[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[August 1, 1998]
[Pages 1386-1388]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 1386]]

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Reception in East Hampton
August 1, 1998

    Thank you. This is one clever man. I want you to watch this. You see 
this? He took the watch again. [Laughter] Thank you, Jonathan. Thank 
you, Christopher. I want to thank Andy and Jeff and Elizabeth and all 
the others who were cochairs tonight. I want to thank Sandy Thurman and 
Richard Socarides and Marsha Scott, who've done a lot of great work for 
me and on my behalf with so many of you.
    And I want to thank Brian Rich for serving as a White House 
volunteer. The whole place runs on volunteers, believe it or not, to an 
astonishing extent. I want to thank Steve and Len and all fine people 
here from the DNC, and all of you for being here.
    Last night we were with some people, and a person who's lived here 
for many years said, ``You know, the last sitting President to visit 
Long Island was William McKinley--the eastern end of Long Island--
William McKinley.'' And everybody laughed. They didn't exactly see me as 
a natural successor to William McKinley. We don't think of him in the 
same terms that I'm frequently painted these days.
    But I'll tell you an interesting thing about William McKinley. He 
was the last of a line of either four or five generals, Union generals 
from Ohio, to be elected President between 1868 and 1896, that included 
Ulysses Grant; his successor, Rutherford Hayes; James Garfield, who, 
unfortunately, was assassinated and lived only a few months; Mr. 
McKinley--Mr. Harrison might have been from Ohio; I'm not sure. But the 
point is, if you were a Union general from Ohio, you had about a 50 
percent chance of being elected President between the end of the Civil 
War and 1900.
    Now, what has that got to do with all this today? There's a reason 
they won. They won because Ohio was the heartland of America at the time 
and because they embodied the idea of the Nation for which Abraham 
Lincoln gave his life, that slavery was wrong, that discrimination based 
on race was wrong, and that we needed a strong, united country for 
America and for all Americans to fulfill their God-given capacity.
    Throughout American history, one of our two parties has always been 
essentially the party of the Nation. And even though the Democrats, I 
regret to say, after the Civil War, were just kind of coming to that--
they were the party of immigrants, and that was good, and they stood 
against discrimination against immigrants--but for all kinds of reasons, 
we didn't become the party of the Nation until the election of Woodrow 
Wilson. And then, our fate was sealed when Franklin Roosevelt was 
elected and Harry Truman succeeded him.
    We haven't always been right on every issue in the 20th century, but 
I think it's clear that we have been on the right side of history. And I 
think that's why you're here today. And a lot of you said a lot of very 
kind things to me as I worked my way through the crowd, and I appreciate 
them more than you know. When I ran for President in 1992, I did it 
because I thought our country was divided, that we hadn't taken care of 
the business before us, and we certainly weren't planning for the future 
very well. It seemed to me that we needed to be trying to create an 
America in which there was genuine opportunity for every responsible 
citizen, in which we were continuing to lead the world toward peace and 
freedom and prosperity, and in which we were coming closer together as 
one community.
    Or, if you put it in another way--if you go back and read the 
Declaration of Independence, it basically lays out the things that our 
country has been for all along. We just never perfectly lived up to 
them. We've always been for deepening the meaning of freedom. Keep in 
mind, when all those people said all people are created equal, if you 
weren't a white male property owner, you couldn't even vote. But 
Jefferson said, ``When I think of slavery, I tremble to think that God 
is just.''
    So we set out an ideal, and then we knew we'd have to be working 
toward it for a long time, constantly redefining it, deepening the 
meaning of freedom. We've always tried to widen the circle of 
opportunity, and we have been on a permanent mission, in the Founders' 
words, to ``form a more perfect Union.''
    Now, on all fronts, I believe our party is on the right side of 
history on the edge of this new millennium. Hillary is running this 

[[Page 1387]]

Millennial Project called imagining the past and envisioning the 
future--imagine the future--excuse me, ``Honor the past; imagine the 
future.'' It's been a long day. [Laughter] Anyway, the thing I like 
about it is, I don't think you can imagine the future unless you do it 
in terms of the values and the history of the past, and I don't think 
you can just live in the past. So everything I've done the last 6 years, 
I've tried to make America, first of all, work again. I've tried to 
develop a working definition of what the role of the Federal Government 
in our national life should be. And I've tried to get out of the old 
debate about Government is the problem, Government is the solution, 
toward seeing Government as an empowering agent to enable the rest of us 
to live our lives and to create the conditions and give people the tools 
to do what needs to be done.
    And I think that the ideas we brought to the economic and social 
debate, to the foreign policy debate have contributed measurably to the 
remarkable conditions in our country today. Most of you know that we 
have the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years and the lowest crime rate 
in 25 years and the lowest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years. 
We're about to have the first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years, 
the highest homeownership in history, with the smallest Government in 35 
    But we also have advanced the cause of peace and freedom around the 
world, advanced the cause of interdependence around the world through 
economic cooperation, and advanced the cause of unity at home with 
things like citizen service and the opportunities I've had to work with 
many of you to remind the American people that we're all one country and 
that everybody is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and 
    And I would just like to say, if you look ahead at the big 
challenges facing the country--how are we are going to prepare for the 
retirement of the baby boom generation? We have to reform Social 
Security and Medicare so that it will do what it needs to do to hold our 
society together and provide for dignity in old age, without bankrupting 
our children and grandchildren, those of us who are baby boomers.
    We have to provide, for the first time in history, a genuine world-
class elementary and secondary education for all of our kids, not just 
those who are middle class or better. We have to prove that we can grow 
the economy and improve the environment--not just preserve it, but 
improve it--because I believe that the global warming phenomenon is 
real. I know the oceans are being slowly undermined. And we had a 
fabulous conference on that recently in California.
    We have to prove that America can still be a force for peace and 
freedom and security around the world, standing up against all this 
racial and ethnic and religious hatred around the world and the spread 
of dangerous weapons and taking advantage of the opportunities that are 
    And finally, I don't think we can do good around the world unless we 
are good at home. And that's why I have always said I belong to a party 
that puts progress over partisanship, that puts people over politics, 
that puts unity over division.
    And you know, sometimes when you try to affect that kind of 
transformation, you know you're going to provoke a reaction. I didn't 
dream it would be quite as profound as it has been, this reaction. But I 
must say, if I had it to do over again, I would gladly assume the 
challenge because it's been a wonderful thing. And if it weren't for the 
22d amendment, I'd give the people one more chance to elect or defeat 
me--[laughter]--because I believe in what we're doing. And I've been 
blessed to have not only a wife but also a wonderful Vice President who 
believes in what we're doing.
    And I just want to say to all of you, what Hillary said is right. We 
can do very well in this election. If you go all the way back to the 
Civil War, the party of the President, when the President's in his 
second term, always has lost seats at midterm. It may not happen this 
time, which is one reason the heat, the incoming fire is so intense now, 
because they know it may not happen this time. Why? Because we have an 
agenda out there: We have a Patients' Bill of Rights. We've got an 
education agenda. We've got an environmental agenda. We've got a foreign 
policy agenda. We've got an economic agenda for the inner cities. The 
debate, the substantive debate is out there.
    And I still believe that the biggest problem with the American 
people not feeling the sense of unity and mutual harmony and respect 
that affects among other things--among others, people in the gay 
community all the time, is a lack of genuine, open, unthreatening 
contact, debate, discussion.

[[Page 1388]]

    And so, I just want to say to you, I thank you for your 
contributions; I thank you for being here. We'll try to make good use of 
the investments you've given us. But I hope between now and November, 
you will go out and tell people that it's not an accident that America 
is better off today than it was 6 years ago, that there are ideas behind 
the changes that took place in this country, and they're good ideas. And 
the ideas we have for the future are good ideas. And the American people 
ought to go out there in this election and be heard on those ideas. And 
if they are, I think that our Democrats will do very well indeed, 
because we know that given a reasoned chance to make a judgment, we win 
two-to-one on almost every critical issue facing the country.
    But given organized and well-financed disinformation campaigns, we 
sometimes have trouble, as we did recently when, much to Andy's grief, 
we lost the fight with the big tobacco interests in Congress. I'm not 
done with that, and we're going to come back to it.
    But you can help us prevail. And the last thing I'd like to say is--
the other thing Hillary said is right--a part of this strategy that 
we're up against is designed to depress the vote. In 1994 we had a very 
depressed vote. Now, I personally don't think it's going to work this 
time, because the country is in better shape and the consequences of the 
policies of the administration are more evident, and the strategy 
against us is a little more bald, I'd say. I think that's a delicate way 
of saying it. And so I don't think it will work.
    But you've got to think about that. Go out there and tell people 
that you're doing this because, throughout history, America was always 
at its best by trying to perfect what we started with in the Declaration 
of Independence, to widen the circle of opportunity, deepen the meaning 
of freedom, strengthen the bonds of our Union, and because we're on the 
edge of a whole new millennium, a whole new way of thinking and living 
and working and relating to each other and the rest of the world; and 
the party of the future is the party that's on the right side of history 
and that you're proud to be a part of it.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 6:30 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to reception hosts Jonathan Sheffer and Christopher 
Barley; event cochairs Andy Tobias and Jeff Soref; Elizabeth Birch, 
executive director, Human Rights Campaign; and Steve Grossman, national 
chair, and Leonard Barrack, national finance chair, Democratic National