[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book II)]
[July 6, 1995]
[Pages 1047-1057]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at Georgetown University
July 6, 1995

    Thank you very much, my good friend Father O'Donovan. You just gave 
the speech in 5 minutes; there's nothing for me to say. [Laughter] I 
thank you for welcoming me back. I thank the members of our 
administration who are here: Secretary Riley and Deputy Secretary Kunin, 
Ambassador Raiser, Director of the USIA Joe Duffy, Chairmen Sheldon 
Hackney and Jane Alexander, and Penn Kemble, the Deputy Director of the 
USIA. And I thank my former classmates, some of whom I see out here, and 
my friends and people around this country who have done so much to try 
to strengthen the bonds of American citizenship.
    Today I want to have more of a conversation than deliver a formal 
speech, about the great debate now raging in our Nation, not so much 
over what we should do but over how we should resolve the great 
questions of our time here in Washington and in communities all across 
our country. I want to talk about the obligations of citizenship, the 
obligations imposed on the President and people in power and the 
obligations imposed on all Americans.
    Two days ago we celebrated the 219th birthday of our democracy. The 
Declaration of Independence was also clearly a declaration of 
citizenship: `` . . . all men are created equal, . . . endowed by their 
Creator with certain unalienable rights, . . . among these are Life, 
Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.'' It was also manifestly a 
declaration of citizenship in a different way. It was a declaration of 
interdependence: `` . . . for the support of this Declaration, with a 
firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge 
. . . our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.'' The distinguished 
American historian Samuel Eliot Morison, in his ``History of the 
American People,'' wrote of these words, ``These words are more 
revolutionary than anything written by Robespierre, Marx, or Lenin, more 
explosive than the atom, a continual challenge to ourselves as well as 
an inspiration to the oppressed of all the world.''
    What is the challenge to ourselves at the dawn of the 21st century, 
and how shall we meet it? First of all, we must remember that the 
Declaration of Independence was written as a commitment for all 
Americans at all times, not just in time of war or great national 
    My argument to you is pretty straightforward. I believe we face 
challenges of truly historic dimensions, challenges here at home perhaps 
greater than any we faced since the beginning of this century we are 
about to finish and the dawn of the industrial era. But they are not 
greater challenges in their own way than the ones we faced at our birth, 
greater challenges than those of slavery and civil war, greater than 
those of World War I or the Depression or World War II. And they can be 
solved, though they are profound. What are they?
    Most people my age grew up in an America dominated by middle class 
dreams and middle class values, the life we wanted to live and the kind 
of people we wanted to be--dreams that inspired those who were born into 
the middle class; dreams that restrained and directed the lives of those 
who were much more successful and more powerful; dreams that animated 
the strivings of those who were poor because of the condition of their 
birth or because they came here as immigrants; middle class dreams that 
there would be reward for work and that the future of our children would 
be better than the lives we enjoyed; middle class values, strong 
families and faith, safe streets, secure futures.
    These things are very much threatened today, threatened by 20 years 
of stagnant incomes, of harder work by good Americans for the same or 
lower pay, of increasing inequality of incomes, and increasing 
insecurity in jobs and retirement and health care. They are threatened

[[Page 1048]]

by 30 years of social problems of profound implications: of family 
break-ups, of a rising tide of violence and drugs, of declining birth 
rates among successful married couples and rising birth rates among 
young people who are not married. They are threatened by the failure of 
public institutions to respond, the failure of bureaucracies encrusted 
in yesterday's prerogatives and not meeting the challenges of today and 
tomorrow--the schools, the law enforcement agencies, the governments and 
their economic and other policies. They are threatened by the sheer pace 
and scope of change, as technology and ideas and money and decisions 
move across the globe at breathtaking rates, and every great opportunity 
seems to carry within it the seeds of a great problem.
    So that we have anomalies everywhere: Abroad, the cold war ends, but 
we see the rise and the threat of technology-based destruction--sarin 
gas exploding in the subway in Japan, the bomb exploding in Oklahoma 
City. The Soviet Union is no more, and so they worry now in the Baltics 
about becoming a conduit for drug trafficking, and they worry in Russia 
about their banks being taken over by organized crime. And here at home, 
it all seems so confusing--the highest growth rates in a decade, the 
stock market at an all-time high, almost 7 million more jobs, more 
millionaires and new businesses than ever before, but most people 
working harder for less, feeling more insecure.
    I saw it just the other day, this cartoon, which you probably can't 
see, but I'll read it to you. There's a politician--maybe it's supposed 
to be me--[laughter]--up here giving a speech at a banquet, one of those 
interminable banquets we all attend. And here's a waiter serving one of 
the attendees. The politician says, ``The current recovery has created 
over 7.8 million jobs.'' The waiter says, ``And I've got three of 
them.'' [Laughter]
    In 1991, as Father O'Donovan said, I came here to Georgetown to talk 
about these challenges and laid out my philosophy about how we as a 
people, not just as a government but as a people, ought to meet them. I 
called it the New Covenant. I will repeat briefly what I said then 
because I don't believe I can do any better today than I did then in 
terms of what I honestly believe we ought to be doing.
    I think we have to create more opportunity and demand more 
responsibility. I think we have to give citizens more say and provide 
them a more responsive, less bureaucratic Government. I think we have to 
do these things because we are literally a community, an American family 
that is going up or down together, whether we like it or not. If we're 
going to have middle class dreams and middle class values, we have to do 
things as private citizens, and we have to do things in partnership 
through our public agencies and through our other associations.
    In 1994, when the Republicans won a majority in Congress, they 
offered a different view which they called their ``Contract With 
America.'' In their view, most of our problems were personal and 
cultural; the Government tended to make them worse because it was 
bureaucratic and wedded to the past and more interested in regulating 
and choking off the free enterprise system and promoting the welfare 
state; and therefore, what we should do is to balance the budget as soon 
as possible, cut taxes as much as possible, deregulate business 
completely if possible, and cut our investments in things like welfare 
as much as possible.
    As you know, I thought there were different things that ought to be 
done because I believed in partnership. I believed in supporting 
community initiatives that were working and preventing things before 
they happened, instead of just punishing bad behavior after it occurred, 
and trying to empower people to make the most of their own lives. So I 
believed that there were things we could do here in Washington to help, 
whether it was family leave, or tougher child support enforcement, or 
reforming the pension system to save the pensions of over 8 million 
American workers, or investing more in education, making college more 
    What I believe grows largely out of my personal history, and a lot 
of it happened to me a long time before I came to Georgetown and read in 
books things that made me convinced that I was basically right. I grew 
up in a small town in a poor State. When I was born at the end of World 
War II, my State's per capita income was barely half the national 
average. I was the first person in my family to go to college. When I 
was a boy, I lived for a while on a farm without an indoor toilet. It 
makes a good story, not as good as being born in a log cabin, but it's 
true. [Laughter]
    I had a stepfather without a high school diploma and a grandfather, 
whom I loved above all people almost, who had a sixth-grade education. I 
lived in a segregated society, and I

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lived in a family, as has now been well-documented, with problems of 
alcohol and, later, drug abuse. I learned a lot about what I call the 
New Covenant, about the importance of responsibility and opportunity.
    I lived in a family where everybody worked hard and where kids were 
expected to study hard. But I also had a lot of opportunity that was 
given to me by my community. I had good teachers and good schools. And 
when I needed them, I got scholarships and jobs. I saw what happened to 
good people who had no opportunity because they happened to be black or 
because they happened to be poor and white and isolated in the hills and 
hollows of the mountains of my State.
    I saw what happened in my own family to people who were good people 
but didn't behave responsibly. My stepfather was very responsible toward 
me but not very responsible toward himself. Anybody who's ever lived in 
a family with an alcoholic knows that there is nothing you can do for 
somebody else they are not prepared to do for themselves. And my 
brother, after all of his struggles with drug addiction, which included 
even serving some time in jail, I am sometimes more proud of him than I 
am of what I've done because he has a family and a son and a life, not 
because of the love and support that we all gave him but because of what 
he did for himself.
    So my whole political philosophy is basically rooted in what I think 
works. It works for families and communities, and it worked pretty well 
for our country for a long time. If you look at recent American history, 
our country has never been perfect because none of us are, but we did 
always seem to be going in the right direction.
    I remember when I was a boy in the fifties and sixties--I remember 
like it was yesterday when I graduated from high school in 1964, and we 
had about 3-percent unemployment, about 3- or 4-percent real growth, and 
very modest inflation. And we all just assumed that the American dream 
would work out all right if we could ever whip racism. If we could just 
whip that and make sure all poor people had a chance to work their way 
into the middle class, we could just almost put this country on 
automatic. I know that's hard to believe, but that's basically what we 
thought back then. If we could just somehow lift this awful racial 
burden off our shoulders and learn how to live together, we could just 
roll on.
    And then in the sixties and the seventies and the eighties, the 
results got a lot more mixed. Contrary to what a lot of people say now 
in retrospect, the sixties were not all bad. A lot of good things 
happened. A lot of people passionately believed that they had a 
responsibility to help one another achieve the fullest of their God-
given potential. And a lot of the important advances in civil rights and 
in education and in fighting poverty really made a difference. But it 
was also a time when many people began to have such profound cultural 
clashes that more and more people dropped out and became more self-
    Contrary to popular retrospect, a lot of good things happened in the 
seventies. We made a national commitment as a country to defend our 
environment. This is a safer, cleaner, healthier place because of what 
we've done for the last 25 years. We decided in a bipartisan way that 
the workplace ought to be safer; too many people were dying in the 
workplace. If any of you have ever spent any time in a factory, seen 
people walking around without all their fingers, you can appreciate 
    But it was also a time when we became profoundly disillusioned 
because of Watergate and a lot of other things. We really began to 
suspect that we couldn't trust our leaders or our institutions. And it 
was the beginning of the decline of middle class dreams for middle class 
people. In the sixties, the riots in the cities showed that more and 
more poor people began to doubt whether they would ever be able to work 
their way into the middle class. In the seventies, people who were in 
the middle class began to worry about whether they would ever be able to 
stay or what that meant. It began 20 years ago.
    Then in the eighties, it was also a very mixed bag. It was a time 
when people exalted greed and short-term profit. It was a time when we 
built in, by bipartisan conspiracy in this community, the first 
structural deficit in the history of the United States of America and 
exploded our debt while we were reducing our investment in our most 
profound problems, while we spent the tax cuts and behaved just like the 
rest of the country, worrying about the short run. But it was also a 
time, let's not forget, where all across the country there was a renewed 
awareness of the dangers of drugs and drug use began to go down, smoking 
declined, voluntarism in-

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creased. And there was a remarkable explosion of productivity in the 
industrial sector in America, and the American economy began to go 
through the changes necessary to be competitive.
    In the nineties, everybody knows, I think, that there's been a sort 
of a sobering increase in personal values of commitment. You see it in 
the decline in the divorce rate and the increase in healthy habits among 
many people. You see more commitment expressed in groups and by 
individuals all across the country. You see it in people reaffirming 
their commitment to the families in small and large ways: the remarkable 
husband and wife minister team that I introduced in the State of the 
Union, the Reverend Cherrys, and their AME Zion Church near here, now 
one of the two or three biggest churches in America, founded on family 
outreach; the phenomenal success of this Promise-Keepers organization--
you can fill any football stadium in America. It's an astonishing thing, 
because people want to do the right thing, and they want to get their 
families and their lives back together. And that's encouraging.
    But let us not forget that these profound problems endure. Middle 
class dreams and middle class values, the things which have shaped our 
life and our experience and our expectations, are still very, very much 
at risk.
    I will say again: We have all these aggregate indices that the 
economy has done well: almost 7 million new jobs, the stock market's 
over 4,500, all the things that you know. But while average income has 
gone up, median income, the person in the middle, has declined in the 
last 2 years. A sense of job security has declined with all the 
downsizing. More and more people are temporary workers. This is the only 
advanced country in the world where there's a smaller percentage of 
people under 65 in the work force with health insurance today than 10 
years ago.
    Millions of American people go home at night from their work and sit 
down to dinner and look at their children and wonder what they have done 
wrong, what did they ever do to fail. And they're riddled with worries 
about it. Millions more who are poor have simply given up on ever being 
able to work their way into a stable lifestyle. And that, doubtless, is 
fueling some of the disturbing increase in casual drug use among very 
young people and the rise in violence among young people. That threatens 
middle class values. In almost every major city in America the crime 
rate is down. Hallelujah! In almost every place in America, the rate of 
random violence among young people is up, even as the overall crime rate 
    Government is struggling to change, and I'm proud of the changes we 
have made. But no one really believes that Government is fully adjusted 
to the demands of the 21st century and the information age. It clearly 
must still be less bureaucratic, more empowering, rely more on 
incentives if we still have to reduce spending and we have to find a way 
to do it while increasing our investment in the things that will 
determine our ability to live middle class dreams.
    Politics has become more and more fractured, just like the rest of 
our lives; pluralized. It's exciting in some ways. But as we divide into 
more and more and more sharply defined organized groups around more and 
more and more stratified issues, as we communicate more and more with 
people in extreme rhetoric through mass mailings or sometimes semi-
hysterical messages right before election on the telephone or 30-second 
ads designed far more to inflame than to inform, as we see politicians 
actually getting language lessons on how to turn their adversaries into 
aliens, it is difficult to draw the conclusion that our political system 
is producing the sort of discussion that will give us the kind of 
results we need.
    But our citizens, even though their confidence in the future has 
been clouded and their doubts about their leaders and their institutions 
are profound, want something better. You could see it in the way they 
turned out for the town meetings in 1992. You could see it in the 
overwhelming, I mean literally overwhelming, response that I have 
received from people of all political parties to the simple act of 
having a decent, open conversation with the Speaker of the House in 
Claremont, New Hampshire. People know we need to do better. And deep 
down inside, our people know this is a very great country capable of 
meeting our challenges.
    So what are the conclusions I draw from this? First of all, don't 
kid yourself. There are real reasons for ordinary voters to be angry, 
frustrated, and downright disoriented. How could our politics not be 
confusing when people's lives are so confusing and frustrating and seem 
to be so full of contradictory developments?
    Secondly, this is now, as it has ever been, fertile ground for 
groups that claim a monopoly

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on middle class values and old-fashioned virtue. And it's easy to blame 
the Government when people don't feel any positive results. It's easy to 
blame groups of others when people have to have somebody to blame for 
their own problems, when they are working as hard as they can and they 
can't keep up.
    But there is real reason for hope, my fellow Americans. This is, 
after all, the most productive country in the world. We do a better job 
of dealing with racial and ethnic diversity and trying to find some way 
to bring out the best in all of our people than any other country with 
this much diversity in the world.
    We have an environment that is cleaner and safer and healthier than 
it used to be. We still have the lead in many important areas that will 
determine the shape of societies in the 21st century. There is a real 
willingness among our people to try bold change. And most important of 
all, most Americans are still living by middle class values and hanging 
on to middle class dreams. And everywhere in this country there are 
examples of people who have taken their future into their own hands, 
worked with their friends and neighbors, broken through bureaucracy, and 
solved problems. If there is anything I would say to you, it is that you 
can find, somewhere in America, somebody who has solved every problem 
you are worried about.
    So there is reason for hope. And I would say, to me the real heroes 
in this country are the people that are out there making things work and 
the people who show up for work every day, even though they're barely at 
and maybe even below the poverty line, but they still work full-time, 
obey the law, pay their taxes, and raise their kids the best they can. 
That's what this country is really all about. And so there is really no 
cause for the kind of hand-wringing and cynicism that dominates too much 
of the public debate today.
    What do we have to do now? First of all, we've got to have this 
debate that is looming over Washington. We have to have it. It's a good 
thing. We are debating things now we thought were settled for decades. 
We are now back to fundamental issues that were debated like this 50, 
60, 70 years ago. There is a group who believe that our problems are 
primarily personal and cultural. Cultural is a--basically a word that 
means, in this context, there are a whole lot of persons doing the same 
bad thing. [Laughter] And that's what people--and then if everybody 
would just sort of straighten up and fly right, why, things would be 
hunky-dory. And why don't they do it?
    Now, I--you can see that with just two reasons--I'll give you two 
examples. And I made you laugh, but let's be serious. These people are 
honest and genuine in their beliefs. I will give you two examples that 
are sort of--stand out, but there are a hundred more that are more 
modulated: The NRA's position on gun violence, the Brady bill, and the 
assault weapons ban. Their position is: Guns don't kill people, people 
do. Find the people who do wrong, throw them in jail, and throw the key 
away. Punish wrongdoers. Do not infringe upon my right to keep and bear 
arms, even to keep and bear arsenals or artillery or assault weapons. Do 
not do that because I have not done anything wrong, and I have no 
intention of doing anything wrong. Why are you making me wait 5 days to 
get a handgun? What do you care if I want an AK-47 or an Uzi to go out 
and engage in some sort of sporting contest to see who's a better shot? 
I obey the law. I pay my taxes. I don't give you any grief. Why are you 
on my back? The Constitution says I can do this. Punish wrongdoers. I am 
sick and tired of my life being inconvenienced for what other people do.
    Second example is the one that dominated the headlines in the last 
couple of days, what Senator Helms said about AIDS: ``I'm sick and tired 
of spending money on research and treatment for a disease that could be 
ended tomorrow if everybody just straightened up and fly right. I'm 
tired of it. Why should I spend taxpayer--I've got a budget to balance. 
We're cutting aid to Africa. We're cutting education. We're cutting 
Medicare. Why should we spend money on treatment and research for a 
disease that is a product of people's wrongdoing? Illicit sex and bad 
drugs, dirty needles--let's just stop it.''
    Now, at one level, forgetting about those two examples, this 
argument is self-evidently right. Go back to what I told you about my 
family. A lot of you are nodding your heads about yours. There is a 
sense in which there is nothing the Government can do for anybody that 
will displace the negative impact of personal misconduct. And unless 
people are willing to work hard and do the best they can and advance 
themselves and their families, the ability of com-

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mon action, no matter how well-meaning, won't work.
    You look at every social program that's working in every community, 
and there are lots of them. I was just in New Haven for the opening of 
the Special Olympics, and I spent a lot of time with the LEAP program up 
there. It's an incredible program where these college students work with 
inner-city kids in the cities helping them rebuild their lives. But if 
the kids don't want to do it and won't behave, there's nothing these 
college kids can do to help them. So let's give them that. At a certain 
level, this is self-evidently true.
    But what is the problem? These problems are our problems. They're 
not just single problems. If there's a big crime rate and a whole lot of 
people getting killed with guns, that affects all the rest of us because 
some of us are likely to get shot.
    Now, I see the Brady bill in a totally different way because I see 
these problems as community problems. And I think a public response is 
all right. And I think saying to people who have the line I said, I 
think we ought to say to people, ``Look, it is just not out of line for 
you to be asked to undergo the minor inconvenience of waiting 5 days to 
get a handgun, until we can computerize all the records, because, look 
here, in the last year and a half, there are 40,000 people who had 
criminal records or mental health histories who didn't get handguns, and 
they're not out there shooting people because you went through a minor 
inconvenience. You don't gripe when you go through a metal detector at 
an airport anymore, because you are very aware of the connection between 
this minor inconvenience to you and the fact that the plane might blow 
up, and you don't want that plane to blow up or be hijacked.''
    Well, look at the level of violence in America. It's the same thing. 
I don't have a problem with saying, ``Look, these assault weapons are 
primarily designed to kill people. That's their primary purpose. And I'm 
sorry if you don't have a new one that you can take out in the woods 
somewhere to a shooting contest, but you'll get over it. Shoot with 
something else.'' [Laughter] ``It's worth it.'' [Applause] I'm glad 
you're clapping. I'm glad you agree with me, but remember, the other 
people are good people who honestly believe what they say. That's the 
importance of this debate. It's the attitudes. We have to--we're having 
this debate.
    The NRA that I knew as a child, the NRA that I knew as a Governor, 
for years, were the people who did hunter education programs, the people 
that helped me resolve land boundary disputes when retirees would come 
to the mountains in the northern part of my State and go into 
unincorporated areas, and who could and couldn't hunt on whose land. And 
they actually helped save people's lives, and they solved a lot of 
problems. I mean, this is a different--these are deeply held world views 
about working--but the way I look at it is it's like the airport metal 
    I'll give you another example. It might not be popular in this 
group. I agree with the Supreme Court decision on requiring people who 
want to be on high school athletic teams to take drug tests, not because 
I think all kids are bad, not because I think they all use drugs, but 
because casual drug use is going up among young people again. It is a 
privilege to play on the football team. It is a privilege to be in the 
band. It is a privilege to have access to all these activities. And I 
say it's like going through the airport metal detector. You ought to be 
willing to do that to help get the scourge of drugs out of your school 
and keep kids off drugs. That's what I believe, because I see it as a 
common problem. So we all have to give up a little and go through a 
little inconvenience to help solve problems and pull the country 
together and push it forward. But this is a huge debate.
    Look at the AIDS debate. You may think it's a little harder. First 
of all, the truth is not everybody who has AIDS gets it from sex or drug 
needles. I've got a picture on my desk at the White House of a little 
boy named Ricky Ray. He and his family were treated horribly by people 
who were afraid of AIDS when they first got it through blood 
transfusions, he and his brother. And he died right after my election. I 
keep his picture on my table to remember that. Elizabeth Glaser was a 
good friend of mine. She and the daughter she lost and her wonderful son 
that survived her, they didn't get AIDS through misconduct. So that's 
just wrong. I know a fine woman doctor in Texas who got AIDS because she 
was treating AIDS patients and she got the tiniest pinprick in her 
finger, a million-to-one, 2-million-to-one chance. But secondly, and 
more to the point, the gay people who have AIDS are still our sons, our 
brothers, our cousins, our citizens. They're Americans,

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too. They're obeying the law and working hard. They're entitled to be 
treated like everybody else. And the drug users, there's nobody in this 
country that hates that any more than I do because I've lived with it in 
my family. But I fail to see why we would want to hasten people's demise 
because they paid a terrible price for their abuse.
    You know, smoking causes lung cancer, but we don't propose to stop 
treating lung cancer or stop doing research to find a cure. Right? Drunk 
driving causes a lot of highway deaths, but we don't propose to stop 
trying to make cars safer. Do we? I don't think so.
    So I just disagree with this. Why do we have to make this choice? 
Why can't we say to people, look, you've got to behave if you want your 
life to work, but we have common problems, and we are going to have some 
common responses. I don't understand why it's got to be an either/or 
thing. That's not the way we live our lives. Why should we conduct our 
public debates in this way?
    And the best example of all to me that our problems are both 
personal and cultural and economic, political, and social is the whole 
condition of the middle class economically. I think it requires public 
and private decisionmaking. Family values, most families have them. But 
most families are working harder for less so they have less time and 
less money to spend with their children. Now, that's just a fact. That's 
not good for family values. And I don't believe exhortation alone can 
turn it around. It's going to require some common action. I think that 
what we did with the family leave law supported family values. I think 
that we can have a welfare reform law that requires parental 
responsibility, has tough work requirements, but invests in child care 
and supports family values.
    I think we can have a tax system that gives breaks to people to help 
them raise their kids and educate themselves and their children, and 
that would support family values. I think we can have an education 
system that empowers people to make the most of their own lives, and I 
think that is profoundly supportive of family values. And I do not 
believe the Government can do it alone. I believe there are other things 
that have to be done by people themselves and also by employers.
    One of our major newspapers had an article yesterday on the front 
page, or the day before, saying in the new world economy the employers 
call all the shots, talking about how more and more workers were 
temporary workers, more and more people felt insecure. You know, it's 
all very well to exhort people. But if they're out there really busting 
it, doing everything they can and falling further behind, and they're 
not being treated fairly by people who can afford to treat them fairly, 
then that's something else again, isn't it?
    The global economy, automation, the decline of unionization, and the 
inadequate response of too many employers to these changes have led to a 
profound weakening of the condition of many American workers. There 
aren't many companies like NUCOR, a nonunion company, a steel company, 
where people get a fairly low base hourly wage, but they get a weekly 
bonus; nobody's ever been laid off; every employee with a college kid, 
student--a child who's college age, gets about $2,500 a year as a 
college allowance; and the pay of the executives is tied to the 
performance of the company and cannot go up by a higher percentage than 
the pay of the workers goes up.
    Now, by contrast, in the 12 years before I took office--this is all 
in the private sector--the top management of our companies' pay went up 
by 4 times what their workers' pay went up and 3 times what their 
profits went up percentagewise. And that trend has largely continued, if 
anything accelerated, even though we limited the tax subsidy for it in 
    So I would say to you that there are some things that mere 
exhortation to good conduct will not solve, that require other responses 
that are public or that are private but go beyond just saying these are 
personal or cultural problems.
    I also think that if we want to maintain a public response, there 
must be a relentless effort to change but not to eviscerate the 
Government. We have tried weak Government, nonexistent Government, in a 
complex industrial society where powerful interests that are driven only 
by short-term considerations call all the shots. We tried it decades and 
decades ago. It didn't work out very well. It didn't even produce a very 
good economic policy. It had something to do with the onset of the 
    On the other hand, we know that an insensitive, overly bureaucratic, 
yesterday-oriented, special-interest-dominated Government can be just as 
big a nightmare. We've done what we could

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to change that. The Government has 150,000 fewer people working today 
than it did when I took office. We've gotten rid of thousands of 
regulations and hundreds of programs. We have a few shining stars like 
the Small Business Administration, which today has a budget that's 40 
percent lower than it did when I took office, that's making twice as 
many loans, has dramatically increased the loans to women and 
minorities, has not decreased loans to white males, and hasn't made a 
loan to a single unqualified person.
    We can do these things. I wish I had all day to talk to you about 
what the Secretary of Education has done in the Education Department to 
try to make it work better and make common sense and involve parents and 
promote things like greater choice of schools and the building of 
charter schools and character education in the schools. It's not an 
either/or thing. You don't have to choose between being personally right 
and having common goals.
    So that's my side of the argument. That's why I think my New 
Covenant formulation is better to solve the problems of middle class 
dreams and middle class values than the Republican contract. But perhaps 
the most important thing is not whether I'm right or they are, the 
important thing is how are we going to resolve this and what are 
citizens going to do. How can we resolve the debate?
    I believe--and you've got to decide whether you believe this--I 
believe that a democracy requires a certain amount of common ground. I 
do not believe you can solve complex questions like this at the 
grassroots level or at the national level or anywhere in between if you 
have too much extremism of rhetoric and excessive partisanship. Times 
are changing too fast. We need to keep our eyes open. We need to keep 
our ears open. We need to be flexible. We need to have new solutions 
based on old values. I just don't think we can get there unless we can 
establish some common ground.
    And that seems to me to impose certain specific responsibilities on 
citizens and on political leaders. And if I might, just let me say them. 
They may be painfully self-evident, but I don't think they're 
irrelevant. Every citizen in this country's got to say, ``What do I have 
to do for myself or my family,'' or nothing else counts. The truth is 
that nobody can repeal the laws of the global economy, and people that 
don't have a certain level of education and skills are not going to be 
employable in good jobs with long-term prospects. And that's just a 
fact. The truth is that if every child in this country had both parents 
contributing to his or her support and nourishment and emotional 
stability and education and future, we'd have almost no poor kids, 
instead of having over 20 percent of our children born in poverty. Those 
things are true.
    The second thing is, more of our citizens have got to say, ``What 
should I do in my community?'' You know, it's not just enough to bemoan 
the rising crime rate or how kids are behaving and whatever. That's just 
not enough. It is not enough, not when you have example after example 
after example, from this LEAP program I mentioned, the ``I Have A 
Dream'' Program, to the world-famous Habitat for Humanity program, to 
all these local initiatives, support corporations that are now going 
around the country revolutionizing slum housing and giving poor working 
people decent places to live, to the work of the Catholic social 
missions in Washington, DC, and other places.
    It is not enough to say that. People have to ask themselves, ``What 
should I be doing through my church or my community organizations?'' 
People who feel very strongly about one of the most contentious issues 
in our society, abortion, ought to look at the United Pentecostal 
Church. They'll adopt any child born, no matter what race, no matter how 
disabled, no matter what their problems are. There is a positive, 
constructive outlet for people who are worried about every problem in 
this country if they will go seek it out. And there is nothing the rest 
of us can do that will replace that kind of energy.
    The fourth thing that I think--the third thing I think citizens have 
to do that is also important, people have to say, ``What is my job as a 
citizen who is a voter? I am in control here. I run the store. I get to 
throw this crowd out on a regular basis. That's a big responsibility. 
We're the board of directors of America. Are we making good decisions? 
Are we making good decisions? Do we approach these decisions in the 
right frame of mind? Do we have enough information? Do we know what 
we're doing?''
    I can tell you, the American people are hungry for information. When 
I announced my balanced budget and we put it on the Internet, one of our 
people at the White House told me there were a few hours when we were 

[[Page 1055]]

ting 50,000 requests an hour. The American people want to know things.
    So I say to every citizen, do you have the information you need? Do 
you ever have a discussion with somebody that's different from you, not 
just people who agree with you but somebody who's different? You ever 
listen to one of those radio programs that has the opposite point of 
view of yours, even if you have to grind your teeth? [Laughter] And what 
kind of language do you use when you talk to people who are of different 
political parties with different views? Is it the language of respect or 
the language of a suspect? How do you deal with people? This is a huge 
thing. What do you have to do for yourself and your family? What can you 
do in your community? What can you do as a citizen?
    Thomas Jefferson said he had no fear of the most extreme views in 
America being expressed with the greatest passion as long as reason had 
a chance--as long as reason had a chance. Citizens have to give reason a 
    What do the political leaders have to do? I would argue four things: 
Number one, we need more conversation and less combat; number two, when 
we differ we ought to offer an alternative; number three, we ought to 
look relentlessly at the long term and remind the American people that 
the problems we have developed over a long period of years; and number 
four, we shouldn't just berate the worst in America, we ought to spend 
more time celebrating the best.
    Those are four things that I think I should do and I think every 
other leader in this country ought to do. Conversation, not combat, is 
what I tried to do with the Speaker in New Hampshire, and I want to do 
more of it with others. I'm willing if they are. I think it would be 
good for America.
    Secondly, differ but present an alternative. That's why I presented 
a balanced budget. A lot of people said, ``This is dumb politics.'' The 
Republicans won the Congress by just saying no: No to deficit reduction, 
and call it a tax increase. Run away from your own health care plan, say 
they're trying to make the Government take over health care. That may 
be. But that's because this is a confusing time. It's still not the 
right thing to do.
    Americans don't want ``just say no'' politics. If they can get the 
truth, they'll make the right decision 99 times out of 100. And we have 
to offer an alternative. And so do they. We all should. When we differ, 
we should say what we're for, not just what we're against.
    The third thing is important, looking for the long term. I was 
really sad in 1994. I'll be honest with you, on election day I was sad. 
I kind of felt sorry for myself. I thought, ``Gosh, you know, the real 
problems in this country are these income problems,'' and ``Look what 
we've done with the family leave law. We cut taxes for families with 
incomes under $28,000 a year by $1,000 a year. We've done,'' and I 
reeled it all off. And I said, ``Gosh, I feel terrible.'' And then I 
realized, how could they possibly feel anything in 2 years? These income 
trends are huge, huge trends; huge, sweeping over two decades; fast 
international forces behind them; trillions of dollars of money moving 
across international borders working to find the lowest labor cost and 
pressing down; untold improvements in automation; so fast that you just 
can't create enough high-wage jobs to overcome the ones that are being 
depressed in some sectors of the economy. These are a huge deal. How 
could people have felt that? Nonetheless, our job is not to get 
reelected; it's to think about the long term because the problems are 
long-term problems.
    I want to read you what President Havel said in his Harvard 
commencement speech about this--more eloquent than anything I could say: 
``The main task of the present generation of politicians is not, I 
think, to ingratiate themselves with the public through the decisions 
they take or their smiles on television. Their role is something quite 
different, to assume their share of responsibility for the long-range 
prospects of our world, and thus, to set an example for the public in 
whose sight they work. After all, politics is a matter of serving the 
community, which means that it is morality in practice.'' I could hardly 
have said it better.
    Fourth, maybe the most important thing is, we should not just 
condemn the worst, we ought to find the best and celebrate it and then 
relentlessly promote it as a model to be followed. You know, I kept 
President Bush's Points of Light Foundation when I became President. And 
we recognize those people every year because I believe in that. I 
always--I thought that was one of the best things he did. But I tried to 
institutionalize it in many ways.
    That's what AmeriCorps is all about. The national service program 
gives young people a chance to earn money for college by working

[[Page 1056]]

in grassroots community projects all across the country. When I was in 
New Haven at the LEAP program, I had AmeriCorps volunteers there. I was 
in Texas the other day walking the streets of an inner city and a girl 
with a college degree from another State was there working with welfare 
mothers because she was raised by a welfare mother who taught her to go 
to school, work hard, and get a college degree, and she did.
    We have to find a way to systematically see these things that work 
sweep across this country with high standards and high expectations and 
breaking through all this bureaucracy that keeps people from achieving. 
We can do that. And the President ought to do even more than I have done 
to celebrate the things that work, and I intend to do it and to do more 
of it.
    Now I believe, obviously, that my New Covenant approach is better 
than the Republican contract approach to deal with the problems of 
middle class dreams and middle class values. But when I ran for this 
job, I said I wanted to restore the American dream and to bring the 
American people together. I have now come to the conclusion, having 
watched this drama unfold here and all around our country in the last 
2\1/2\ years, that I cannot do the first unless we can do the latter. We 
can't restore the American dream unless we can find some way to bring 
the American people closer together. Therefore, how we resolve these 
differences is as important as what specific position we advocate.
    I think we have got to move beyond division and resentment to common 
ground. We've got to go beyond cynicism to a sense of possibility. 
America is an idea. We're not one race. We're not one ethnic group. 
We're not one religious group. We do share a common piece of ground 
here. But you read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution: 
This country is an idea. And it is still going now in our 220th year 
because we all had a sense of possibility. We never thought there was a 
mountain we couldn't climb, a river we couldn't ford, or a problem we 
couldn't solve. What's that great line in the wonderful new movie 
``Apollo 13,'' ``Failure is not an option.'' You have to believe in 
possibility. And if you're cynical, you can't believe in possibility.
    We need to respect our differences and hear them, but it means 
instead of having shrill voices of discord, we need a chorus of harmony. 
In a chorus of harmony you know there are lots of differences, but you 
can hear all the voices. And that is important.
    And we've got to challenge every American in every sector of our 
society to do their part. We have to challenge in a positive way and 
hold accountable people who claim to be not responsible for any 
consequences of their actions that they did not specifically intend, 
whether it's in government, business, labor, entertainment, the media, 
religion, or community organizations. None of us can say we're not 
accountable for our actions because we did not intend those 
consequences, even if we made some contribution to them.
    Two days ago, on July 4th, the people of Oklahoma City raised their 
flags and their spirits to full mast for the first time since the awful 
tragedy of April 19th. Governor Keating and Mayor Norick led a 
celebration in Oklahoma City, which some of you may have seen on 
television, a celebration of honor and thanks for thousands of 
Oklahomans and other Americans who showed up and stood united in the 
face of that awful hatred and loss for what is best in our country.
    You know, Oklahoma City took a lot of the meanness out of America. 
It gave us a chance for more sober reflection. It gave us a chance to 
come to the same conclusion that Thomas Jefferson did in his first 
Inaugural. I want to read this to you with only this bit of history. 
Thomas Jefferson was elected the first time by the House of 
Representatives in a bitterly contested election in the first outbreak 
of completely excessive partisanship in American history. In that sense, 
it was a time not unlike this time. And this is what he said: ``Let us 
unite with our heart and mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that 
harmony and affection without which liberty and life itself are but 
dreary things.''
    We can redeem the promise of America for our children. We can 
certainly restore the American family for another full century if we 
commit to each other, as the Founders did, our lives, our fortunes, and 
our sacred honor. In our hour of greatest peril and greatest division, 
when we were fighting over the issue which we still have not fully 
resolved, Abraham Lincoln said, ``We are not enemies but friends. We 
must not be enemies.''
    My friends, amidst all our differences, let us find a new common 

[[Page 1057]]

    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:24 a.m. in Gaston Hall. In his remarks, 
he referred to Father Leo J. O'Donovan, president, Georgetown 
University; Molly M. Raiser, Chief of Protocol, Department of State; 
Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma; and Mayor Ronald Norick of Oklahoma 
City, OK.