[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[August 11, 1998]
[Pages 1436-1440]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 1436]]

Remarks at a Reception for Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis of California 
in Los Angeles
August 11, 1998

    Thank you very much. First of all, I think we should tell Gray Davis 
that he's going to have to stop getting so many laughs and having so 
many good lines in his speeches. He's going to completely destroy his 
reputation. [Laughter]
    I want to thank Bruce and Janet for having us in their magnificent 
home, and especially out here in this beautiful open-air area. I want to 
thank them for putting those trees up so I can't look down on Riviera 
and be distracted while I speak tonight. [Laughter]
    I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to Janet for being 
involved in the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. That corps and a 
remarkable project that began in Boston called City Year were the two 
inspirations for me for the proposal I made in the 1992 campaign to have 
a national community service program, AmeriCorps. And when it was 
created, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. We've now given 
about 100,000 young people a chance to work in communities in all kinds 
of work all across America, some of them with the L.A. Conservation 
Corps and, in so doing, to earn some money for college as well. And it's 
very, very important. I think that the more we can get people when 
they're young to do community service and to do it with people who are 
different than them--different in terms of race, in income, in 
background--the more likely we are to succeed in building one America.
    I also promised myself a long time ago that I'd never come to 
California again without saying a profound word of thanks to the people 
of this State for giving Hillary and me and Al and Tipper Gore and our 
administration a chance to serve, a chance to do the work we have done 
this last 5\1/2\ years. And no matter what you read, every day has been 
a joy for me, and I have loved it.
    I have tried to be a good President for California, and I could 
mention 10 or 11 things. But a lot of you thanked me for spending all 
day with Gray Davis. But I can tell you, I can't think of a better gift 
I could give the people of California than playing some role in the 
election of this good man to the governorship. It will be great for your 
    I was just sitting up there listening to Gray talk, and I--he 
mentioned the education issues and the difference between himself and 
his opponent--the crime issues. Last week I had Jim and Sarah Brady with 
me in the White House; you may have seen it. We celebrated the fifth 
anniversary of the Brady bill, another piece of legislation that most of 
the leaders in the other party opposed. Since the Brady bill became law, 
about a quarter of a million people with criminal and mental health 
histories that were destructive have not been able to buy handguns. Let 
me break it down just on the felons. Since I signed that bill into law 
and it took effect, 118 felons an hour--every hour of the day--have been 
denied the ability to buy a handgun.
    Now, I feel very strongly about the assault weapons ban that Gray 
has tried--as he talked about the enforcement of the California law. As 
most of you know, Senator Feinstein was the leading sponsor of the bill 
in the Senate that we incorporated into the crime bill to ban assault 
weapons there. I have tried to strengthen that. I've tried to stop 
foreign manufacturers from getting around it.
    These kinds of issues tell you a lot not just about the issues but 
about the general attitude of people who would be in public service and, 
therefore, are a pretty good predictor of the kind of decisions they 
might make on hundreds of other issues. And the request I want to make 
of you tonight is that you do more than you've done here, because, keep 
in mind, the truth is that most of you will do all right whether Gray 
wins or not. But the people that are serving our food here tonight, the 
people that are parking cars, the people that work in every place of 
business that I pass on the way up here tonight, it makes a whole lot of 
difference to them and their children. And in the end, how your children 
and your grandchildren do will be determined more than anything else by 
how everybody else does. And it is profoundly important. So I just want 
you to think about that.
    I also have to put in a good word here tonight for someone who is 
not here. I thank Congresswoman Jane Harman and Sidney for being here 
and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher. They do

[[Page 1437]]

a wonderful job for the State of California in the Congress. And I did 
get to go to Jane and Sidney's, to their event for Gray, and having lost 
two elections myself, I can say two things. Number one, it's not fatal; 
and number two, you know what the right thing to do is, but it's not 
always easy. And she has done the right thing and then some, and I 
respect her for it immensely. And I thank her. Thank you very much.
    I'd also like to say a word for Barbara Boxer, who isn't here. That 
young man at the water treatment facility today, he did say to me, ``Mr. 
President, my life is better since you've been in. The California 
economy has come back; things are better here.'' I want you to just 
remember one thing. I want to give a speech for Gray, so I don't want to 
get off on Barbara too much, and besides, most of you know that I'm 
related to her by marriage, so you have to discount some of what I say. 
    But in 1993, 5 years ago this month, when the whole future of the 
economic ideas that I wanted to bring the American people was on the 
line in the economic plan I presented to Congress, when I said it would 
reduce the deficit by at least $500 billion and probably more, that it 
would bring interest rates down, get investments up, that it would also 
provide tax cuts to lower income working families and provide real 
incentives to invest in our cities, which had been neglected, and put 
more money into education, not a single Republican voted for that bill--
not one--not one. The bill passed by one vote in the House, by one vote 
in the Senate. If Barbara Boxer had not voted for it--and keep in mind, 
she was elected in 1992 with only 47 percent of the vote, and she could 
not possibly have known for sure what the outcome would be. And all the 
Republicans were saying, ``This will be a disaster; it will bring on a 
recession. We will attack the Democrats.'' And she didn't blink. She 
went right down the aisle and cast her vote, ``Aye.''
    So when you look at the fact that we have the lowest unemployment in 
28 years, the smallest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years, the 
first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years, with the lowest inflation 
in 32 years and the smallest Federal Government in 35 years, that vote 
alone, in my judgment, plus the fact that she has worn me out, just like 
Gray has, on offshore oil drilling and every other California issue I 
can possibly think of--[laughter]--no family dinner with my extended 
family and all my wife's family is ever free from an interruption of 
lobbying on your behalf--that deserves your support for reelection, and 
I hope you'll give it to her.
    Now, I'll be brief. Gray gave you his campaign speech, and I won't 
give it to you again. I want to make a point that only I understand. 
Before I became President, I was a Governor for 12 years. Unlike Gray, I 
did get to live in public housing, and I rather enjoyed it. [Laughter] I 
don't even know what it costs to rent a place; what am I going to do 
when I get out in a couple years? [Laughter] Anyway--and I think by 
experience more understanding than anyone here could possibly have about 
the relationship of the National Government to the State government, how 
it's changed in the last 8 years, and why I have tried to make the 
Governor's job more important.
    But let me take one step back. One crusade I've been on all across 
America--everywhere I go I make this point. I say I am grateful for the 
good times we now enjoy. I think the lion's share of the credit goes to 
the American people for their hard work and ingenuity and good 
citizenship. But I think the policies of this administration have made a 
lot of it possible by creating the conditions and giving people the 
tools to make the most of their own lives.
    Now, after all California went through in the late eighties and 
early nineties, it is tempting for a State or for a nation to do what 
every individual or family or business is tempted to do after you've 
been through tough times and all of the sudden you're in the pink and 
things are going well. You want to just take a deep breath, relax, put 
your feet up on the couch, and forget about it for a while. Speaker 
Gingrich said the other day the only thing they had to do to hold the 
Congress was pass the continuing resolution, not shut the Government 
down, and just go home--don't do anything, because times are good, 
people are happy, and they'll just vote for the status quo.
    My argument is that that would be the exact wrong thing to do for 
America at this time. And I'll just give you an example that I think 
makes the point. If I had come here in 1992 and said to you, ``Vote for 
me because I have a crystal ball, and I can see the future, and in 5, 6 
years, not only will we have the strongest economy in the world, but the 
value of the Japanese stock market will be one-half of what

[[Page 1438]]

it is today, and they will have no growth for 5 years,'' you would think 
I had a screw loose, wouldn't you? There's not a soul in this place that 
would have believed me if I'd said that 5 years ago--maybe a few of you 
who understood the real estate issues and all of that, but most people 
would have said no.
    Now, I say that not to be critical of the Japanese. They are a very 
great people with enormous intelligence, enormous wealth, enormous 
potential, and they will be back. I say it to make this point: The world 
is changing more rapidly and more profoundly than almost any of us can 
understand--the way we work, the way we live, the way we relate to each 
other and the rest of the world, the nature of the foreign policy 
challenges we face. So when you have good times like this, but you know 
times are changing, if you want them to continue, the only responsible 
thing to do is to say, okay, we've got money; we've got confidence; 
we've got breathing space; we don't have to worry about where our next 
nickel or meal is coming from; let's look at the big long-term 
challenges and face them.
    Now, I believe this country has seven big long-term challenges, and 
I'll just mention them to you, and you'll see what relevance it has to 
the Governor's race, because the last four depend on what is done at the 
State level as well as what's done at the national level.
    Number one, we have got to stop playing with whether we're an 
isolationist power or whether we're going to lead the world for peace 
and freedom and prosperity. We have got to stop it. We've got to pay our 
debts to the U.N. We've got to pay our debts to the International 
Monetary Fund. We've got to be proud and aggressive of what we did in 
Bosnia, what we did in Haiti, what we've done in Northern Ireland, what 
we're trying to do in the Middle East, what I hope we can do by stopping 
another horrible ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. We've got to be tough in 
standing up against terrorism from whatever source and the spread of 
weapons of mass destruction. We've got to be willing to invest the money 
to do it, and we've got to realize that if we're going to trade all 
around the world, we have to have a world where commerce is possible 
because freedom is possible. We have got to do that.
    Now, number two, we've got to understand if we want to do good 
abroad in a world totally awash in racial and ethnic and religious 
hatred, we have to be good at home. We have got to build one America 
across the lines that divide us.
    Number three, we have got to look out for the next generation and 
the implications of the retirement of the baby boomers. I can say that; 
I'm the oldest baby boomer. I don't know how you call anyone who is 
almost 52 baby anything. [Laughter] But when we all retire, all of us 
baby boomers, people who are this year turning between 34 and 52 years 
of age, at present rates of work force participation, retirement, birth 
rates, and immigration rates, there will only be about two people 
working for every person drawing Social Security. That will put 
untenable strains on both the Social Security and the Medicare program 
as they presently operate.
    That is why I am so diametrically opposed to these suggestions that 
some in the other party have made that we're going to have a huge 
surplus, therefore we ought to spend hundreds of billions of dollars 
right now on a permanent tax cut. If the surplus doesn't materialize, do 
you think we'd repeal the tax cut?
    Look, it's election year; I'd like to give you a tax cut as much as 
anybody else. Even though I'm not running, I want everybody else to 
win--that I'm for, that is. [Laughter] But that would not be 
responsible. We don't know how much it's going to cost to preserve what 
is essential about Social Security as we reform it to make it 
sustainable. And the same is true of the Medicare program. So I say, 
we've been waiting for 29 years to get out of the red; wouldn't you like 
to spend just a few months looking at the black ink before we squander 
it all again? Isn't that the right thing to do? [Applause]
    You see all these young people around here. The baby boomers I know, 
we are plagued with the thought that we will lower the standard of 
living of our children and undermine their ability to raise our 
grandchildren because it will cost so much to take care of us when we're 
old, and we don't want it to happen. And we'll find a right balance, but 
we can't do it overnight.
    Now, those are three big challenges that the State doesn't have 
anything to do with. We have to do that nationally. But what are the 
others? And Gray talked about a couple of them.

[[Page 1439]]

    Number one, we have the best system of higher education in the 
world. No serious person believes we have the best system of elementary 
and secondary education in the world for all our kids. Until we can say 
we do, we will never be what we ought to be. And we can help. I've got a 
good program for smaller classes, higher standards, better training of 
teachers, hooking up all the classrooms to the Internet. But in the end, 
it's fundamentally a State responsibility, carried out by local people 
ultimately in the schools, the principals, the teachers, the parents, 
and the students. It matters who the Governor is.
    Next, we've got to prove that we can grow the economy and improve 
the environment. A lot of it has to be done at the national level. The 
challenge of climate change primarily has to be done, I'm convinced, by 
a sensible program at the national level. The challenge of cleaning up 
our oceans has to be done primarily at the national level. But so much 
can and must be done here.
    I'm telling you, I was driving across Los Angeles today thinking, 
thank God the people of California stood up for clean air and cleaned up 
the air here. How many children are free of bronchial diseases in this 
State because you believed in the environment and because you understood 
you could do it and still have a strong economy? You don't need someone 
in the Governor's chair who does not believe that passionately. It is 
very important--very important.
    Just two other issues, very quickly. Economic policy: We've got a 
great economic recovery, but there are places--cities, rural areas, 
Indian reservations--where there is no free enterprise economic 
recovery. We can do something nationally; some of it has to be done at 
the State level.
    And finally, health care. You know, when Hillary and I tried to 
reform the health care system and the Republicans and the insurance 
companies beat us and said we were trying to have the Government take 
over health care, they said, ``Oh, they're going to have the Government 
take over health care.'' Of course, that wasn't true, but that's what 
they said. And they spent a lot of money, and they convinced a lot of 
people it was right.
    Let me give you an interesting statistic. When they beat our health 
care program, 40 percent of all health care dollars came from public 
sources. What do you think it is today? Forty-seven percent. Why? 
Because private employers don't insure as many of their employees any 
more, and even lower income working people are now more eligible for 
    Now, what I've tried to do is to find a way step by step to deal 
with that, to have the benefits of managed care without the burdens. 
That's what the Patients' Bill of Rights is all about. And I think it's 
very important.
    But let me give you one example. We passed in the Balanced Budget 
Act of 1997 a bill--part of that--to provide $24 billion to give health 
insurance to 5 million children who don't have it, most of them in low 
income working families. Thirteen percent of the country lives in 
California, but a lot more than 13 percent of the eligible kids live in 
California--working people who can get their kids insured now because we 
put that money into the balanced budget. But the whole program has to be 
developed by the States. They have to come up with a system to do it. 
That's one of the biggest responsibilities of a Governor today--figure 
out how his State or her State can get their fair share of money to get 
these children in working families so they can see a doctor on a regular 
basis and get preventive care so they don't get sick, so their parents 
aren't torn up with worry.
    Now, you tell me--you know who the two candidates for Governor are--
if you thought that was one of the most important responsibilities, and 
also you wanted less drain on your State tax dollars from people getting 
real sick and showing up at public hospitals and public health centers, 
which one do you think is more likely to spend more time designing an 
aggressive, appropriate plan to protect the working families of this 
State and their health care? The answer is Gray Davis. It's clear.
    You can see I don't feel very strongly about this. [Laughter] If you 
think about it, there are seven big challenges this country is facing 
for the 21st century. Four of them, no matter what I do as President or 
whether I can prevail in Congress, depend upon having the right kind of 
visionary leadership at the State level. This is a big deal. And I want 
you to go out and talk to your friends and neighbors between now and 
November and tell them the only way this guy can lose this race is if a 
lot of people who care and know better don't vote because they really 
don't think it matters, because they can relax because things are going 
so well.

[[Page 1440]]

    Things are going so well because of all the hard work we have all 
done together. And they will continue to go well as long as--but only as 
long as--we continue to face the challenges of today and tomorrow. That 
is the major case for Gray Davis. You've given him a chance tonight to 
have a bigger bullhorn, to get his message out. Tomorrow you can give 
him a chance to have a lot more apostles, one on one, and in the end, 
that can be even more important.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:38 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to reception hosts Bruce and Janet Karatz; former 
White House Press Secretary James Brady and his wife, Sarah, chair, 
Handgun Control, Inc.; and Sidney Harman, chief executive officer, 
Harman International Industries, Inc.