[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[November 1, 1998]
[Pages 1944-1947]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland
November 1, 1998

    Thank you, ``Reverend'' Cummings. [Laughter] It's difficult enough 
to follow one sermon, much less two. [Laughter]
    Let me say to Reverend Thomas, I never wanted your message to end. 
It was wonderful, thank you. I, too, join in wishing Mrs. Thomas a happy 
birthday. I thank all the wonderful staff and parishioners here at New 
Psalmist. I have to say that my staff especially appreciated the 
assistance from Dr. David Blow.
    I thank Congressman Cummings for his welcome here. I tell you, I was 
here about 10 minutes, and I realized how Elijah got to Congress. 
[Laughter] And I thank all of his staff, Vernon Simmons and others. I 
thank Mayor Schmoke for all the help that your people gave us; thank 
you, sir. I thank your two wonderful Senators, Senator Sarbanes and 
Senator Mikulski. Senator Mikulski is running for reelection, but she's 
going to win by acclamation, so nobody remembers that she's on the 
ballot. But I think I should tell you that she is, and she would like it 
very much if you remembered that, as well.
    I thank Governor Glendening and Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy 
Townsend for all they have done for Maryland, and I commend them to you. 
Congressman Cardin, thank you for being here. To Secretary of State John 
Willis, it's his birthday, too, today, by the way. I would like to thank 
Senator Blount, County Executive Ruppersberger, City Council President 
Bell, City Comptroller Joan Pratt. And I would like to say a special 
word of appreciation to a former Congressman and NAACP president and my 
wonderful, wonderful friend, Kweisi Mfume. Thank you for being here 
today. Thank you.
    Now, it's been more than 40 years since Rosa Parks gave up her seat 
on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to change America forever. Dr. King 
said it is better to walk in dignity than to ride in shame. And ever 
since then, America has been on a long walk toward dignity. Some people 
who are not African-Americans don't know it yet, but we've all been on 
that walk--not just black Americans, all Americans--for none live in 
dignity when any are oppressed.
    It is a journey this church knows well. Just think about it: 100 
years ago, starting with 5 members, to come to this congregation of 
6,000 men, women, and children in this magnificent house of worship. 
This is the day the Lord has made, and we can rejoice in it. You have 
all this high technology, and you are very modern, but you have not 
forgotten your mission: not only here, to hear the word of God, but to 
do it with a food bank, with scholarships for college, with health care, 
with a Boys Club, with the Girl Scouts, all the things this church is 
involved in. You have helped each other walk in dignity. You have 
fulfilled the admonition of the Scripture to be doers of the Word and 
not hearers only. And on Tuesday you will once again have the chance to 
be doers.
    Now, the message today was from Matthew. So I just kind of rumbled 
through Matthew at the beginning of the service, not so as to distract 
my concentration from the message--[laughter]--and there are a few 
things from Matthew I'd like for us to remember. In Matthew, Jesus says 
to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's. Now, back then that 
didn't mean too much because Caesar was an emperor and all the people 
had to do to render unto Caesar was to pay their taxes and obey the law. 
But thank the Lord there is no Caesar in this country. And the good news 
is, there is no Caesar; the bad news is, the people who have to render 
have more to do, because you pick the people who make the decisions. You 
pick the people--or not--depending on what you do.
    Elijah was so kind; he said those nice things to me. I'm proud of 
the fact that the American dream is closer to more Americans than it was 
6 years ago, that more Americans can go to

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college, that we have the lowest poverty rate ever recorded among 
African-Americans, that we have the smallest welfare rolls in 29 years, 
and the lowest unemployment in 28 years. I'm proud of all that.
    But let me tell you something. If you helped me get there, then you 
did that. You did that. You heard the pastor say today when he preaches 
the Word of God, it is God's gift, not his. You heard that, when he said 
that, didn't you? That's the way democracy works, except you're in the 
driver's seat. You're Caesar, not me--you--if you are a doer.
    Remember when John Glenn went up in space a couple of days ago, 
didn't we all feel good? It gave all of us who aren't young anymore 
something to look forward to. [Laughter] I was so proud--proud because I 
know him to be a wonderful, good man; proud because of what he gave our 
country 36 years ago; but also proud because that was an act of 
democracy. That space program is paid for by you, voted for by your 
Congress, supported by your President. But in the end, therefore, if you 
supported me and those who supported that program, then you had your 
hand on John Glenn's shoulder when he went up in space. That's what this 
means. You had your hand on him.
    In the last several days as I have traveled around America, so many 
people have come up to me and said, ``Thank you for working for peace in 
the Middle East. Thank you for staying up for a week''--literally, 39 
hours at the end--``Thank you for doing that.'' And I say to them, ``It 
is my job and my honor. But because you put me there, if you felt good 
about that, you should feel good about yourself because you helped to 
make the peace in the Middle East.''
    Now, that's how this works. That's how this works, this march to 
dignity, a dignity that Rosa Parks talked about, the dignity that Martin 
Luther King died for, the dignity that Nelson Mandela spent 10,000 days 
in jail for. We had the President of Colombia here this week--a country 
ravaged by civil war, ravaged by drug traffickers--a man who himself was 
kidnaped, who just by the grace of God was not killed, with a wonderful 
wife who has had people in her whole family killed. I have worked with 
people in Colombia for 6 years now. Hundreds of law abiding people have 
been killed simply for trying to uphold the law. And we too often take 
this vote for granted and say, ``Oh, it doesn't matter what we do.''
    If you think the things that Congressman Cummings said matter, don't 
pat me on the back, pat yourselves on the back. That's how this system 
works. If you think that the things that Senator Sarbanes votes for, 
that Senator Mikulski votes for, Congressman Cardin votes for; if you 
think it's a good thing that Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy 
Townsend made Maryland the first State in the country to say young 
children in school ought to serve their communities, it's a part of 
their education, it'll make them better citizens; if you think it's a 
good thing that Maryland, under Governor Glendening's leadership, has 
pioneered education reforms and environmental advances--if you like all 
that, you did that. You did that. You should feel that it is yours; it 
is part of your walk to dignity.
    And that is what this is about. Tuesday there is no Caesar. Your 
vote counts as much as mine, counts as much as Speaker Gingrich. 
[Laughter] It does. It counts as much as anybody. It counts as much as 
people who can contribute vast fortunes to campaigns. Tuesday everything 
gets evened up again, if you show up.
    Now, what I want to say to you is that this is not an ordinary time 
or an ordinary election. There is a lot at stake. This year, because the 
Members of Congress here present stood with me, we were able to stop a 
raid on the surplus before we saved Social Security, and we were able to 
get the funding for a big downpayment on our goal of 100,000 more 
teachers. And we did it, in the end, against the opposition of the 
members of the other party. But there is a lot more to be done.
    We want to pass that Patients' Bill of Rights so medical decisions 
are made by doctors, not accountants. We want to pass that school 
construction proposal so all these teachers will have classrooms, not 
trailers, to teach our little children in. We want to raise the minimum 
wage because unemployment and inflation are low, but you still can't 
raise a family on $5.15 an hour. We want to pass a juvenile justice 
bill, yes, that punishes people who have to be, but remembers that the 
only real answer is to keep more of our children out of trouble in the 
first place and save our children, give them a chance to have a brighter 
    We want not just to save this surplus and save our economy; we want 
to reform the Social Security system so that it doesn't go broke when 
the baby boomers retire and our children will

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be able to continue to raise our grandchildren without having to take us 
on their backs. That's what we want to do.
    Now, think of what was denied. We are fighting hard for the dignity 
of a living wage, in the face of partisanship that refused us last time; 
for a Patients' Bill of Rights, in the face of partisanship that 
listened to the health insurance companies the last time; for the 
dignity of sending our children to learn with good teachers and small 
classes in decent, modernized schools all hooked up to computers and the 
Internet, in the face of those who opposed us the last time; and we are 
fighting for the dignity of a secure retirement in old age way into the 
future, in the face of those who would squander this hard-won surplus on 
election-year promises.
    Now, in this election we've had a tough time. Our friends in the 
other party have raised over $100 million more than we have. Now, you 
can do that if you take the positions they took: killing the Patients' 
Bill of Rights; killing campaign finance reform; refusing to raise the 
minimum wage; be willing to endanger the rights of mothers and their 
children and child support in changing the bankruptcy laws; refusing to 
pass legislation to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco, 
which still kills more people every year than any other public health 
    Now, why would this happen? Why would people who live in a democracy 
vote against modern schools when most people are for them? Because they 
think most people won't vote. Why would they kill a tobacco reform bill 
most people support? Because they think most people won't vote. Why 
would they kill a raise in the minimum wage that most Americans of all 
incomes support? Because they think most Americans won't vote.
    Now, just in case, of course, we got news yesterday that there's 
actually an effort to keep African-Americans and other minority voters 
from voting, in voter intimidation in Maryland and in six or seven other 
States. But you know what? On Tuesday you're in control of the 
arithmetic again, and you can vote.
    I say that not in an angry spirit. You know all over America today 
there are people in other churches who have a different view, who 
believe that their principles require them to vote only for people at 
the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. But if you go back 
through all America, what is this about?
    You know, I used to think because I was a young boy growing up in 
the South and I came from people that didn't have a lot of money, it 
used to break my heart when I would see my people, poor working people, 
be among the most hostile toward our black brothers and sisters. And 
finally I figured out that they did that, instead of joining hands with 
them to lift everybody together, because they thought they needed 
somebody to look down on.
    And if you look around the whole world today from the Middle East to 
Ireland, where my people come from, to the tribal warfare in Africa, to 
the problems in Bosnia and Kosovo, you see all of this turmoil and human 
misery caused by people who believe that politics is about gaining power 
over somebody you can look down on. It's about dividing the country 
between us and them.
    Now, that's why Elijah said the Pledge of Allegiance to you. That's 
why he said the Pledge of Allegiance. One Nation, indivisible. But make 
no mistake about it, in the 1950's, when I was a kid growing up, 
communism was a big problem and stayed so until the end of the cold war, 
so the dividers in our country would just try to paint their opponents 
as a little too pink, a little too close to the Communists. Then, we had 
race as an issue; now, immigrants--always some way to divide up the 
electorate so that there is us and them.
    Now, why don't we have that view? Partly because you know what it's 
like to be treated like them. Partly because you read the whole 
Scripture. The Corinthians says, ``Now we see through a glass, darkly.'' 
What does that mean? We just don't know everything. We don't have a 
right to look down on people and sort them out because we don't have the 
whole truth. The whole promise of the Scripture is that we will someday 
have it: ``Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: 
now we know in part; but then we will know even as we are known. And now 
abideth faith, hope and love--charity--and the greatest of these is 
love.'' Why is love the greatest of these? Because we're all in this 
boat together. That's why.
    Yes, you know, there's some divisions out there. But Matthew 
cautions us not to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. And Matthew 
reminds us that a city and a house divided against itself cannot stand. 
What does the Bible say? What does the Bible tell us? One thing the 
Bible tells us hundreds of times--hundreds

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and hundreds of times about politics--the only thing it tells us 
hundreds and hundreds of times is to care for the poor, the weak, the 
needy. In Matthew, Jesus says, ``Verily I say unto you, even as you have 
done this unto the least of these my brethren, you have also done it 
unto me.'' And then down the way a little bit, down the way a few verses 
it says, ``And I say to you, even as you have not done it unto the least 
of these my brethren, you have not done it unto me.''
    So I say to you, we believe that our politics should be guided by 
what our Lord said was the first and most important commandment, and the 
second is like unto it. First we must try to love the Lord, our God, 
with all our heart. ``And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love 
thy neighbor as thyself.''
    So I say, Tuesday is about whether we'll have a Patients' Bill of 
Rights, whether we'll have good schools for all our children, whether we 
will raise the minimum wage, whether we will save Social Security for 
the 21st century. But in a larger sense, it's about that march to 
dignity. It's about whether your hand is going to be on the shoulder of 
every person doing every good thing that will be done. It's about 
whether the people who believe they should divide America can leave you 
out because you stay home. It's about whether you believe that you have 
to be a doer.
    I appreciate your applause. And I am more grateful by far for just 
having the chance to share this worship service with you, to be reminded 
of the truths that I need to hear, too, just like you. You remember that 
in this country there are only two places--only two, only two--where we 
have fulfilled both the admonition of the Scriptures and the promise of 
the Founders that all of us are created equal--only two. One is when you 
come into your house of worship on Sunday, and the other is when you 
show up at the ballot box.
    So I ask you: There are thousands here. You will see tens of 
thousands more between now and Tuesday. Be a doer. Tell them they should 
show up, too. Take them by the hand and bring them. Tell them about Rosa 
Parks. Ask them not to forget what Dr. King died for. Ask them not to 
forget what the issues in this election are.
    But ultimately, it really is all about what Congressman Cummings 
said. I have done everything I could to bring this country together, to 
reconcile the American people to one another so we could go forward 
together. But in the end, that must be done by all of us together. And 
Tuesday, it's your turn. Take it.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:58 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to 
Rev. Walter Scott Thomas, pastor, and David L. Blow, assistant pastor, 
New Psalmist Baptist Church; Reverend Thomas' wife, Patricia; Vernon 
Simms, district administrator for Representative Elijah E. Cummings; 
Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore; Gov. Parris N. Glendening of Maryland; 
State Senator Clarence W. Blount; Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch 
Ruppersberger; Baltimore City Council President Lawrence A. Bell; 
Baltimore City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt; civil rights activist Rosa 
Parks; President Nelson Mandela of South Africa; and President Andres 
Pastrana of Colombia and his wife, Nohra.