[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[July 31, 1998]
[Pages 1382-1384]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner in East Hampton, New 
July 31, 1998

    First of all, I thank Bruce and Claude for their wonderful 
hospitality in this magnificent home and the terrific dinner. Our 
compliments to all the--the chef and the people in the kitchen. I thank 
Alan and Susan for dreaming up this weekend and all of you who have come 
to be a part of it.
    We've had a great time tonight. Since Bruce asked me if I would go 
in there, when we're having coffee in the other room, and answer 
questions, I will spare you any extended remarks. I want to ask you to 
think about something. I am--we're here for the Democratic Committee, 
and I'm very grateful to Steve Grossman and to Len Barrack and to Fran 
Katz and all the other people. But I was born a Democrat because I was a 
Depression era--my parents were and my grandparents. My grandfather, who 
raised me until I was 4, thought he was going to Franklin Roosevelt when 
he died.
    But I was determined in 1991 and 1992 to be faithful to the 
traditional values of our country and our party, but to modernize our 
party and to bring a new set of ideas to the debate in Washington, which 
I thought, frankly, was stale and divisive and dominated by the people 
in the other party who thought they had an entitlement to the White 
House. Some days, I think they still do. [Laughter] And I thought the 
White House belonged to all the rest of you and everybody else in the 
country and was the instrument of ideas consistent with our democracy to 
keep our country moving forward.
    Now, Hillary is leading this Millennium Project, which was referred 
to earlier. And you probably saw that they started--Hillary and Ralph 
Lauren started by saving the Star-Spangled Banner the other day. And 
then she went to Fort McHenry, and then to Thomas Edison's home, and 
then to Harriet Tubman's home, and then to George Washington's 
Revolutionary War headquarters in New York.
    But the theme of the Millennium Project is honoring the past and 
imagining the future. So I think about that all the time. Tom said that 
McKinley was the last President to come here, for example; it must be 
true. [Laughter] Now,

[[Page 1383]]

McKinley was an interesting fellow, but I'll tell you the interesting--
McKinley was elected President in 1896 and reelected in 1900. Now, 
between 1868, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and 
William McKinley were elected President. You know what they had in 
common? They were all generals in the Union Army from Ohio.
    If you got to be a general in the Union Army, and you were from 
Ohio, you had about a 50 percent chance of being President in that 
period of time. [Laughter] That's a rather interesting bit of our 
history. [Laughter] So tell that tomorrow when they tell you McKinley 
was the last President. I care a lot about this country's history. I've 
spent a lot of time reading it, studying it, trying to feel it in the 
White House, in every room, in the life of every predecessor I have had 
and their families. And I think it's very important when you imagine the 
future that we do it in a way that is consistent with the history of 
this country.
    So I will say that I think the most important things about American 
history can be found in the ideas of the Declaration of Independence and 
the Constitution, which--and manifest in every changing time, this 
country has always been about at least three things: widening the circle 
of opportunity for responsible citizens, deepening the meaning of 
freedom in each succeeding generation, and strengthening the bonds of 
our Union.
    The reason I'm a Democrat in 1998, apart from the fact that I was 
born and raised one and believed in the civil rights movement and the 
things that were dominant in my childhood, is that I think we more 
clearly represent the last of those ideas. I think we believe that Union 
is very important. I think we believe that part of the Declaration of 
Independence, that we are dedicated to the permanent mission of forming 
a more perfect Union, because there are some things that we want to 
achieve for ourselves, our families, and our future that we cannot 
achieve alone or in isolated groups.
    And I say that because I think that we've, for the last couple of 
decades, seen a real assault on government and on the idea that we do 
have sort of mutual ties and bonds and responsibilities to one another 
that enhance our own lives. And I believe that very strongly.
    So as we look ahead, I think--I will just tell you what I think some 
of the great challenges of tomorrow are. I think, first of all, it will 
be the period of greatest possibility in all human history, and we ought 
to be ashamed of ourselves if we mess it up. It will be an age of 
breathtaking biological advances. It will be an age of breathtaking 
technological advances. It will be an age where we will be able to 
relate to people around the world through the device of the Internet--
the fastest growing social organism in history, I might add--in ways 
that our parents could never imagine, probably in ways that most of us 
could never imagine.
    But we have some big challenges at home and abroad. And I will just 
mention them and stop, and you ask yourself: If you're trying to imagine 
the future, what do you think the big challenges are? Now, let me just 
mention what I think they are.
    At home, I think, first of all, the baby boomers have got to retire 
in a way that preserves the dignity of American society for the elderly 
without bankrupting our kids and undermining their ability to raise our 
grandchildren, which means we have to reform Social Security and 
Medicare in a way that keeps them there functioning for people who need 
them to the extent that they're needed and brings our country together, 
but does it in a way that does not dramatically undermine the standard 
of living of our children and their ability to raise our grandchildren.
    Secondly, we have to recognize that in an information society we 
have to do a much better job of elementary and secondary education and 
preschool education, and not just for some or most but for all of our 
children. And we have to maximize everything we know about child 
psychology, about support for kids who come from troubled families and 
live in troubled neighborhoods, about the access to technology. But no 
one in the world who really knows anything about it would seriously 
question the proposition that American has the finest system of higher 
education in the world. No one believes that America has the finest 
system of elementary and secondary education in the world for all its 
children. And I think that's a big challenge.
    Number three, I think we have a whole new attitude about the 
environment. We have basically, for 30 years, done great things as a 
country on the environment since the passage of the Clean Air Act and 
setting up the EPA, and we concluded that, if we take these things one 
at a time, we can afford to clean up the environment and keep our 
economy still growing. I

[[Page 1384]]

think now we have to understand that we cannot maintain or sustain our 
economy unless we make the preservation and even the improvement of the 
environment an integral part of our economic policy.
    In other words, I believe global warming is real. I do not think it 
is an accident that 9 hottest years on record have all occurred in the 
last 11 years. I don't think that's an accident. I don't think it's an 
accident that '97 was the hottest year on record, and every month in '98 
has been hotter than every month in '97. And I think there are at hand 
the means to continue to grow the economy and improve the environment in 
ways that will make sure it's all here a hundred years from now for our 
    Let me just mention a couple of other things. I believe that, with 
regard to the economy--I think it's obvious--and around our table I had 
a fascinating conversation talking about the global economy, in 
particular, as you might imagine, Japan and Asia, China, and we talked 
about Russia. We have a lot of challenges in the global economy; we have 
a lot of challenges in the area of world peace, the proliferation of 
weapons of mass destruction, dealing with terrorism, and trying to stop 
people from killing each other because of their ethnic, racial, and 
religious differences.
    There will be plenty to do in the post-cold-war world to create a 
trade-centered, people-centered, peaceful network of national 
cooperation and institutions to help deal with those who won't be part 
of that framework.
    We also have to recognize, I think, that we have an incredible 
opportunity and an obligation here--and those of you from New York, I'd 
say, should feel it especially--to prove that we can bring free 
enterprise to the areas of America which haven't received it yet. There 
are still neighborhoods in New York City that have double-digit 
unemployment rates, largely because of underinvestment and low skill 
levels, not because most people aren't responsible; most people in most 
neighborhoods get up and go to work every day, pay taxes, and try to be 
good citizens. So we're never going to have a better time than the next 
couple of years to try to help.
    And the last thing I'd like to say is I think that this theme, that 
Hillary and I have worked on, of one America means something to me. It 
means one America across all the lines that divide us. It means an 
America in which citizens commit themselves to serve their fellow human 
beings, which is why I'm so proud of our AmeriCorps program, our 
national service program. It also means that we understand that the 
unity we have is a precious gift, and we should manage our differences 
with dignity and decency and always strive for unity over division; 
always put people over politics; always put progress over partisanship. 
That's what I believe.
    And if we do those things, I think we're going to do just great in 
the 21st century. And I'm going to do everything I can for the next 2\1/
2\ years to make sure that that is exactly what we do.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:40 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Bruce and Claude Wasserstein; event 
cochairs Alan and Susan Patricof; Steve Grossman, national chair, 
Leonard Barrack, national finance chair, and Fran Katz, national finance 
director, Democratic National Committee; and fashion designer Ralph