have to continue to lead the world for peace and 
freedom. We have to continue to expand trade. We have to continue to 
stand up in places like Bosnia and Northern Ireland and Haiti. And the 
Secretary of State is in London today 
working for peace in the Middle East. We have to continue to do these 
things. And if we're going to do it, we have to pay our way. We have to 
pay our U.N. dues; we have to contribute to the International Monetary 
Fund. We can't say to people, we'd like to lead the world, but you pay 
the way. We're having a little fight in Washington, so we're not going 
to fulfill our responsibilities. This is an interdependent world, and 
our success depends upon our ability to be good, responsible partners.
    So I'd like to focus on those things. We need positive forces in 
Congress to do that. The President is not a dictator, and much of what 
needs to be done requires a cooperative relationship between the 
President and Congress. So when you go home tonight, you say, ``I went 
there because I'm grateful for what's happened and I support it; because 
they've got an agenda that they're working on even in this election 
year; because they're interested in the long-run problems of the 
country, and Carol Moseley-Braun is the 
best person to fight for those long-run solutions; and finally, because 
we love our country, and we want to do what's right by it.''
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:05 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to William Farley, chairman and chief executive 
officer, Fruit of the Loom, Inc., and his wife, Shelley, dinner hosts; 
Jim Levin, dinner cochair; Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago; and Todd 
Stern, Assistant to the President for Special Projects.