[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[October 2, 1998]
[Pages 1730-1734]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner in Philadelphia
October 2, 1998

    Thank you very much. I kind of hate to follow Rendell tonight. 
[Laughter] It's a true story, that story you heard about me asking if he 
modeled for these sculptures. [Laughter] You know, he did so well 
tonight, I think he sort of halfway talked himself into believing it. It 
was great. [Laughter]
    I tell you, I would just like to say one serious thing about the 
mayor. I remember when we walked the street here in 1992, when he took 
me into a neighborhood where the gangs and the drugs had been cleared 
out. I remember when we shot baskets together. He won. [Laughter] I 
think I've demonstrated to the whole world that I'm not always very 
smart, but I was smart enough to know I shouldn't win that basketball 
game in '92. [Laughter] I knew the only score I was trying to win was in 
November and that it would help if I took a well-considered dive. 
[Laughter] No, he beat me fair and square, actually.
    But I want you to know that to me it's just literally thrilling to 
come here to this city to see what has been done, to see the whole sort 
of spirit of the place, to see the neighborhoods that have come back, to 
see the people that are working, to see the projects that are on line.
    And when I became President, I believed that we needed in Washington 
to find a way to reduce the deficit until we balanced the budget, to 
reduce the size of Government, to reduce the burden of regulation, to 
reduce the plethora of programs in a lot of these areas, but to be more 
active in creating the conditions and giving people the tools to solve 
their problems at the grassroots level.
    And every tool that we put out there, Ed Rendell used as well or 
better as anyone in America. And it is an awesome thing to see. And I 
just want to thank him for proving through this city that this great 
country can solve its problems, meet its challenges, and work in a 
stunning fashion. I am very grateful to him, not only for his friendship 
and support but for

[[Page 1731]]

what he's done for you and for our country as mayor.
    I would like to thank Congressman Bob Borski and Congressman Bob 
Brady and Congressman Chaka Fattah for being with me tonight and for 
being with me in Washington, where it really counts and where they have 
counted for you. I would like to thank our State party chair, Tina 
Tartaglione, a member of the legislature, I know; and Senator Fumo, 
thank you for coming, and all the other public officials who are here. 
I'd like to thank my good friend Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky for 
running for Lieutenant Governor and being my friend.
    Tonight Hillary is finishing a trip to Uruguay, where they had one 
of a series of conferences that she's done around the world. The last 
one was in Northern Ireland. They're called Vital Voices conferences, 
where she goes to places and gets together women who are working for 
peace and reconciliation and development, and dealing with health and 
family related problems. And Marjorie has helped her a lot on that, and 
I'm very, very grateful to her, and for so much else.
    Finally, let me say I want to thank Len Barrack for doing a fabulous 
job as the finance director of the DNC. The job has been good for him. 
He's even wearing three-button suits now--[laughter]--taken years off 
his life, looks so much younger.
    Let me say very briefly, Ed talked about some of these issues 
tonight, but I would like to try to put this in some historical 
perspective. In 1992, when the citizens of this city gave Al Gore and me 
a great vote of endorsement and helped us to win the State of 
Pennsylvania, which was pivotal in our victory, we ran on a platform of 
change that said we didn't like very much what was going on in 
Washington and just the constant, endless, partisan bickering and 
rhetoric and setting up the American people against each other--business 
against labor, the economy against the environment, dividing the races, 
dividing present citizens against immigrants--all these things were 
going on as if there were no way out of these boxes that would build 
America, that would bring us together and move us forward.
    And we said, among other things, if you vote for us we'll give you a 
Government that's smaller but more active. We'll reduce the deficit and 
balance the budget, but we'll invest more money in education and medical 
research and the environment. We said we would try to deal with some of 
the challenges in the health care system and extend coverage to more 
people. We said that we thought we could improve the environment and 
grow the economy. We thought that we could be pro-business and pro-
labor. We thought we could have a welfare system that required people 
who were able-bodied to work, without hurting them in their more 
important job, which is raising their children by doing what many in the 
other party wanted to do, which was to cut off their guarantee of 
nutrition and health care benefits to their children.
    So we had a lot of ideas, and they were going to be tested. And 
after 6 years, most of those ideas have now been enacted into law and 
have been for some time part of the public policy of our country. I am 
very grateful for where America is tonight and grateful that you gave me 
the chance to do what I have done to contribute to that and grateful for 
your contributions. I'm grateful that we have the lowest unemployment 
rate in 28 years and the lowest crime in 25 years and the smallest 
percentage of people on welfare in 29 years and now the first balanced 
budget and surplus in 29 years. And we have record numbers of new 
businesses in each of the last 6 years, the fastest rising wages in over 
20 years, the lowest poverty rate among African-Americans ever recorded, 
the biggest drop among Hispanics in 30 years. I'm grateful for all that.
    The real question I want you to think about tonight when you leave 
here is why you came here--besides the fact that Ed made you--
[laughter]--why you came here and what you're going to do when you 
leave. Because for all the kind and generous and wonderful things that 
the people of Philadelphia said to me today and the messages they gave, 
through me, to Hillary today, I have to tell you that I think that the 
biggest challenge we face in this election season is not adversity but 
    Painful though it is, I think adversity is our friend, not only for 
reasons of personal development and change but because when adversity 
affects any group of people, it forces you to dig down deep and ask 
yourself what you believe in, what you're doing, whatever you're doing 
it for, and what you intend to do tomorrow.
    And usually when times are good like this, people relax. And with 
these elections coming up, our friends in the Republican Party, they

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believe they're going to be successful for two reasons: One, in spite of 
your presence here today, they always have tons more money than we do, 
which they spend very cleverly at the end. And secondly, they know that 
at midterm elections typically people who always vote in Presidential 
elections don't go vote. They don't go vote. And a lot of our folks--Ed 
talked about the child care issue--for a lot of the people that normally 
vote with our people, it's a lot more trouble for them to go vote. They 
have to balance children and work, and worry about child care. And 
election day is a work day, and it's a hassle.
    And so I ask you, we have to decide, what is it that we should as a 
people do with this moment of prosperity, with this moment of 
confidence? And I would argue to you that we ought to think about the 
big challenges facing this country over the long run and the specific 
things we ought to be doing right now.
    If you look at the big challenges over the long run facing America, 
what are they? Well, at home, when the baby boomers retire, we have got 
to modify Social Security and Medicare so it's there for the people that 
need it at a cost that doesn't bankrupt our children. It's a big 
    We've got to make sure that to go along with the finest higher 
education system in the world, we can offer world-class elementary and 
secondary education to every child without regard to race or income or 
neighborhood. We can't say that today, and we've got to be able to say 
    We've got to modify the international financial systems and trading 
systems so that we don't have the kind of instability you see today in 
Asia and Russia, and so that they work for ordinary people, so that we 
put a human face on the global economy, so that all these people in 
other countries that we depend upon to buy our products and services 
really believe that this system will work for them. If you want freedom 
and free enterprise to work around the world, it has to work for real 
people, just like it does in this country. Otherwise, it's not 
    We have to prove all over the world that we can improve the 
environment and grow the economy, that there is not a connection between 
environmental destruction and economic growth anymore. And there isn't, 
by the way, on the evidence.
    Now, we have to prove that we can get more and more and more diverse 
racially, religiously, culturally, politically, and still find a way to 
come together as one America. Those are just some of the really big 
challenges out there facing us.
    What does that mean when you come down to the present day? Ed talked 
about a couple things. I think the biggest decisions facing us right now 
are: one, a decision to do the right thing for our children and our 
parents and not spend this surplus until we have overhauled the Social 
Security system in the 21st century.
    Two, I think that we should make a clear commitment that we are 
going to continue to lead the world economically, that we recognize our 
own economy and our prosperity cannot be maintained if everybody else in 
the world gets in trouble, and there are too many people in trouble now 
in the world. And we have to lead the world. That means that Congress 
ought to give me the money--not for me, to our country--to contribute to 
the International Monetary Fund so we can keep this economy going. 
That's very important.
    Three, Ed talked about education. Let me just--8 months ago in the 
State of the Union, I gave the Congress an education plan designed to 
make concrete my belief that we had to make sure every 8-year-old could 
read, every 12-year-old could log on to the Internet, every 18-year-old 
could go to college, and every adult could keep learning for a 
lifetime--to try to make real my belief that we've got to be able to say 
that all the kids in this country have access to a world-class 
elementary and secondary education.
    And the program I put before the Congress was not a partisan 
program. It was based on the best ideas I could find around the country 
and the 20 years of experience that Hillary and I have had going into 
classrooms, going into schools, and looking at the research. So we did. 
We said, ``Look, we'll put 100,000 teachers out there. They will all be 
well trained. And we'll put them in the early grades so we can lower 
average class size to 18, because all the research shows that small 
classes in the early grades guarantee more individual attention, higher 
levels of learning, and permanent learning benefits.''
    Then we will do what Ed talked about with the school facilities, 
because there are so many places where the school population is growing

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now, where there are these temporary classrooms. I was in one little 
town in Florida that had 12 of these behind one building, one school 
building. And then there are a lot of cities that have magnificent 
buildings, like Philadelphia, that simply can't be maintained and 
repaired given the present budget.
    So we put a program forward that will allow us to build or repair 
5,000 school buildings--be a good start on America's school challenge. 
We say our kids are the most important things in the world, but what 
kind of a message does it give a child to walk up the steps to a school 
building where the windows are broken out or a whole floor is closed 
down or all the windows have to be boarded up because nobody can afford 
the utility bills because they haven't been insulated properly? I see 
this kind of stuff all over America.
    The third thing we wanted to do was to give districts the 
encouragement to impose high standards on kids and to stop just 
promoting them whether they were learning anything or not, but not to 
brand the children failures because the system is a failure. So we 
wanted to give districts the opportunity to have mentoring programs, 
after-school programs, summer school programs, so that kids could be 
held to higher standards, but would not be branded failures and instead 
would be helped, if they were prepared in school district after school 
district after school district to have those standards.
    We wanted to give 35,000 bright young people college scholarships 
and pay all their expenses and say, ``Now you can go out and pay all 
your college debt off by going into educationally underserved areas in 
the inner cities and rural areas and teaching for a few years and paying 
your expenses off.'' We wanted to provide the funds to hook up every 
classroom in the country to the Internet by the year 2000. And all that 
is paid for in the balanced budget.
    And the fourth thing we wanted to do was to try to have some uniform 
rules for HMO's. And 43--43 HMO's have supported the Patients' Bill of 
Rights because they want to do this, and they don't think they can 
economically unless it's the same rules for everybody. And the rules are 
pretty simple: If you're in an accident and you have to get in an 
ambulance, you ought to be taken to the nearest emergency room, not one 
clear across town because it's the one that's covered. If your doctor 
says you need to see a specialist, you can see one. If you're in the 
middle of treatment and your employer changes providers, they can't make 
you change doctors in the middle of a pregnancy or a chemotherapy 
treatment. And you get to have your records remain private.
    Now, those are four specific examples of the big problems, of the 
things we can do right now to address these big problems.
    Now, what's happened on the other side? Our friends in the other 
party with their majority this year, here's what they've done on those 
four things. Number one, on Social Security first, the House passed a 
tax cut because it's appealing 4 or 5 weeks before an election. And the 
Senate has it now, and I think they may have figured out that the people 
may be a little more broadminded and farsighted than they think, because 
I'm not sure they'll send it to me and let me veto it. [Laughter]
    Number two, on the International Monetary Fund, most of the people 
who immediately know about this are Republicans, international business 
people. The Senate passed it overwhelmingly. We're still waiting for the 
House to vote for it, and every single day that goes by, we run the risk 
of increased instability in the world and increased risk to America. 
Now, I've been waiting for this for 8 months, and I'm telling you, this 
is a big American issue--still no action.
    On education, no action. On the health care bill of rights, the 
House passed a bill that guarantees none of these rights--none that I 
mentioned--and cuts 100 million Americans out what little it did 
guarantee. And so it went to the Senate. Now, in the Senate the rules 
are different, and our guys can bring up our bill. So when we tried to 
bring up our bill, the majority leader of the Senate--I never thought 
I'd live to see this--they shut the Senate down the other night. They 
closed the house for 4 hours to keep the Patients' Bill of Rights from 
being considered. They just turned the lights out. People got under 
their desk, or did whatever they did. [Laughter] It was death by the 
stealth to the Patients' Bill of Rights. Why? Because they did not want 
to be recorded being against what they fully intended to kill.
    Now, a few other things have happened this year. They killed the 
minimum wage increase. They killed campaign finance reform, which would 
have relieved you of some of the pain of being here tonight. [Laughter] 
They killed the tobacco reform legislation, which would have

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protected our children from what is still the number one public health 
problem in America today.
    Now, that is what is happening. This stuff matters. And, oh, by the 
way, in the way of tax cuts, we had a targeted tax cut program, and it 
covered child care, as Ed Rendell said. It helped small businesses take 
out pension plans for their employees. And it was all paid for.
    And on health care, we did have a provision so that 55- to 65-year-
old people could buy into health care plans, because a huge number of 
them are forced into early retirement or their spouses go on Medicare, 
but they can't, so they lose their employer-based coverage, don't have 
any health insurance. And it doesn't cost much money. No action.
    So I say to you, what is really at stake here is about whether this 
election is about Washington or about you; whether it's about power and 
politics or people; whether it's about partisanship or progress.
    And when you leave here tonight, I want you to really think--go home 
and just talk. If you've got couples here tonight, talk among 
yourselves. What do you think the really big challenges facing this 
country are going to be in the next 25 or 30 years? What do you think 
the things are that we could do right now that would address them most? 
And if you believe we ought to save Social Security before we squander 
the first surplus we've had in a generation, if you believe we should 
pass this health care bill of rights, if you believe that we should put 
education first among our investment priorities, if you think--we ought 
to do what is necessary to keep America strong economically and in the 
leadership of the world economy and fighting for peace and freedom.
    Our strength, economically, enables us to be a force for peace in 
Northern Ireland; enables us to continue to hold out hope of peace and 
work for it in the Middle East; enables us to do what we're trying to do 
now to avert a horrible incidence of the death of innocents in Kosovo 
this winter; enables us to try to work with other countries to bring 
down the threat of terrorism and nuclear weapons and chemical and 
biological weapons. It all rests on America's sense of strength and 
    Now, if you believe that we ought to be for those things, and if you 
believe this election ought to be about you and your children and your 
grandchildren and the other people that live in Philadelphia, then I 
would challenge you not to leave your citizenship responsibilities with 
the signing of the check that you wrote to get here tonight, because the 
direction of these issues will be determined not only by how people vote 
but whether they vote.
    And so I say in closing, adversity is not our enemy--complacency is. 
This is the greatest country in history. For 220 years, against all the 
odds, no matter what happens, we always somehow figure out how to do the 
right thing to get a little closer to our ideals of a more perfect 
Union, of freedom and opportunity for everybody. And we can do it this 
time. But we need your voice. We need your efforts. We need you to talk 
like I'm talking to you, to everybody you see between now and November.
    So when you go home tonight and you ask yourself, ``Why did I go 
there?'' I hope your answer will be, ``Because I wanted to know exactly 
what I should do as a citizen in the next 5 weeks to do right by my 
country in the 21st century.''
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:15 p.m. in Room 202 at Philadelphia City 
Hall. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Edward Rendell of 
Philadelphia and State Senator Vincent Fumo.