Democratic Convention 2000: President Bill Clinton
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PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Thank you. Isn’t it great to be in California? Forty years ago Los Angeles launched John Kennedy and the New Frontier. Now, Los Angeles is launching the first President of the new century: Al Gore.
I am here tonight, above all, to say thank you. Thank you for giving me the chance to serve. Thank you for being so good to Hillary and Chelsea. I’m so proud of both of them. And thank you for supporting the New Democratic agenda that has taken our country to new heights of prosperity, progress, and peace. As always, the lion’s share of credit goes to the American people – who do the work, raise the kids, dream the dreams.
Now, at this moment of unprecedented good fortune, our people face a fundamental choice – are we going to keep this progress and prosperity going?
There’s only one answer: yes, we are.
But we can’t take our future for granted. Let’s remember how we got here.
Eight years ago, when our party met in New York, it was a far different time for America. Our economy was in trouble, our society was divided, our political system was paralyzed. Ten million of our fellow citizens were out of work. Interest rates were high. The deficit was $290 billion and rising. After 12 years of Republican rule, the federal debt had quadrupled, imposing a crushing burden on our economy and our children.
Welfare rolls, crime, teen pregnancy, income inequality – all had been skyrocketing. And our government was part of the problem, not part of the solution.
I saw all this in very human terms when I traveled America in 1992: a child telling me her father broke down at the dinner table after losing his job; an older couple who had to choose between filling their shopping carts and filling their prescriptions; a hardworking immigrant in a hotel kitchen who said his son wasn’t really free, because it wasn’t safe for him to play in his neighborhood park.
I ran for President to change the future for those people. With new ideas rooted in enduring values: opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and a community of all Americans.
You gave me that chance to turn those ideas and values into action, after I made one of the best decisions of my life: asking Al Gore to be my partner.
First, we proposed a new economic strategy: Get rid of the deficit to reduce interest rates. Invest more in our people. And sell more American products abroad.
We sent our plan to Congress. It passed by a single vote in both houses. In a deadlocked Senate, Al Gore cast the deciding vote. Not a single Republican supported it. Their leaders said it would increase the deficit, kill jobs, and give us a one-way ticket to recession. Time has not been kind to those predictions.
The Republicans said then they would not be held responsible for the results of our economic policies. I hope the American people will take them at their word.
Today, we are in the midst of the longest economic expansion in our history. More than 22 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the lowest female unemployment in 40 years, the lowest Hispanic and African American unemployment on record, the highest home ownership rate in our history. In 1995, we turned back the largest cuts in history in Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment; and proved two years later that we could find the way to balance the budget and protect our values. Today, we have gone from the largest deficits in history to the largest surpluses in history – and if we stay on course, we can make America debt-free for the first time since 1835.
For the first time in decades, wages are rising at all income levels. We have the lowest child poverty rate in 20 years, the lowest poverty rate for single mothers on record. The average family’s income has gone up more than $5,000 and, for African American families, even more. The number of families who own stock has grown by 40 percent.
Harry Truman’s old saying has never been more true: If you want to live like a Republican, you should vote for the Democrats.
Our progress is about far more than economics. America is also more hopeful, more secure and more free.
We are more hopeful because we’re turning our schools around, with higher standards, more accountability, and more investment. We have doubled funding for Head Start and provided after-school and mentoring to more than one million young people. We’re putting 100,000 well-trained teachers in the early grades to reduce class size. Ninety-five percent of our schools are connected to the Internet.
Reading, math and SAT scores are up. And more students than ever are going on to college, thanks to the biggest expansion of college aid since the GI Bill.
Don’t let anybody tell you that all children can’t learn or that our public schools can’t make the grade. Yes they can!
We are more hopeful because we ended welfare as we knew it. Now, those who can work, must work. On that, we and the Republicans agreed. But we Democrats also insisted on supporting good parenting – so that poor children don’t go hungry or lose their health care, unmarried teens stay in school, and people get the job training, child care and transportation they need. It worked. Today, there are 7.5 million fewer Americans on welfare – and the welfare rolls have been cut in half.
We are more hopeful because of the way we cut taxes – to help Americans meet the challenges of work and child rearing. This year, our HOPE scholarship and Lifelong Learning tax cuts will help 10 million families pay for college. Our Earned Income Tax Credit will help 15 million families work their way into the middle class. Twenty-five million families will get a $500 child tax credit. Our empowerment zone tax credits are bringing new business and new jobs to our hardest pressed communities. Today, the typical American family is paying a lower share of its income in federal income taxes than at any point during the last thirty-five years.
We are more hopeful because of the Family and Medical Leave Act, a bill that the previous Administration vetoed. They said it would cost jobs. Well, today, 22 million new jobs later, more than 20 million Americans have been able to take time off from work to care for a newborn or sick loved one. That’s what it really means to be pro-family.
We are more secure because we cut crime – with tougher enforcement, more than 100,000 new community police officers, a ban on assault weapons, and the Brady Law, which has kept guns out of the hands of a half million felons, fugitives and stalkers. Today, crime is at a 25-year low.
We are more secure because of advances in health care – extending the life of the Medicare trust fund for 26 years; adding coverage for cancer screenings and cutting-edge clinical trials; coming closer to cures for dreaded diseases. We made sure people with disabilities could go to work without losing their health care and that people who switch jobs don’t lose coverage. We dramatically improved diabetes care. We have provided health coverage to 2 million children. And for the first time ever, more than 90 percent are immunized against major childhood diseases.
We are more secure because our environment is cleaner. We’ve set aside more land in the lower 48 states than any administration since Teddy Roosevelt, saving national treasures like Yellowstone, the ancient California Redwoods, and the Florida Everglades. Our air is cleaner; our water is cleaner; our food is safer. And our economy is stronger.
We are more free because we are closer to One America of our dreams – celebrating our diversity, affirming our common humanity, opposing all forms of bigotry from church burnings to racial profiling, to murderous hate crimes. We’re fighting for Employment Nondiscrimination and equal pay for women. We found ways to mend, not end, affirmative action. And we created AmeriCorps, which has given more than 150,000 of our young people a chance to earn money for college by serving our communities.
We are more secure and free because of our leadership for peace, freedom, and prosperity in the world – helping to end a generation of conflict in Northern Ireland; stopping brutal ethnic cleansing in the Balkans; and bringing the Middle East closer than ever to a comprehensive peace. We have built stronger ties to Africa, Asia, and our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors. We brought Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into NATO. We are working with Russia to destroy nuclear weapons and materials. We are fighting head-on the new threats and injustices of the global age: terrorism, narco-trafficking, biological and chemical warfare, and the spread of AIDS. And in the great tradition of Jimmy Carter, who is here tonight, we are the leading force for human rights around the world.
The American military is the best trained, best equipped, most effective fighting force in the world. Our men and women in uniform have shown it time and again: in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Iraq. I can tell you that their strength, their spirit, their courage, and their commitment to freedom have never been greater. Any adversary who believes those who say otherwise is making a grave mistake.
That’s the record. As that LA detective Joe Friday used to say, “just the facts ma’am.” Let’s remember the standard the Republicans used to have for whether a party should continue in office – my fellow Americans, are we better off today than we were eight years ago?
You bet we are.
But we’re not just better off, we’re also a better country – more decent, more humane, more united. Now, that’s the purpose of prosperity.
Since 1992, America has grown not just economically, but as a community. Jobs are up, but so are adoptions. The debt is down, but so is teen pregnancy. We are becoming more diverse and more united.
My fellow Americans, tonight we can say with confidence: we built our bridge to the 21st Century. We crossed it together. And we’re not going back.
To those who say the progress of these eight years was an accident, that we just coasted along, let’s be clear: America’s success was not a matter of chance; it was a matter of choice.
Today America faces another choice, every bit as momentous as the one eight years ago. For what a nation does with good fortune is just as stern a test of its character, values and vision as how it deals with adversity.
This is a big election – with great consequences for every American – because the differences between our candidates and their visions are so profound.
Consider this: America would already have a real patients’ bill of rights, a minimum wage increase, stronger equal pay laws for women, and middle class tax cuts for college tuition and long-term care for elderly and disabled family members, if the Democratic Party were in the majority today, led by Speaker Gephardt and Majority Leader Daschle. Come November, we will be.
Every House and Senate race is important. But if you’ll give me one moment of personal privilege, I’d like to say a word about Hillary. When I first met her 30 years ago, she already had an abiding passion to help children. She’s pursued it ever since. Her first job was with the Children’s Defense Fund.
Every year I was governor she took lots of time away from her law practice to work for better schools, children’s health and jobs for parents who lived in poor areas. When I became President she became a full-time advocate for her lifetime cause. What a job she’s done. She championed the Family Leave law, children’s health insurance, and increased support for foster children and adoptions. She wrote a best-selling book about caring for our children, and then she took care of them by giving all the profits to children’s charities. For thirty years, she’s been there for all our kids.
She’s been a great First Lady. She’s always been there for our family. And she’ll always be there for the families of New York and America.
The biggest choice you have to make is in the presidential race. Now, you know how I feel. But it’s not my decision to make. It’s yours. I just want to tell you a few things I know about Al Gore.
Al and I have worked closely together for eight years now. In the most challenging moments, when we faced the most difficult issues – of war and peace, of taking on powerful special interests – he was always there. He always told me what he thought was right.
Everybody knows Al Gore is thoughtful and hard-working. I can tell you personally he is one strong leader. In 1993, there was nobody around the table more willing to make the tough choices to balance the budget the right way – and take the tough stands against those who would do it the wrong way on the backs of the poor and working people. I’ve seen it time and again. Whether it was reforming welfare; protecting the environment; closing the digital divide; or bringing jobs to rural and urban America, there has been no stronger champion than Al Gore.
More than anybody else I’ve known in public life, Al Gore understands the future and how sweeping changes and scientific breakthroughs affect Americans’ daily lives.
Finally, I’d like you to know Al Gore is a profoundly good man, who loves his children more than life. He has a wonderful wife who has fought against homelessness and for the cause of mental health, bringing it into the sunlight of our national life. America owes Tipper Gore our thanks.
Al has picked a great partner in Joe Lieberman. Hillary and I have known Joe for 30 years. I supported him in his first race for public office in 1970, when I learned he’d been a Freedom Rider, going into danger, to register black voters in the then segregated South. It’s no surprise Al Gore picked the leader of the New Democrats to be his Vice President. Joe Lieberman has supported our efforts to reform welfare, reduce crime, protect the environment and grow the economy. Together they will keep working to put people and progress over partisanship.
Most important, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman will keep our prosperity going by paying down the debt, investing in education and health care, moving more people from welfare to work, and providing family tax cuts that we can afford. In stark contrast, Republicans want to spend every dime of our projected surplus and then some on big tax cuts – leaving nothing for education or Medicare prescription drugs, nothing to extend the life of Medicare and Social Security, nothing in case the projected surpluses don’t come in.
You wouldn’t sign a binding contract today to spend all your projected income for the next ten years, leaving nothing for your families’ basic needs, for emergencies, or for a cushion in case the raise you expect doesn’t come in. You wouldn’t do that. And America shouldn’t, either.
Al Gore and Joe Lieberman embody the Democratic commitment to building One America: they believe in civil rights and equal opportunity. They will protect a woman’s right to choose. They believe the people you’re buying your soft drinks and popcorn from here at the Staples Center deserve the same chance they have to send their children to college.
My fellow Americans, to serve as President at the dawn of a new era in human history has been a joy, an honor, and a privilege. I have done everything I could to empower the American people – with their amazing optimism, imagination, and hard work — to turn our country around and move us forward together. But the best is yet to be – if we make the right choices.
In February the American people achieved the longest economic expansion in history. The last time we had an expansion this long was in the 1960s. I remember it well. When I graduated from high school in 1964, I assumed, like most Americans, that our economy was on automatic — nothing could derail it. We thought our civil rights problems would be solved in Congress and the courts. We never dreamed Vietnam would so divide and wound our nation.
Before we knew it, there were riots in the streets. Leaders I adored as a young man – Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King – were killed. Lyndon Johnson, a President I admired for all he did for civil rights, the elderly and the poor, said he would not run again because our land was so divided. The next election took America on a far different, more divisive course. And within months after that election, the last longest economic expansion in history was, itself, history.
My fellow Americans, I have waited over 30 years to see my country once again in a position to build the future of our dreams for our children. We are a great and good people. We have an even better chance this time, with no great internal crisis and no great external threat. Still, I have lived long enough to know that opportunities must be seized or they will be lost.
Fifty-four years ago this week, I was born in a summer storm to a young widow in a small southern town. America gave me the chance to live my dreams. I have tried to give you a better chance to live yours. Now, with hair grayer and wrinkles deeper, but with the same optimism and hope I brought to the work I love eight years ago, my heart is filled with gratitude.
My fellow Americans, the future of our country is in your hands. You must think hard, feel deeply, and choose wisely.
Remember, keep putting people first. Keep building those bridges. And don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.