[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[January 17, 1995]
[Pages 54-58]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at California State University at Northridge
January 17, 1995

    Thank you. What a great day. Thank you very much. Thank you so much, 
Mayor Riordan. Thank you for your outstanding leadership, for being such 
a good working partner, for putting the interest of all the people of 
this community first. Thank you, Dr. Wilson, for your leadership and for 
hosting this wonderful event on this beautiful campus with its beautiful 
buildings, all standing, thank goodness. I'm glad to see you all here. I 
thank Congressman Berman and Congressman McKeon, Lieutenant Governor 
Davis, Supervisor Yaroslavsky, and of course, the people who are here 
with me today. I'd like to introduce them all: the Secretary of 
Transportation, Federico Pena; the Secretary of Housing and Urban 
Development, Henry Cisneros; and the Director of the Federal Emergency 
Management Agency, James Lee Witt. They have done a great job for you.

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    Ladies and gentlemen, even as we recall the devastation here today, 
we know that nature has struck again here at home in California with the 
floods and with extraordinary fury in the earthquake in Japan. I know 
all of you join with me in extending our profound condolences to the 
families of those in the Osaka-Kobe area of Japan who have suffered such 
a tremendous loss in the last day.
    We have spoken with the Japanese Government and, with their 
agreement, based on our experiences here, I have ordered a high-level 
team that includes representatives of the Federal Emergency Management 
Agency and the Department of Transportation to leave for Japan shortly 
to see if anything we learned here can be helpful to them there. The 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, is in 
Japan now, and he has already stated that our military forces there are 
also available to help them in any appropriate way.
    You know what they're going through. So I'd like to ask, before I 
begin my remarks, if we could just have a moment of silence for the 
victims of the flood here in California and the victims of the 
earthquake in Japan.

[At this point, a moment of silence was observed.]

    Thank you.
    I am so glad to be here at Cal State Northridge. You are now the 
symbol of the ability of the people of this State to keep coming back 
after adversity upon adversity, as well as the symbol of California and 
America's future because of the educational opportunities open to all 
kinds of people from all walks of life and all different backgrounds 
here at this fine institution.
    The most damaging earthquake ever recorded on our continent 
destroyed a great deal here when it hit a year ago. But as the mayor 
said, even though it shook you, it didn't break you. It didn't break 
your faith in the future. How else can you explain the fact that here 
there is a baseball team known as the Earthquake Kids? I want to ask 
them to be recognized here in a minute, but I do want to note, as the 
spring slowly approaches, that they did something the pros couldn't: 
They kept baseball going. And they won the national championship in the 
Little League World Series. Let's give them a hand. Would the team 
stand, please? [Applause]
    You know, you might think that Californians have had too many 
opportunities to show heart. [Laughter] The wonderful, sainted Mother 
Teresa once said that she knew God wouldn't give her any more than she 
could bear; she just wished God didn't have such confidence in her 
sometimes. [Laughter] That's the way I feel about you from time to time. 
I told the mayor last night that I hope that there would be no simmering 
volcano uncovered around here--[laughter]--anytime in the future. Fires, 
earthquakes, and devastating floods are quite enough.
    But in these disasters where lives are lost and others are 
shattered, I know it's not easy to keep going and to keep your heart. A 
year ago I said that we would not leave you to pick up the pieces alone, 
that we would stay on until the job was done. We have kept that pledge 
today, and today I renew that pledge into the future.
    Since the flooding began a few days ago, I have been working closely 
with Governor Wilson and Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein and your 
other officials to help fight the flooding. The disaster I declared 
across California and the work of FEMA and other agencies are already 
helping to move on the road to recovery.
    This afternoon I'll have a chance to go to northern California to 
view some of the damaged areas there. But I say again to the victims of 
this disaster: You are not alone. We will work with you to help you 
reclaim your lives, as the earthquake victims have been reclaiming 
    Who would have thought a year ago that the highways and bridges 
could be rebuilt and reinforced in just a fraction of the time the 
experts had predicted and the time the law allowed until we changed the 
way things worked. The Santa Monica Freeway was reopened on April 11th, 
the Golden State Freeway on May 17th, the Simi Valley Freeway partly 
opened in February and fully opened in September. I could go on and on. 
Who would have thought this campus would reconvene classes in one month? 
The main section of the library behind me was reopened in 64 days, a job 
that would normally have taken a year, a great tribute to your president 
and to all of the leaders of this fine institution.
    I just verified with James Lee Witt what strikes me as an astounding 
statistic: There were 5,600 school buildings damaged a year ago, and 
today all but 40 are open, doing business, edu-

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cating our children, and giving them something to look forward to.
    This happened because we put aside politics and worked on being 
partners, partners as citizens, as businesses, as government, partners 
in the person of people like Ramona Sanches Vega, a volunteer who sought 
out families living in their cars because their homes were too damaged. 
She helped them to get housing. People like your own college president, 
who did make the impossible possible on this campus. People like so many 
of you in this audience who did countless things for your friends and 
for total strangers that will never be recorded anywhere except in the 
minds and hearts of those whom you touched.
    For Government's part, 27 Federal departments and agencies worked 
with State and local officials in unprecedented ways to produce, as 
Mayor Riordan said, the most efficient and effective disaster operation 
in American history. So far, over $11.5 billion in aid has come to 
California to help to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake. But in 
addition to that, the whole system was literally reinvented, with new 
technologies, ways found to cut business-as-usual and the bureaucracy 
that too often goes with Government assistance. Decisions were based on 
need, not paperwork and rules. More than 270,000 homeowners received 
Federal grants to help repair their homes. More than half a million 
people were given grants or low-interest loans for disaster housing.
    I know there are those today who say that Government is inherently 
bad, always gets in the way, and never amounts to anything. Well, I say, 
look at the difference it made in dealing with the disaster. It can work 
if we put people first and think about how to make it work.
    But this institution is another example of how Government can work. 
We can't wait for disaster to strike to deal with our long-term 
challenges. Every day millions upon millions of Americans fight other 
kinds of struggles, to get and keep new jobs, to provide health care for 
their families, to deal with the struggles of modern life, and to 
strengthen the ties of community when there are so many pressures that 
divide us one from another. And anytime an American loses one of those 
fights, it's a disaster for our future as well.
    Everyone knows that we live in an era of enormous change, a time of 
great uprooting of things both good and bad. As we change from what has 
popularly been called the industrial age to the information age, from 
the cold war of global division to a globe united in economic 
cooperation and one which must unite to deal with the common threats to 
all of us in terrorism and ecological destruction--in this era of 
change, our biggest challenge is to simply keep alive the American dream 
for all of our people, to make sure that we go into the next century 
just 5 years away still the strongest country in the world, the most 
profound force for peace and freedom, and still with the American dream 
alive for all people, regardless of their race, their region, their 
religion, their background, the capacities they came into this world 
    My simple belief is that in this time, we know that the Government 
cannot really solve problems for people, but I think we know that the 
Government cannot walk away, either. The role of Government in this age 
is to be a partner, to help give people the tools they need to solve 
their own problems, to fulfill their own dreams, to make their own 
future. And I am determined to see that the rest of your Government 
works as well as the disaster team did in the California earthquake. 
That is a good standard for all of us to meet.
    I believe, my fellow Americans, that we need to do three things: We 
need a new economic strategy that I have fought for, for 2 years, 
appropriate to the new world we're all going to live and compete in. We 
need a new form of Government that is smaller, less bureaucratic, more 
creative, more oriented toward flexibility in solving people's problems, 
but one that is an effective partner, not a disabled or a mean 
participant on the sidelines just telling people what to do instead of 
helping people to do it.
    And third and most important, I think we need what I call and have 
for 3 years now called--my contract with America--a New Covenant, one 
that says here are certain opportunities and here are your 
responsibilities. How are we going to rebuild the American community to 
look like this crowd does unless we all have opportunity and we all 
assume responsibility? If all you do is assert rights and there are no 
responsibilities, pretty soon nothing good happens. If all people do is 
go around being responsible and they're never rewarded for it, pretty 
soon they get tired of it. We need both, more opportunity and more 
responsibility in this country. And that's how we're going to rebuild 
America and keep the American dream alive.

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    We have made a good beginning. We have 5.6 million more jobs. We 
have a lower Federal deficit. We've taken $11,000 in debt off of every 
family in America, and that means a brighter future. We have the 
smallest Federal Government we've had in over 30 years, but we're doing 
things more effectively. We're also offering opportunities to people 
that demand that they assume more responsibility, from expanding Head 
Start to making college loans more affordable for more people.
    But we all know that there is a lot more to be done. More than half 
the adult work force in America is working harder today for lower wages 
than they were making 10 years ago. Another 1 million Americans in 
working families lost their health insurance last year. Millions of 
American workers wonder if their retirement is secure, and we're working 
hard on that.
    We see a lot of upheaval. There are still a lot of people who don't 
feel safe on their streets, in their neighborhoods, in their schools. 
Even though the crime rate is coming down where people have done what 
has been done here in Los Angeles--to put more police on the street and 
to work on projects like the Community Build project that we supported 
that the mayor and I visited yesterday, where ex-gang members are 
teaching other kids to lead the gangs to turn away from violence, to go 
to education and work and away from things that are destructive--we have 
a long way to go.
    That's why I so strongly hope that we can, together, without regard 
to party, make a commitment that, in this year, we will go back when the 
Congress is in full session and working and adopt what I call the middle 
class bill of rights. Let's don't just have indiscriminate tax cuts, 
let's control the deficit and focus tax relief on the people who need it 
most, on strengthening families and making education more available to 
all American people. That will get us into the next century.
    I think we should lower taxes on families with young children. I 
think we should make all Americans able to save money in an IRA and then 
withdraw it, tax-free, to pay for their own education or health care or 
to help them care for their parents. I think we should give people who 
need more training because they're unemployed the right not just to sign 
up for a Government program but to get a check which says, this check 
can be spent at the educational institution of your choice to raise your 
income. That's what I think we should do.
    But more important than anything else, in the next century in the 
information age, having an education will have more to do with income 
and options and choices than ever before. And so I believe that we 
should finally--and we should have done it long ago--we ought to make 
all educational expenses after high school tax deductible. That's 
    We made interest paid on home mortgages tax deductible decades ago. 
Why? Because owning a home was important to the idea of the American 
dream. In the 21st century we may not get to homeownership if we don't 
have an education. Let's make that tax deductible. That's important to 
our future.
    And I might say, that is the essence of what we ought to be about, 
because you cannot take advantage of that opportunity without being 
responsible. People can offer you an education, but you have to get it. 
That is what we ought to be doing, giving opportunity in return for 
    The New Covenant comes down to this: We deserve opportunity, but we 
have to earn success. And that is what the people of California have 
shown over and over and over again.
    Let me close with this. The great writer Wallace Stegner called this 
part of America ``hope's native home.'' It was built by people he 
called, and I quote, ``The stickers, not just those who pillage and run 
but those who settle and love the life they have made and the place they 
have made it in.''
    Today we salute all of you, the stickers, the settlers, the 
rebuilders of this great State. Let us take what you have done here and 
use it as a model for our entire beloved country into the 21st century.
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. at the Northridge Oviatt Library. 
In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Richard Riordan of Los Angeles, CA; 
Blenda Wilson, president, California State University at Northridge; Lt. 
Gov. Gray Davis and Gov. Pete Wilson of California; and Zev Yaroslavsky, 
a Los Angeles County supervisor.

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