[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 4, 1998]
[Pages 890-891]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Reception for the SAVER Summit
June 4, 1998

    Thank you very much, and welcome to the White House. I want to say 
again a special word of thanks to Senator Breaux and the other Members of Congress who have pushed this 
summit. I believe that Congressmen Neal, 
Payne and Clay are here, and there were others, of course, with us 
earlier in the day. I thank Secretary Herman for her outstanding leadership.
    I think it is truly remarkable that Louisiana State has gone so far 
in the baseball finals. [Laughter] And I say that as a neighbor. I've 
actually known about John Breaux--John Breaux 
and I first ran for office in 1974, and we had the same ad person, so I 
knew about John Breaux sort of from a distance. And my guy, who was his 
guy, kept saying, ``You're so earnest. You just don't have the kind of 
moves that Breaux does.'' [Laughter]
    And Louisiana--I grew up in Arkansas, so he's my neighbor, and it's 
just different down there. [Laughter] Really. Baseball--it's the only 
State in the country where, in all probability, everybody on the 
baseball team has to slow down to play that sport, instead of speed up. 
[Laughter] It's just an amazing place.
    I quoted Benjamin Franklin today and told you all the story about 
his leaving the £2,000 to Boston and Philadelphia. Franklin 
also once said, it's better to go to bed without supper than to wake up 
in debt. And we're almost out of debt, so we're giving you drinks and 
not supper here tonight. [Laughter] But at least we're making progress. 
And if we're quick enough, at least you'll be able to have supper. 
    There was a good feeling in that room today when all of us were 
there. I think you all felt good about it; I felt good about it. The 
reason we felt good about it is because you like to see your leaders 
working together and listening to you. And that's the way it ought to 
work around here all the time.
    I keep telling people I have to travel out in the country and see 
people and just sit and listen on a regular basis to remind myself that 
I'm supposed to be working for you instead of against them, and vice 
versa--that that's really what we're all here for. And I think the fact 
that we have this level of common commitment is some evidence that we 
understand this is a big deal, and you don't have the luxury of engaging 
in petty politics.
    Here you are in this remarkable East Room, with this wonderful 
picture of Theodore Roosevelt, the only American President ever to win 
the Nobel Prize for Peace, for helping to settle

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the war between Russia and Japan in 1905. And there's this very famous 
picture of George Washington that was painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1797. 
We bought it for $500. It's worth slightly more than that today. 
[Laughter] It's appreciated even more than Benjamin Franklin's 
£2,000. [Laughter]
    And I think about it because that picture was hanging in this room, 
and there was food all over the room, and there was a banquet being 
prepared, when James Madison was President. And he was the last 
President ever to actually be the Commander in Chief of the Armed 
Forces. He actually rode into battle with our forces in the War of 1812. 
And in 1814 when the British came up the river and burned the White 
House, Madison was in Maryland, near here, with the troops, thinking 
that he would be able to cut them off. But they came up the river 
    And so they sent word to Mrs. Madison and to the others to get out 
of here and abandon the banquet. So when the British got here, they 
found all this food. They sat down and ate our food, and then they 
burned the house--[laughter]--which was a sort of an efficient thing for 
them to do, I guess. [Laughter] But the point is, James Madison said, 
``Leave and don't take anything but that picture.'' Because that picture 
symbolized our roots. It is a truly priceless American treasure now, 
which would not have been there but for the fact that Dolley Madison had 
the presence of mind, with the British breathing down her throat, to cut 
it out of its frame, roll it up, preserve it, and get to safety.
    We have a remarkable way of coming together as a democracy when our 
existence is threatened. When we have a chance to do something really 
big, we have a remarkable way of coming together, as I think we had 
enormous support across party lines for the constructive role the United 
States played in the peace process in Ireland, for example. And now I 
believe there's a great deal of support for what we have done in Bosnia, 
because it's working.
    It is harder to get a democracy together when you're dealing with a 
very large problem, but it's not right on your doorstep; it's 10, or 20, 
or 30 years down the road. And one of the most impressive things to me 
about the young people--the young people who work here, for example, at 
the White House, the young people I meet at the colleges and 
universities or in workplaces around the country--is that I find they 
really do spend a fair amount of time thinking about what America will 
be like in 20, or 30, or 40 years. And it's a tribute to their parents; 
it's a tribute to their educators; and more than anything else, it's a 
tribute to them.
    But those of us who are, like Senator Breaux and Secretary Herman 
and I, sort of on the cutting edge of the baby boom burden, we've had a 
pretty good run in this country. This country has been very good to us. 
We've had an amazing life. But we also have not had many opportunities, 
because of the divisions of the last 30 years, to really coalesce our 
country and to take on these big, long-term challenges.
    Now, in trying to deal with the challenges of Social Security and 
the other savings issues, of Medicare, preserving the environment for 
the long time while we grow the economy, and all the other big 
challenges of the country--those of us who are in our middle years or 
later, who are in a position to really make decisions here, this is the 
opportunity of a lifetime for us. And for reasons, as I said earlier 
today--for reasons, I think, largely due to the success our country is 
enjoying now, our democracy will permit us to do it. And our children 
are demanding that we do it.
    And so I think you should be mindful of that, and you should be 
happy about it, because not every citizen gets to do what you're being 
asked to do, not every generation has a chance to do--to preserve the 
country and keep it strong and united and growing for a whole 
generation, as you're being given the chance to do.
    So I hope you will not only take this seriously, as I know you will, 
but enjoy it. And then when you leave here, do what you can to convey 
this sense of both possibility and urgency to the people with whom you 
come in contact with across the country, because we have to maintain 
this sense in the country that this is something their democracy ought 
to produce, that this is not something that just leaders can do alone 
but is something we can do together. And with your leadership and 
energy, I believe we will.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 6:45 p.m. in the East Room at the White