[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[September 26, 1998]
[Pages 1683-1688]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Unity '98 Dinner in Los Angeles, California
September 26, 1998

    Thank you very much. I hate to begin with a request, but if there 
was any way to turn down some of these lights, I would like it. I can't 
see any of you out there. Can you turn

[[Page 1684]]

these lights down? It's not a nightclub act. But I'd just like to know 
that you're out there, you know? [Laughter] Thank you.
    Let me begin by telling you how very grateful I am for the warm 
welcome you have given me tonight, to those of you whom I saw earlier. I 
thank you especially for the personal messages you had for me and for 
Hillary. You know, even Presidents and their families have to be people, 
too, and that means a very great deal to us. And I thank you more than 
you will ever know.
    I want to thank Haim and Cheryl for having me back in their home and 
having all of you here in this beautiful, beautiful setting. I'd like to 
thank Michael McDonald for that wonderful song. We were all up there 
singing, but not as well as you. I want to thank the staff of our Unity 
events, the people who catered this wonderful dinner, and the people who 
served it. I thank them all. They did a wonderful job for us. Thank you.
    I want to thank Gray and Sharon Davis for being such good friends to 
Hillary and me and such good friends to the people of California. You 
have to make sure that on election night they're victorious, and I 
believe they will be. I thank you so much for being here. I thank my 
friend Phil Angelides for being here and for running for office.
    Let me say to all the Members of Congress here, I'm very proud of 
this Unity event. We began to do this in 1996, to work together through 
the Democratic committee and the Senate campaign committee and the House 
campaign committee. We found that our contributors were relieved because 
they were only being hit once, instead of three times. But we also found 
that when we pooled our efforts, as is always true in life, when we work 
together, we do better. And Nancy Pelosi and Bob Torricelli have done a 
wonderful, wonderful job and a great thing for our country.
    I'd like to thank the other Members who are here. You may have heard 
through the applause what Nancy said about Brad Sherman, that he was on 
Speaker Gingrich's top 10 hit list. Well, for whatever it's worth, he's 
on my top 10 protect list, and I think he's going to win in November, 
thanks in no small measure to your help. And I thank you for that.
    I have a lot of things to be grateful to Henry Waxman for, but one 
thing stands out above all: He has put the public health of the children 
of this country over the interests of the tobacco industry that has done 
so much to undermine it and to stop us from passing comprehensive 
tobacco legislation. He fought that battle a long time before it was 
popular and before we in our administration got into it. And Henry, 
we're going to win sooner or later, sure as the world, and when we do, 
it will be in no small measure because of you. And I thank you for what 
you've done for our children.
    I want to say, too, that I'm very glad Barbara Boxer is here 
tonight. You know she's in a tough race. She's always been in a tough 
race. She was in '92; she is now; she has been since the spring. But I 
think she's tougher than her race is. And I can say this about, to some 
extent, every Member of Congress who's here. But I want you to remember 
that many of the things for which the American people very generously 
give our administration credit, which flow from the economic prosperity 
we have, on one August night in 1993 hung by the thread of a single 
vote, first in the House and then in the Senate. And we did not have a 
vote to spare when we passed the economic plan that brought the deficit 
down 92 percent, before we passed the bipartisan Balanced Budget Act. 
That plan cut taxes for 15 million working families on modest incomes. I 
invested dramatic new monies in health research, as Nancy said, and 
education. It gave real incentives for people to invest in inner cities 
that had been left behind in the development we had enjoyed. And it hung 
by a single vote.
    And Barbara Boxer, who had been elected in a narrow race in 
California in 1992, never blinked. She just went up there and did the 
right thing for America. And now the voters of California should never 
blink. They should go to the polls and do the right thing for California 
and for America and reelect her, because we need her in Washington, DC, 
very, very badly.
    I would also like to thank Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle for their 
sterling leadership of our caucus in the Senate and the House through 
some very, very difficult days and tough decisions. Again I say to you, 
many of the things for which the administration is credited required the 
support of Democrats. Even in the bipartisan legislation, we never would 
have gotten the money to insure 5,000 children who don't have health 
insurance--5 million children. We never would have gotten the funds to 
give a $1,500 tax credit to virtually every family in the

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country for the first 2 years of college and tax breaks for the other 
costs of higher education, and to expand dramatically the student loan 
program and the scholarship programs, if it hadn't been for the 
leadership of Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt.
    So every time you think about the good things that I have been able 
to achieve, if a law was required and a change was required, I can tell 
you that if it hadn't been for those two men sharing the same values, 
the same hopes, the same dreams, and being willing to pay the same heat, 
it would not have happened. And I want to see them and their 
counterparts rewarded in this election because they have consistently, 
in the majority and the minority, done the right thing for the United 
States. They are builders, not wreckers; they are uniters, not dividers; 
and they ought to be the leaders of the United States Congress.
    Let me just say one final thing of appreciation for the Democratic 
Party. I want to thank the chairs of this event nationally and the 
chairs in California. I want to thank Steve Grossman, who did the right 
thing to go back home to his child; and Len Barrack, our finance chair.
    We've had a wonderful couple of days. Hillary just got back from 
Washington and Oregon, campaigning for our House candidates. She was in 
northern California with Barbara last night, and we got to spend the 
evening with Chelsea, and the morning until noon. And I was in Illinois 
yesterday and in San Jose last night, in Silicon Valley. I went to San 
Diego earlier today, and I'm here, and I'm going on to Texas in the 
    America knows that it has a decision to make. And I want to talk to 
you pretty seriously about that just for a moment. The kind reception 
you gave me is an indication of a deep feeling that you and millions of 
other Americans have about what's going on in Washington. But what I 
desperately want this election to be about is what's going on outside of 
Washington, in the lives of the American people.
    You know, I ran for this job because I did not believe the country 
was moving in the right direction, and I didn't think we had a vision to 
get to the new century. And I believe that we had some ideas--I and the 
people who were working with me--that would, first of all, make America 
work for ordinary people again; and secondly would bring us together in 
a spirit of reconciliation and community across this incredible 
diversity that we have in our country. Indeed, one of the things that I 
regret the most about so much of the rancor of Washington is that it 
undermines what we so desperately need in this country now, which is a 
deepening spirit of unity and what we have in common with our neighbors 
and friends, no matter what the differences are. And I wanted America to 
be a force for peace and prosperity and freedom throughout the world.
    And in the last 6 years, because of what we were able to do 
together, I'm very proud of the fact that we have the lowest 
unemployment rate in 28 years and the lowest crime rate in 25 years and 
the smallest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years, and we're 
about to have the first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years. I'm 
proud of the fact that we have advanced the cause of peace and freedom 
around the world and that we banned assault weapons at home and passed 
the Brady bill and passed the family and medical leave law and did a lot 
of other things to change life for people who could never afford to come 
to an event like this. I'm proud of all that.
    But the real issue is, what are we going to do with this moment of 
prosperity and confidence? And you showed me once again tonight that 
adversity is not our enemy. Adversity is our friend. It's a harsh 
teacher sometimes, and I think we've all experienced that in one way or 
another in our lives. But it animates us to action and it forces us to 
get to the bottom of ourselves and ask what we really believe in and 
what we really care about and what we're prepared to work for and to 
sacrifice for. No, adversity is not our enemy in this election season, 
but complacency and cynicism are enemies.
    Our opponents in the other party believe that they're going to pick 
up seats in this midterm election and because of what I call the M&M 
syndrome: midterms and money. Even though you're here tonight, they'll 
still have more money than we do for the next few weeks--quite a bit 
more. And usually at midterm elections, the electorate is older and 
wealthier and more likely to be Republican. In order for us to win, 
which I clearly believe we can, the American people have to understand 
what the real choice is and have to believe that just because times are 
good doesn't mean we can sit on our lead, because we can't.
    All you have to do is look around the world today. Ron Burkle and I 
were talking tonight

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before I came over here about the troubles in Asia, the troubles in 
Japan, the terrible challenges the people of Russia are facing; the fear 
that many of us have that it could spread to our friends in Latin 
America who are actually doing a pretty good job running their 
economies; and what Alan Greenspan said the other night, that America 
could never remain--or at least not forever remain--an island of 
prosperity in a sea of economic distress.
    The world is changing very fast. That's why I have said that we 
ought to be using this time to look at the big problems facing our 
country and to take action. Let me just mention a couple very quickly 
that I think are important and then give you the real comparison of 
what's going on.
    Number one, we're going to have this surplus on October 1st. We've 
been waiting for it for 29 years; and every Member of Congress and I in 
this room, we've been working on it for 6 years. Now, I would like to 
see the red ink turn to black and dry a little. I'm just waiting for 
October 1st, just to take a deep breath and say that's another thing we 
did that was good for America.
    The leaders of the other party, they want to give an election-year 
tax cut. Just a few weeks before the election, it would be popular; it 
would be great politics. But it's wrong. It is the wrong thing to do. 
It's wrong for two reasons.
    One is, we need to show stability and discipline. We quadrupled the 
debt of this country in the 12 years before I became President. And now, 
with so much of the rest of the world in trouble, we need to show people 
we have got our head on straight and we are not going to knee-jerk in 
the management of our economy; we're going to be a force of strength and 
stability for the whole world.
    The second and really the more important issue is that everybody 
knows the Social Security system we have now is not sustainable when the 
baby boomers retire. It's fine now, and it will be fine for several 
years in the future. But we know right now we cannot maintain the 
present Social Security system and take care of the elderly--and I 
remind you that half of the elderly people in this country are lifted 
out of poverty today because of Social Security. They would be in 
poverty were it not for Social Security, even those that have other 
sources of income.
    Now, I have not said I'm against tax cuts. We have tax cuts in my 
budget, in the balanced budget, for child care, for education, for the 
environment. All I said is we shouldn't spend the surplus on tax cuts 
until we save Social Security for the 21st century. And that's very 
important. Everybody I know--there are some baby boomers here tonight--
everybody between 34 and 52 is a baby boomer. I'm the oldest of them, 
though it grieves me to say so. [Laughter]
    But I can tell you--not very long ago I was home in Arkansas eating 
barbecue with 20 people I grew up with, and very few of them would 
classify as upper middle class. Most of them have very modest incomes; 
they're just good, hard-working Americans doing the best they can to 
raise their kids. But every one of them was plagued with the notion that 
when they got ready to retire and there were only two people working for 
every one person on Social Security, if we don't do something about this 
now, we would have to take lots more money from our children and 
undermine their ability to raise our grandchildren just to sustain our 
    Now, you heard Bob Torricelli quoting de Tocqueville--we're going to 
see, because it's a clear choice in this election. They're offering 
everybody a quick-fix tax cut that won't amount to a lot of money to 
most people, but it sounds great before an election. And we're going 
into the teeth of the election and we say, ``We would like to tell you 
this, but we're not going to do it; we're going to tell you truth: 
America needs to set a financial example, and we need to save Social 
Security first before we use any of that surplus for spending or for tax 
cuts. That's our position.'' It's a big issue, and it's the right thing 
for America.
    The second big issue--I never thought I'd ever be giving a speech 
about this within 6 weeks of an election--is whether we're going to fund 
the International Monetary Fund. Most Americans probably don't know what 
it is. But I can tell you this, if you like the fact that your country 
has almost 17 million new jobs, and you want us to continue to lead the 
world, and you understand that 30 percent of our growth has come from 
what we sell to our friends around the world and a quarter of the world 
today is in a serious recession--in Asia, where so much of California's 
wealth has come from in the growth of our trading with Asian

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markets--then you know that America has to do something to lead the way.
    I'm doing my best to get all the other wealthy countries in the 
world to focus on this, to try to help Asia recover, to try to get Japan 
restored to growth, to try to help Russia, not only because it's the 
morally right thing to do for them but because it's in our interest. We 
can't grow and continue to prosper unless our friends and neighbors 
    And for 8 months, I've been asking this Congress to fund our 
contribution to the International Monetary Fund. They need the money, 
and I can't do the job without it. And we can't possibly be expected to 
lead if we're the biggest piker on the block and we won't pay our fair 
share. So that's a big issue in this election.
    The third thing I'd like to talk to you about is education. Eight 
months ago, in the State of the Union, I gave the United States Congress 
an education agenda to try to make sure that all of our children have 
access to world-class elementary and secondary education. It was based 
on the best research available of what we know works. The plan, paid for 
in the balanced budget, would put 100,000 teachers out there to lower 
average class size to 18 in the early grades. It would build or repair 
5,000 schools, because a lot of schools are overcrowded or breaking 
down. It would hook up all the classrooms in the country to the Internet 
by the year 2000. It would provide for the development of voluntary 
national standards, exams to measure whether the kids were meeting them; 
and would reward school districts that are in trouble if they end social 
promotion and adopt tutoring, after-school and summer school programs 
for the kids who need it, so we don't tell them they're failures because 
they're in a system that's failed. It would provide college scholarships 
to 35,000 young people that they could pay off by going out into our 
most troubled school districts and giving a few years of their lives to 
teach. It would provide for 3,000 charter schools over the next few 
years, something that California is leading the way in.
    It is a good program. It ought to be passed. And I can promise you 
it will not be passed by this election, and it won't be passed in toto 
unless we have a Democratic Congress. And that's a good reason to fight 
for the people who are here and all the people they represent throughout 
this country.
    Finally, let me just give you one other issue, because to me it is 
sort of the crystal representation of the differences in our parties 
now. For 8 months, I have been trying to pass a Patients' Bill of 
Rights. It sounds good, but let me tell you what it really means--160 
million of us Americans are in managed care plans now. I have supported 
managed care because when I became President, inflation costs in health 
care were going up at 3 times the rate of inflation, and it was going to 
absolutely bankrupt the country if we didn't do something about it.
    On the other hand, I want to manage the health care system as best 
as possible, consistent with the main goal, which is keeping people 
healthy or making them well if they get sick. That's the goal; it's not 
managing the system. You manage the system so you can use your forces to 
advance the health of Americans. But in too many cases, health care 
decisions are being made by accountants, not by doctors. And in too many 
cases--cruel individual cases--the interest of ordinary people are being 
washed away.
    So let me tell you what our bill does. It says that if--God forbid--
you get hit by a car leaving this party tonight, and you're in a managed 
care plan, you should be taken to the nearest emergency room, not one 10 
or 15 miles away just because it's covered by your plan. It says if your 
physician tells you that he or she can't treat you and you need to see a 
specialist, you have a right to see one. It says that if you're in the 
middle of a treatment of some kind, and your employer changes health 
care providers, you can stay with your doctor until you finish your 
    Just imagine--this actually happens in America now. Most of us--some 
of you have young children here; some of us have children that are grown 
or children who think they are grown. [Laughter] But just remember when 
your first child was born. How would you have felt 6 months into the 
pregnancy if somebody had said, ``I hope you're all right, but you've 
got to change obstetricians''? It happens.
    Have you ever had anybody in your family in chemotherapy? I have. 
And if you have, you'll identify with what I'm about to tell you. You 
know it happens, and you try to find a way to put on a happy face and be 
brave and even try to find a way to make jokes about whether your loved 
one is going to lose their hair or not. And then you wonder when you're 

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to be so sick you can't eat anymore. It's tough enough. If you're in the 
middle of a chemotherapy treatment, how would you feel to be told that 
you have to change doctors?
    This is serious business. That's all our bill does. It gives you 
these basic, human protections. And it says your medical records ought 
to be kept private.
    Now, for 8 months there's been no action on our bill. But let me 
tell you what the majority in the other party has done. In the House of 
Representatives, they passed a bill which they called the Patients' Bill 
of Rights which did not guarantee a single, solitary thing I just 
described to you, and left 100 million Americans out of what little it 
did provide.
    In the Senate, when Senator Daschle and his friends attempted to 
bring up the Patients' Bill of Rights, the Senate Republican leader was 
so frightened of it, was so afraid to have his Members recorded voting 
against it that he actually shut down the Senate for 4 hours--unheard 
of. He called off business. They turned out the lights. They ran away 
and hid under their desk to kill it by stealth because they did not want 
to be caught voting for the insurance companies instead of for the 
people of this country.
    Forty-three managed care plans are endorsing our bill. Why? Because 
they take good care of their people, and they're being punished for it.
    Now, I want you to think about this. What do we stand for? We stand 
for saving Social Security first, for putting the education of our 
children before any other investment priority. We stand for America's 
continued leadership to keep our own growth going and to help the world 
economy. We stand for a Patients' Bill of Rights.
    What have they done this year with their year in the Congress? They 
have killed the tobacco legislation that would have helped our children. 
They killed campaign finance reform. They are killing the Patients' Bill 
of Rights. They've taken no action on the International Monetary Fund, 
no action on the education program. And insofar as they have taken 
action, they've moved backwards on saving Social Security first, and 
they're still continuing their stealth attack on the environment.
    Now, that's what this is about. It's about what kind of country 
America is going to be. So we have a choice to make. It in some ways 
grieves me to make these speeches. I had hoped by the time I'd been here 
6 years, trying to bring people together, that we would have a greater 
sense of bipartisanship in America; that there would be a greater sense 
of harmony here, just as I believe there is a greater sense of 
understanding across racial and ethnic and religious lines in this 
country than there was 6 years ago. But you know the truth. You knew the 
truth when you stood up and cheered. I wanted you to hear it tonight not 
in a political, rah-rah speech, but in calm, direct, but very blunt 
    This is a very great country. We are blessed to be in this moment. 
But we have a solemn responsibility to our children, to our legacy, and 
to the world to make this election about the American people, not about 
the squabbles in Washington, DC. And if you will go out and do that, I 
promise you we'll spend every red cent you have given us tonight to do 
    But you have friends; you have neighbors; you have means of 
communication. You need to talk to people about what's really at stake 
here. And you tell them, ``You know what the other guys are for. The 
Democrats are for keeping the economy strong, saving Social Security 
first, putting the education of our children above all other investment 
priorities, and passing that Patients' Bill of Rights. They're for an 
America coming together. They're for progress, not partisanship. They're 
for people, not politics.'' *
    * White House correction.
    If you do that, we're going to have a stunning victory in November, 
against all the tide of history and against all the money and all the 
midterm arguments they can make, because it's the right thing for our 
country, for our children, and for our future.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President, spoke at 9:42 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Haim and Cheryl Saban; musician 
Michael McDonald; California gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Gray Davis 
and his wife, Sharon; Phil Angelides, candidate for State treasurer; 
Leonard Barrack, national finance chair, and Steve Grossman, national 
chair, Democratic National Committee; and Ron Burkle, chairman, Yucaipa 
Companies. A portion of these remarks could not be verified because the 
tape was incomplete.