[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[May 9, 1998]
[Pages 733-738]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner in Boston, 
May 9, 1998

    Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the warm 
welcome. I thank Elaine and Gerry more than I can say. This has not been the easiest 
couple of weeks in their lives, and the fact that they continue to work 
and to have this event means an especially great deal to me tonight, and 
I thank you so much.
    I'd like to thank all the people who are here tonight. Senator 
Kerry, thank you for coming, and thank you for 
your leadership, especially on behalf of our Nation's children in the 
Capital. I thank Mayor Tom Menino and 
Angela for being here. When you said that Tom 
Menino's approval ratings, Steve, were in the eighties, my reaction was 
what the other 20 percent could possibly be thinking about. [Laughter] I 
don't know how anybody could do a better job as mayor than Tom Menino's 
doing; I don't think it's possible.
    Everywhere I go in America now, when I talk to serious people who 
care about dealing with our challenges, people want to know how Boston 
went over 2 years with no child under 18 being killed. And I said it did 
not happen by accident. And I guess that's part of what I want to say 
tonight. Of course, this evening didn't happen by accident either. So I 
want to thank not only Elaine and 
Gerry but all the other cochairs: Jim and Kathy Daley; 
Sherry and Alan 
Leventhal--Alan and Fred have been through the 
fires for me for a long time, and I thank them for that; Lyle 
Howland and Jack Manning. And I'd like to say a special word of thanks to 
Alan and Susie Solomont; Alan did do a fabulous job for us at the DNC. And 
Steve and Barbara Grossman, thank you. And you can see from Steve's speech 
tonight that he is not beaten down from the rigors of his job and he's 
doing a wonderful job. Massachusetts should be very, very proud of him.
    I also appreciate Lester Thurow coming 
tonight. I wish he could give the speech, and I could learn about how to 
improve the economy some more. [Laughter] And my good friend James 
Taylor, thank you for being here.
    You know, when I was standing in front and we were taking pictures, 
one of you came through the line and said, ``You know, Mr. President, 
Boston has become your ATM machine.'' [Laughter] But she said, ``That's 
okay. We like it; we like it.'' [Laughter] I am profoundly grateful to 
the people of this city and this State for being so good to me and to 
Hillary and to the Vice President, to our administration. You all know 
we've got the highest percentage of the vote we received in any State in 
Massachusetts in 1996. We had an all-Democratic sweep in our 
congressional elections. And some of them were quite tough, indeed. And 
I am profoundly grateful to all of you. And that didn't happen by 
    You heard all the things that Elaine said. I feel an enormous amount 
of gratitude for the strength of our economy, for the lowest 
unemployment rate since 1970 and the lowest inflation rate in 30 years 
and the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years and the lowest crime rates in 
24 years. I'm grateful for that. I think the question is, what do we 
intend to do with that? And that really is the great question sort of 
looming over Washington. In that sense, I rather like the fact that the 
El Nino gods were not too nice to us tonight. It keeps us humble. If you 
like this, you'll love it if we don't do anything about climate change.
    And that makes the point I want to make. When times are really 
good--in political life when times are good you can have, it seems to 
me, three responses. You can sort of play more golf and relax, which is 
appealing to me. [Laughter] Or you can think you can afford to be petty 
and mean and self-serving and groping and divisive politically, which is 
appealing to some. Or if the times are dynamic and things

[[Page 734]]

are still changing very profoundly and rapidly, you understand that 
complacence and smallness are not really viable options.
    And I've been going around the country trying to convince the 
American people that these good times give us an enormous opportunity 
and impose upon us a significant responsibility. The American people 
have confidence again. They believe this country can work again. They 
believe we can make things happen again.
    But things are changing very profoundly in the way we work, the way 
we live, the way we relate to each other, the way we relate to the rest 
of the world. And I believe that this is a time that we should be big, 
think big, and act big. And I am doing my best, with the help of our 
Democrats in Washington, to push the country in that direction, because 
I think the only way you can continue to enjoy good success in a dynamic 
time is to bear down, not let up.
    If you go out to Silicon Valley, for example, where Lord knows how 
many people have been made millionaires and more people than I can count 
on my two hands have been made billionaires, you won't find people going 
to work at noon and leaving at 3 o'clock, because they understand that 
in an economy of ideas you have to keep working to stay ahead of the 
curve. Not only that, it's interesting; it's fun; it's more fulfilling. 
That's the way our country should behave.
    And in that sense, I would say to you, for me, we should have a 
short-term agenda and a long-term agenda. We should be committed to 
working like crazy this year in this session of Congress, even before 
this election, to earn our keep for the American people. And as we look 
to the next 2 years, in the barely 600 days we have until the start of a 
new century, a new millennium, we ought to promise ourselves that we are 
not going to start that new era without having seriously addressed what 
we know right now are the biggest challenges facing us.
    So even though we've had a good time, I'd like to be just a little 
serious for a moment and just briefly tell you what I think we should be 
doing both now and over the long term. This year the first thing we need 
to do is to say we're glad we balanced the budget for the first time in 
30 years, but it hasn't actually happened yet. We're glad we're 
apparently going to have a big surplus for the first time in 30 years, 
but we don't actually have it yet.
    And we know we have real, serious, significant challenges awaiting 
us out there as the baby boomers retire and as everyone begins to live 
longer in reforming Social Security and Medicare, so we should not--we 
should not--squander this surplus we've waited 30 years to materialize 
until we've saved Social Security and prepared financially for the 21st 
century for the entire country. We should resist the easy temptation to 
either spend the money or give it back in a tax cut until, first, it 
materializes and, second, we know how we're going to deal with Social 
Security and Medicare.
    The second thing we ought to do is realize we have a historic public 
health opportunity and pass comprehensive tobacco legislation to protect 
our kids from the dangers of tobacco. Now, let me just say again, this 
is not a small thing. We have more people die from tobacco-related 
illnesses than all other health problems put together. Three thousand 
kids start smoking every day, even though it's not legal, and we know 
1,000 of them are going to die sooner because of it. What else can you 
do to save 1,000 lives a day? And we ought to do it this year in this 
congressional session. And if it's up to me and up to our caucus, that's 
exactly what we're going to do, and I hope you'll support us.
    We have an ambitious education agenda: national standards, national 
exams to measure them; help the school districts to build more buildings 
and to hire more teachers so we can have smaller classes in the early 
grades; we can repair older buildings; we can build new ones where the 
classes are bursting at the seams.
    Finally, we have a group of students in our school years who are 
bigger than the baby boom generation, for the first time since the baby 
boom generation. There are cities in this country where the average 
school building is 65 years of age or older. There are communities--I 
was down in Florida the other day to do a makeup date for the little 
school district I was supposed to visit when I tore my leg up over a 
year ago. In this lovely little school district, there's a beautiful old 
school building, and outside there are not one, not 5 but 17 trailers 
housing the children in the school.
    Now, you ask yourself--you say, we're Democrats; we want every kid 
in this country to have a chance. And we know they can't have a chance 
unless they get good educations. What does it

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say to a child from a poor inner-city school if they go to a school 
building where one of the floors is completely closed because the 
building is not maintained? How would you feel if you went to work every 
day and you walked up steps and you looked up at the floor and the first 
thing you saw as you looked at the building were three or four broken 
windows that never got fixed? You wouldn't tolerate it. You wouldn't 
permit your employees to do it. You wouldn't want your children to do 
    We say education is our most important mission. I'm telling you we 
need to pass an education agenda this year, based on standards, based on 
choice, based on technology. We're trying to hook up every classroom in 
the country to the Internet. The mayor says he'll have all the schools 
fixed here in a matter of a few months. You know that there are huge 
numbers of school buildings in this country where kids are going to 
school right now that literally cannot be hooked up to the Internet 
because they're too deficient in their basic infrastructure.
    So we have an education agenda. We have got a families agenda that 
includes letting elderly people who are not old enough to be on 
Medicare, or near elderly--people about my age--people who aren't old 
enough to be on Medicare but are early retired, buy into the Medicare 
program at cost. Even the Republican congressional analysis says that it 
won't do anything to hurt the Medicare program. We're trying to pass a 
Patients' Bill of Rights. With over half the American people in HMO's 
today, I think it's important. There are lots of other things in the 
family area we're trying to do.
    We have international responsibilities we are not fulfilling. I am 
trying my best to get the Congress to pay our debt to the United 
Nations. We get a lot out of being in the U.N. People share our burdens; 
they work with us. We can't say, ``We'd like to be the leading country 
in the world but, oh, by the way, we're having a domestic political spat 
so we don't think we'll pay our dues.'' We say we wanted Kofi 
Annan to be the Secretary-General. We said we 
wanted all these reforms in the U.N. They went about enacting our 
reforms, and now I can't get the Congress to pay our dues.
    We say we're worried about the financial crisis in Asia, but I can't 
get the Congress to pay what we owe to the International Monetary Fund, 
without which we cannot be an active participant in the long-term 
rebuilding of a lot of those Asian economies. So we have a short-term 
    But over the long term--and just think about it, how you think we 
ought to spend the next 600-and-some-odd days. I got yesterday--I can 
keep up with it; I finally got one of these little millennium clocks in 
the mail. And my wonderful secretary has it up on her desk now: ``602 
days to the 21st century,'' you know, how many hours and minutes and 
seconds and all. And it's exciting right now. It may get boring before 
the time passes, but it's exciting. [Laughter] But it's very helpful to 
me because it also is, minus about 20 days, all the time I've got left 
to work for you--no, no, 385 days, since we're measuring at 2000 instead 
of 2001.
    And I think you ought to think about it. What would you do if you 
were marking off the days every day? What are the big challenges still 
out there for us? I'll tell you what I think they are. First of all, if 
you want to hold this country together in a responsible way, we have to 
reform Social Security and Medicare. When all the baby boomers get into 
the Social Security system, if we continue to work and retire at the 
same rates we are now, there will be about two people working for every 
one person drawing Social Security. If we keep seeing the life 
expectancy of the American people go up and the wonders of technology 
come on, the Medicare system as presently structured will not be 
sustainable after another several years.
    So what we've got to do is to change that. I think that all of you 
would like it if Democrats were making those decisions, but you should 
insist that the Democrats who are elected be willing to make those 
decisions. We have proved now that we are the party of constructive 
change, and that's a big issue for America.
    What's the second big issue? We can't stop working on education 
until our elementary and secondary schools are the best in the world. No 
person doubts that our system of higher education is the best in the 
world. No person doubts that our system of elementary and secondary 
education is not the best in the world. And we could stay here until 
dawn talking about that, but I can tell you, for 20 years I believe that 
I have spent more time on education than any other public issue. I 
believe in it passionately. But I can tell you, we will never, ever, 
ever be able to say America is a place in which everyone has an 
opportunity unless we can do something about it.

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    What's the third big challenge? We have to do something to bring the 
spark of enterprise and opportunity to the inner-city poor. It is 
stunning to think that in an economy with a 4.3 percent unemployment 
rate, there are still neighborhoods in America where the unemployment 
rate is 15 percent or 20 percent. And it is not necessary. We have a 
huge program before the Congress right now that will do a lot to bring 
the spark of enterprise to the inner cities. If it isn't passed in this 
session, we have to keep working until we've done more.
    The third thing we've got to do is to prove we can grow the economy 
while we improve the environment. I believe the global warming 
phenomenon is real. I think it is significant. I do not believe we can 
regulate our way out of it. I think we have to prove that we can grow 
our way out of it.
    I was in California about a week ago at a housing development for 
moderate- and low-income working people, where the energy usage on 
average in the homes was 40 percent less than typical because you can 
now have solar panels on your home that look like ordinary shingles, 
they're so thin. You can now buy a window for a low-income home that 
lets in more light but keeps the heat in in the wintertime and the heat 
out in the summertime. And if you'll pay twice as much money to get 
light bulbs, they'll last 3 to 4 times as long.
    Now, we have to do these things on a huge scale in America. If we 
get to the point where we can build fuel-injection engines, fuel cells 
in our cars, we can cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by 
80 percent. They won't cost any jobs; they'll create jobs. They won't 
hurt the economy; it will improve the economy. I cannot tell you how 
important I think that is.
    Just two more things I think are big long-term challenges. We've got 
to prove that we really can be one America. We talk about it all the 
time. We've got to prove we can do it. And I think the two most critical 
things are, one, developing not only tolerance but respect and 
appreciation for people who are different than we are in every way. And 
you know I've worked pretty hard on that. Some people have made fun of 
me for doing it; some people have outright condemned me for doing it. 
But it's not only because I grew up in the South but also because I've 
been your President. I've seen what happens--from Bosnia to Kosovo, to 
Rwanda, to Haiti, to Northern Ireland, to the Middle East--when people 
decide that they only matter when they've got somebody to look down on, 
and that what is really important in their lives is that thank God 
they're not like those other people.
    I've seen what happens when people believe their lives only have 
meaning when they descend into an ever-escalating cycle of violence. And 
I'm telling you, things like that could happen here on a smaller scale. 
But the flip side is, if we can prove we are the world's most truly 
integrated diverse democracy, we can be a model for the 21st century 
that will give us a moral force in the world that cannot be 
    There is one school district across the Potomac River from the White 
House in Virginia that has children now from 180 different racial and 
ethnic and national groups, speaking as their native tongues over 100 
different languages. It's not just a black-white-Hispanic deal anymore. 
And that's exciting to me. In a global economy, rooted in ideas and 
communication, it is a godsend. But we cannot take it for granted.
    And the second thing I want to say is perhaps the best way we can 
help to build that one America is to inculcate in our children a sense 
of citizen service. Elaine mentioned this, but I'm very proud of the 
fact that AmeriCorps, which was in large measure modeled on City Year 
and my experiences here in Boston when I ran for President, will soon 
have 100,000 young people who will have earned college credit by serving 
in local communities, helping people to make the most of their own 
    When people work together and learn together and play together and 
serve together, they're far more likely to get along together. So this 
is very important.
    The last thing I want to say is, I have done my best as President to 
convince the American people that there is no reasonable dividing line 
any longer between foreign and domestic policy, in economics, in 
security, in many ways.
    What are the major security problems of the 21st century? Terrorism, 
weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands, 
narcotraffickers, organized crime, people who can get in an airport and 
fly someplace else. These things require a high level of cooperation and 
a recognition that we live in an interdependent world. If you want the 
United States to lead the world, we must be willing to fulfill

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our responsibilities. If you want other people to help us share the 
load, we must do that.
    One of the greatest things about what happened in ending the war in 
Bosnia is that we are there, shoulder-to-shoulder not only with Russian 
troops but with troops from two dozen other countries. If we want to 
continue to have that kind of influence, we can't run away from our 
obligations to trade with the rest of the world. We have to keep 
expanding trade, not trying to close up trade. Congress ought to give me 
the authority to have trade agreements. We have to keep cooperating with 
other countries in environmental matters, in health matters, in all 
these things. But the American people have got to believe deep in the 
marrow of their bones that every part of our national life has to 
require us to have an international global perspective.
    I fought very hard to save our space program, which was in danger 
when I became President. And one of the things I've asked the Congress 
to do is to invest in the 21st century research fund as a gift to the 
millennium that will dramatically increase all our research and 
development budgets. But one of the things that made it possible is that 
the international space station has European contributors, Japanese 
contributors, Canadian contributors, and a Russian contribution. And 
that's good. If you're going to have a place where people can go and 
stay a long while in space that's bigger than a football field, we need 
to work together.
    And we cannot have an attitude in Congress or in the country that 
says, we will be involved in the world only when it suits us, only our 
own terms, and we reserve the right to have some sort of fight here at 
home which will allow us to walk away from our obligations.
    And let me just give you two examples that go to the heart of 
Boston: the Irish peace process and the Middle East peace process. If I 
took a vote in Boston about whether I did the right thing to finally get 
America involved in the peace process in Ireland, even though it 
required us to break a few eggs at the time, most people would say that 
we did the right thing and you're glad we did. Yesterday we announced a 
modest but significant package of initiatives that we want to put into 
Northern Ireland, and we hope that it will be positive in persuading 
undecided voters there to vote in the next few days in the Irish 
referendum for the peace process and for it to implement the agreement 
that has been made.
    I had a great talk with Prime Minister Major, and we talked about 
whether there is anything we can do when we meet together in just a few 
days in Europe. Why? Because there are more Irish in Massachusetts than 
there are in Ireland. Because your heart is there, and you know it.
    If I took a vote in this crowd tonight and I said, do you want 
America to be a positive force for peace in the Middle East, and would 
you expect us, if the parties could make an agreement, to make more 
investments there, to grow the economy, and to guarantee the security of 
the parties so that we can unravel this incredible knot about peace 
versus security so that everybody can believe they can only have one 
with the other, whether you agree with everything I've said or 
everything the current government in Israel does, you agree with both of 
us or disagree with both of us, that proposition would pass 
overwhelmingly here in Boston.
    Yes, the United States should reach out a hand. Yes, we should be 
faithful to our friendship with Israel. Yes, we should be faithful to 
our passion for peace in the Middle East. Yes, if the Palestinians are 
going to enforce security and stop terrorism, we ought to help them have 
a decent life, and it's terrible that their per capita income has 
dropped 30 percent since the Oslo accords were signed. You would all 
say, ``Yes, let's do that.''
    Now, that's good, but you are also citizens of the world. We're not 
just Irish-Americans and Jewish Americans. We have to say that America 
now is composed of people from everywhere. I'm going to India and 
Pakistan and Bangladesh later in the year. I'm about to leave for China. 
You don't have to be a Chinese-American to understand how important our 
relationship with China is. And you don't have to be from the Indian 
subcontinent to know that in 30 years India will be the biggest country 
in the world. They already have the biggest middle class in the world. 
And if somehow the Indians and Pakistanis could unravel their 
differences, their future potential as an economic market for us and as 
a force for peace in Asia, bearing responsibilities that otherwise we 
might have to bear, is absolutely staggering, even though you may never 
read a newspaper article about it.
    So I ask you here in Boston not only to be proud of your Irish 
roots, not only to be proud of your Jewish heritage but to be passionate 
about the role that America has for peace and

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freedom and prosperity in the world, because the only way we can make 
the 21st century America's greatest days is if we do the right things at 
home and the right things abroad.
    The last point I want to make is this. I have the great good 
fortune, being President, that people send me books all the time. Even 
Lester sends me books from time to time. 
And because I travel around a lot, I read a lot of them. And one of the 
things that I've tried to do the last 2 years is to read a lot about 
periods of American history that most Americans don't know much about.
    For example, a lot of Americans know about what happened in the 
Constitutional Convention and during the Revolutionary War and then in 
George Washington's and Thomas Jefferson's and John Adams' Presidency. 
And then a lot of Americans know about what happened in Abraham 
Lincoln's Presidency and immediately thereafter. Most Americans don't 
know very much about what happened between James Madison and Abraham 
Lincoln. Most Americans don't know much about what happened between 
Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Most Americans don't even know a 
great deal about what happened between Woodrow Wilson and Franklin 
    So I've really tried to read about this. I just read a magnificent 
biography by Robert Remini of your fellow 
Massachusetts citizen Daniel Webster, which tells a lot about what 
happened in one of those gaping periods.
    But if you look at all the great breakpoints in American history--
how we started, what happened in the Civil War, what happened in the 
industrial revolution, what happened in the Depression and the Second 
World War, the civil rights revolution--you look at every time there was 
a great challenge in this country's history, we always had to do three 
things over and over and over again as we rose to a higher and higher 
and higher level of democracy. Every time, we had to deepen the meaning 
of freedom to include more people and to make their freedom real; we had 
to widen the circle of opportunity so that citizenship meant your chance 
at the brass ring; and we had to strengthen the bonds of our Union.
    Now, you remember that. The Democratic Party, I'm sad to say, was 
not always on the right side of all three of those issues in the 19th 
century. But since Woodrow Wilson became President, throughout the 20th 
century, we haven't always been right on every issue, but we've always 
been on the right side of our history. And I am determined that when we 
start this new century, this country will have deepened our freedom, 
widened our opportunity, and strengthened our Union. If we do the right 
things, our kids will have the best America ever.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:30 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Elaine and Gerald Schuster; Mayor 
Thomas M. Menino of Boston and his wife, Angela; Fred Seigel, president, 
Energy Capital Partners; Steve Grossman, national chair, and Alan D. 
Solomont, former national finance chair, Democratic National Committee; 
economist Lester C. Thurow; and musician James Taylor.