[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[October 7, 1998]
[Pages 1760-1763]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner
October 7, 1998

    Thank you very much. Ron, thank you for those words, and I thank 
Beth for them. Hillary and I were over here to dinner not very long ago. 
It was a smaller crowd; there were just four of us. And I think if we 
come back again, I should be assessed part of the contractor's fee. 
[Laughter] I'm afraid I'm overstaying my welcome, but I love this 
beautiful, beautiful home. I want to thank all of you for being here. I 
thank Steve Grossman for his tireless efforts and for bothering all of 
you so much.
    And let me say to all of you, this is a very interesting time. You 
know that, of course. But I spent most of the last 2 weeks concerned 
about the developments in the international economy, what's going on in 
Asia, what's going on in Russia, will the financial contagion spread to 
Latin America. Today I talked to the President of Brazil twice about 
this and other matters. And yesterday I had a chance to go before the 
4,000 delegates to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual 
meeting and say at least a general outline what I thought ought to be 
done to deal with the present crisis, limit its spread to--stop it from 
spreading to Latin America and other places, and deal with the problem 
over the long run.
    We've been working on Kosovo. A lot of people don't know where 
Kosovo is. Once nobody knew where Bosnia was, either, and by the time we 
found out, a lot of people had died and the whole stability of that part 
of Europe was at stake. And Kosovo is next door, and 50,000 people are 
facing freezing or starvation this winter because the same person who 
caused the problems in Bosnia, Mr. Milosevic, refuses to abide by United 
Nations resolutions. So I'm trying to get the support not only of the 
leaders of both parties in our Congress but also of our Allies in NATO, 
to take aggressive action to protect those people's lives and restore 
peace there and stability, so that we won't have to do more there down 
the road and so that innocent lives can be saved.
    I just went upstairs and took a call from Secretary Albright, who is 
in the Middle East working with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat to get 
ready for their coming here next week. They're coming on the 15th and 
will be here for 3 or 4 days, and we're going to try to wrap up this 
phase of the Middle East peace talks. But with all the trouble and all 
the fighting in the world and all the squabbling in Washington, I 
thought you might like to know that today Binyamin Netanyahu became the 
first Israeli Prime Minister ever to go into Gaza, where he had lunch at 
Arafat's headquarters. And I dare say it must have made quite a 
statement to the people of the Middle East.
    Today we had two great victories in Congress. I found this pattern 
is beginning to reassert itself; the Republican Congress starts voting 
like a Democratic one in the last week of every legislative session. 
[Laughter] It's quite flattering, although there's a definite political 
design behind it. But today the Congress voted 301 to 123 to kill 
Speaker Gingrich's parks bill because it has so many antienvironmental 
parts on it. So in the last week before the election or before breaking 
for the election, we got a great bipartisan vote there.
    Today we celebrated the higher education act, a bill we've been 
trying to pass for a year. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan 
support, giving us the lowest interest rates on student loans in almost 
20 years. It'll save $11 billion

[[Page 1761]]

for students who are borrowing their way through college--$11 billion--
and set up a mentoring program for kids in middle school in troubled 
inner-city and other districts, so that they not only will have mentors, 
but those children will be able to be told when they're 12 and 13 years 
old, ``Look, if you stay in school and you make your grades, this is the 
economic benefit you will get in terms of aid to go to college.'' A very 
moving thing.
    So I say all this to say that there are a lot of good things going 
on. And maybe the press of time and the imminence of the election and 
focusing people's minds, and maybe we'll have another good 3 or 4 days 
here in Washington before Congress goes home for the election. What has 
really bothered me about the last year is not the adversity I have been 
through but the almost casual way in which people in positions of 
responsibility have dealt with our new-found prosperity and success. 
Steve said I wanted to talk about that, and I do want to talk about 
    I mean, we worked for 6 years and waited for 29 years to get a 
balanced budget and a surplus. We have the smallest percentage of our 
people on welfare in 29 years, the fastest rising wages in over 20 
years, the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years, the highest 
homeownership in history, the lowest African-American poverty rate ever 
recorded, the biggest drop in Hispanic poverty in 30 years, and things 
are beginning to work here--the lowest crime rate in 25 years. We proved 
that we can, if we get our act together, make America work.
    We've been a force for peace and freedom throughout the world, from 
the Middle East to Northern Ireland to Bosnia to Haiti. And for the last 
year we've just seen, I think, a lot of indulgence with that good 
fortune. The United States needs to lead the world away from the brink 
of financial crisis. We need to restore growth in Asia and Russia and 
keep this thing from spreading to Latin America. We need to devise a new 
system for the international economy to keep things like this from 
happening in the future.
    We can do all this but only if we have our heads on straight and if 
we're thinking about the American people and their interests and our 
responsibilities to the rest of the world. The United States needs to 
make a decision that we have no business spending this surplus until we 
make the changes necessary to secure Social Security when the baby 
boomers retire. Because if we don't and there are only two people 
working for every one person drawing Social Security, then we'll have 
two very unpleasant decisions if we don't make changes now.
    We can, those of us who are baby boomers, be selfish and tax the 
living daylights out of our kids and lower the standard of living of our 
grandchildren so we can sustain the present system. Or we can take a 
huge cut in the present system and people like me with a good pension 
will be fine, but keep in mind, half the American senior citizens today 
are lifted out of poverty because of Social Security. So we have this 
surplus, and we ought to have the discipline to make little changes 
today that make a big difference in America tomorrow.
    We need to keep working until our elementary and secondary schools 
are the best in the world. We need to keep working until we find a way 
to grow the economy while we improve the environment on a systematic 
basis. We need to deal with the fact that 160 million Americans are in 
managed care plans, but they're not all the same, and they don't all 
have the same policies. And people deserve certain uniform protections, 
like the right to go to the nearest emergency room, the right to see a 
specialist, the right to keep a doctor during a treatment, even if the 
employer changes providers, that these things are important to us as 
people, these values that bind us together.
    We're even going to get, after 8 months of waiting, the 
International Monetary Fund contribution out of Congress that is 
critical to our leadership in the world, but we should have had it 
months ago. And so now we're leaving Washington at the end of the week 
and going back to the country, and the American people will have to 
decide how to vote. And our friends in the Republican Party believe 
they're going to win seats in the mid-term, and they believe it for 
reasons of history, money, and strategy. And you need to think about it, 
because that's why you're here.
    We've just squandered this whole year--or they have. Basically with 
this Congress they killed an increase in the minimum wage; they killed 
campaign finance reform, which would have relieved you of the burden of 
coming to some of these dinners every year--[laughter]--they killed 
tobacco legislation to reform our laws there and protect our children 
from the dangers of tobacco; and they killed the Patients' Bill

[[Page 1762]]

of Rights and took no action on my plan for the Patients' Bill of 
Rights, except to kill it. Then they didn't act on the IMF funding for 
months and months and months. They haven't acted on the education 
program I gave them 8 months ago.
    Now what are they doing? They think they're going to win for reasons 
of history, money, and strategy. What's the history? The history is that 
since the Civil War when a President is in his second term, unfailingly 
his party has lost seats at midterm. Why? President Reagan in 1986 lost 
seats in the Congress midterm, even though he was quite popular. Why? 
Well, people thought, ``Well, he'd done most of what he was hired to 
do,'' and the string was running out. That history doesn't hold this 
time. Why? Because our agenda is driving the national debate; because 
the ideas, the energy of the national debate on all the issues I just 
mentioned, whether it's the international economy, Social Security, 
education, health care, is what is coming out of the administration and 
the Democratic Party. So I don't think history is a very good argument.
    Second, money. That's a problem. In spite of your presence here and 
in spite of the fact that some of you are getting sick of having dinner 
with me--[laughter]--they'll probably outspend us between the Republican 
Party, the candidates' treasure chest, and their so-called third-party, 
or whatever you call it, independent expenditure committees, probably 3 
to one in all the close seats in the last 3 weeks of the election. In 
1996, in the 20 closest House seats, they outspent us 4 to one or more--
in the 20 closest House seats in the last 10 days. Now that will help 
    But my experience has been in politics if the other person has more 
money than you, it's devastating, unless you have enough. If you have 
enough for your message to be heard, for your voters to be contacted, to 
answer attacks, then if the other people have more money, you can still 
survive. And if you've got a better message and a better campaign and a 
better candidate, you can win. So your presence here is essential.
    The third thing is strategy. What is their strategy? Normally, 
midterm elections are low turnout elections. Their electorate tends to 
be older, wealthier, more conservative, much more ideological, and 
therefore much more likely to vote than ours. That's essentially what 
happened in 1994, when in the published surveys they had about a 2 
percent lead and they voted a 5 percent lead or a 6 percent lead--won 
big in the Congress races. Now, I think they're wrong about that. You 
have to see everything that's happening now in terms of their strategy. 
Their strategy is to disappoint the Democratic base and inflame the 
Republican one. And I'm not talking out of school; this is what they say 
on the record.
    You know what I think our strategy should be? The do-right rule, 
almost a nonpolitical strategy. Our strategy should be: If you want to 
play politics with what goes on in Washington, vote for them; if you 
want somebody who cares about what goes on in America, vote for us. 
Because we are the party committed to saving the surplus until we save 
Social Security, to maintaining America's leadership in the global 
economy so we can keep the American economy going, to smaller classes in 
the early grades, to building 5,000 more schools, to hooking our 
classrooms up to the Internet, to doing what is necessary to make 
excellence a way of life in American education, to passing that 
Patients' Bill of Rights, to protecting the environment as we grow the 
economy. That's what we're for. You know what they're for. You choose.
    I believe we have enough spirit and strength and devotion and 
patriotism and energy in this country to overcome what I think is a 
rather cynical theory of history, money, and strategy. Your presence 
here gives us a chance to let America take a different course. And what 
I want you to think about is how all this business that we're debating 
now fits into the larger challenges facing America.
    I have now been President 6 years. I spent a lot of time working on 
problems like the awful killings in Bosnia; dealing with the leaders of 
central Africa, where somewhere between 700,000 and a million people 
were hacked to death in the Rwandan civil war because they were of 
different tribes; working trying to end the old wars that date back 30 
years in the modern era, and hundreds of years in history, in Ireland, 
the land of my forebears; working in the Middle East.
    And the thing that strikes me about all these conflicts is how much 
they have in common with racial and religious and political hatreds that 
we see in America. You know, if you look at a lot of this politics, it's 
just downright hatred. And you almost want to say, hey, we should get a 
life. Things are going pretty good for us;

[[Page 1763]]

we should be grateful that we're Americans. And all these other people 
that share this country with us, they must not be so bad because we must 
be doing something right. And besides, our whole creed says that if we 
all show up and work hard and pay our taxes and do the right things, we 
should be able to share this land together.
    What's the point I'm trying to make? If you look at every major 
conflict we face, it is essentially being driven by people who feel 
compelled to define themselves by what they are against, rather than by 
what they're for, and who seek conquest over reconciliation, and who see 
the future as a zero sum game where, ``In order for me to win, somebody 
else has got to lose; in order for me to grow my economy, I've got to 
destroy the environment; there's no way that we can harmonize a common 
future.'' And I have to tell you, based on 6 years of hard, sometimes 
brutal, daily experience, I think that's wrong; and that I stand here 
tonight more idealistic about the prospect and, indeed, the necessity of 
bringing out the best in people than I was on the day I took the oath of 
office in January of 1993; and that in the end what really 
differentiates the two philosophies and certainly the strategies of the 
parties today is that.
    I'm not trying to fight a win/lose game with the Republicans in 
Washington for who stands where on the totem pole in this town. It is a 
very greasy totem pole.
    What I'm trying to do is to find a way in which we can work together 
with integrity, air our differences with integrity, and come to some 
resolution that will reconcile us, one to the other, so we can build a 
common home and a common future. In other words, if we want to be a good 
influence in the rest of the world, we have to do good here at home. And 
if we really want to live in a global economy in which we are all 
increasingly interdependent and we expect America to do well in that 
kind of economy, we have to do right here at home. I believe that. You 
may think it sounds naive and Pollyanna; I can tell you it is based on 
hour after hour after hour of hard, cold experience in the caldron that 
I have lived in for 6 years.
    So I'm asking you not just to give your money. I'm asking you to be 
part of doing something that I think is pretty important. Our crowd is 
about to defy history. Our crowd is about to show that they don't want 
to be manipulated. Our crowd is about to say, ``We've seen the last 6 
years, and we like it, and we want an America that's coming together, 
not coming apart. We want an America that's committed to forward 
progress, not partisan fights, where politics is an instrument to 
advance people's lives, not to keep some people down to lift some up.''
    And I swear to you, what is right to do is what will work out best 
for America. We are moving into a world that is smaller and smaller and 
faster and faster. No one is smart enough to figure out how to solve 
every problem overnight. The only way we're going to survive and do well 
is if we never, ever, ever forget that we have to find a way for all of 
our partners on this little planet to win together.
    That's what I tried to do with America. With all the successes I've 
had--I could stand up here and list all these statistics--the truth is, 
I have not yet succeeded in convincing the American people to vote--to 
vote--for reconciliation, for a common future, for a common home, for an 
end to Washington-centered destructive politics. And maybe it is the 
irony of this terribly painful moment, which I regret very much putting 
you all through, that we are being given yet one more chance to affirm 
our better selves. But I'm telling you, based on my experience, the 
right thing to do is the right thing to do.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:17 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Ronald and Beth Dozoretz; Steve 
Grossman, national chair, Democratic National Committee; President 
Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil; President Slobodan Milosevic of the 
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro); and Chairman 
Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. H.R. 6, the Higher Education 
Amendments of 1998, approved October 7, was assigned Public Law No. 105-