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Bill Clinton Administration: Speech at a Democratic National Committee Dinner

(October 21, 1993)

Thank you very much. David, I was hoping you'd talk a little longer; I didn't even get to finish my salad. [Laughter]

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to be here tonight. I've already had a chance to say hello to almost all of you, except the Members of the Senate who see me all the time. I thanked Senator Metzenbaum and Senator Levin—they came upstairs to see me, Senator Kennedy. We even had our picture taken. I came all the way to Boston to see you, and you didn't do that. [Laughter] I want to thank Norman Brownstein for the wonderful work he did tonight in getting you all here. Let's give him a hand. [Applause]

I'd also like to say a brief word if I might about this wonderful facility we are in. We have some people here who are still associated with it. The Holladays, who helped to found this, were good enough to support me early in my Presidential campaign. And a lot of our friends have been active in this wonderful place which once actually had a fine showing of artists, women artists, from my home State here. So I have been delighted to have finally the chance to come here and see this and I—Mr. Chairman, I don't know who picked this place, but whoever did is a near genius in my estimation, because I love it.

It was just about a month and a week ago when we had the remarkable signing of the Israel-PLO peace accord on the grounds of the White House. Many of you were there. I imagine all of you saw it. Hundreds of millions, perhaps over a billion people around the world saw it occur. I would like to begin my remarks by making two observations, if I might. First of all, about the peace process itself. When I traveled across this country last year and asked many, if not all of you, to support my campaign, I said that I believed the time was ripe for peace in the Middle East but that it could not be achieved unless the President of the United States understood that in the end the United States could never impose a peace on the Middle East but could only guarantee it if it were to occur. After I was elected, I met with Yitzhak Rabin in the White House, and we sat for a long time alone. And he looked at me with those soulful eyes of his and said that he was prepared to take real risks for peace, that he thought the time had come to try to make it. And I told him, if he would take the risks, we would do our best to minimize those risks. The rest is history. It was a peace made directly between Israel and the PLO, as all the best agreements are. It was a difficult thing, as we saw during the signing, sometimes from the language, sometimes from the body language. But as the Prime Minister said, "One never makes peace with one's friends. You have to make peace with your enemies."

I want all of you to know that since that day I think that we have gone forward together to try to make the peace stick, to try to make it work, and to try to expand on it. We've had a donors' conference of representatives from 43 nations raise several billion dollars in commitments from people to make this peace agreement work. We have seen now the first public meeting of leaders from Jordan and Israel. We've seen the states of Morocco and Tunisia welcome Israeli officials for the first time. We have seen real progress. There is still a lot to do. I have urged the Arab States to recognize Israel, to drop the boycott, to get rid of the hostile United Nations resolutions. And I have done what I could to keep this process going.

An especially remarkable part of it has been the unity I have seen emerging between leaders of the American Jewish community and Arab-Americans, a couple of hundred of whom met at the White House for several hours after the signing ceremony and began to explore what they can do together to try to help to bring opportunity and peace and harmony in the areas where the peace accord covered.

I believe we're moving in the fight direction. I also have to tell you I don't think that we will have a complete peace until we have just that, a complete peace: one that involves Syria and Lebanon, as well as the PLO and Jordan; one that enables the people of the Middle East to live together in true security and to give the children of that area a normal life. I want to ask you tonight to help me to stay with our present policy, to be aggressive in pushing the process forward but to recognize always that in the end, there is no peace that the parties do not themselves voluntarily undertake.

When we had that signing ceremony, I wanted so much for the Prime Minister and Mr. Arafat to come, but they couldn't make up their minds whether they wanted to come for a while, for reasons that I'm sure all of you appreciate, many of you more deeply than I. In the end they decided to come because, since they had agreed to it, they ]night as well make the most of it. And when they did and when they reached out across decades of division and shook hands in that electric moment that was felt around the world, I think that people had a sense of possibility in so many areas that they had not had for a long time.

That's the second thing I want to say to you tonight, as I ask you on behalf of your country, on behalf of Israel, on behalf of all the peaceloving peoples of the world, to continue to help me to implement this peace process and push it forward, respecting that in the end all the parties themselves will have to voluntarily decide on the next steps.

I ask you also to help me to give that sense of possibility back to the American people. For there are so many days when I think that the biggest obstacle to the dreams I brought with me to the Presidency, the biggest obstacle is the sense that maybe we really can't change things, the sense of hopelessness so many people feel, the sense of mistrust in institutions and leaders. It is, I think, almost a truism that no great democracy can change profoundly until things are in pretty rough shape. And yet, when things get in pretty rough shape, there are so many people who have been so disappointed, who feel so injured, who feel so insecure that it is difficult to make the changes that need to be made. And so today, America, every day, gets up and presents to me a complex picture of hope and fear, a complex picture of eagerness to embrace the future, to compete and to win, and to promote the things we all believe in and a sense of insecurity that makes people sort of draw inward.

I think for the last year, hope has been winning. A sense of possibility and movement has been happening. Thanks to the people in the Congress who have supported the initiatives of this administration, including those in this audience, we have moved to really bring down the deficit. We've got the lowest interest rates in 30 years, business investment's back up, consumer spending is back up on important, big products.

We've got some real sense of movement in this economy. Thanks to this group of Congress Members who have been willing to support this administration, we signed, a week after the Middle East peace accord, the national service bill that Eli Segal did so much to shepherd through the Congress, which literally has the potential to revolutionize the way young people all across America look at their country and feel about themselves, which asks young people to give something back to their Nation and, in return, offers them a chance to go to college, no matter how meager their own income.

We have begun to face the health care crisis. We have begun to deal with so many issues that have been too long ignored in this struggle to find our way in the world. There are those who have said, well, I haven't done everything right. For that, I plead guilty. But I'll tell you one thing: In this administration, we show up for work every day with our sleeves rolled up and a determination to face the challenges before us. And tonight I was thinking about the history of our relationships with Israel; I'm reminded that when Harry Truman recognized Israel, a long time ago now, he was still in the process of making the post-World-War II world with our allies. We had moved into the cold war, but now we all look back on that era as if it were self-evident what our domestic policies ought to be and what our foreign policies ought to be. But in truth, those of you who lived through that, particularly those of you who were adults or nearly so, then, will remember clearly that there were a couple of years after World War II when we had to work out what our foreign policy was going to be, when we had to develop the institutions necessary to carry that foreign policy out, when we had to work through in our minds what America's responsibilities at home were. And we are going through the same period now.

We know that we are the only superpower. We know we can't solve every problem in the world, but we know there are a lot of people's suffering and misery that we can alleviate. And if we believe in democracy and freedom, if we don't want to see the proliferation of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, then we have to try.

We know that we have an interest in Russia maintaining its democratic bent and continuing to reduce its nuclear arsenal. Clearly, we know if we could bring peace to the Middle East, it might revolutionize the range of options we have with the Muslims all over the world and give us the opportunity to beat back the forces of radicalism and terrorism that unfairly have been identified with Islam by so many people.

We know some things for sure. But we also know that we are still working this out. Here at home, it is the same thing. But I can tell you this: I am convinced that if we will continue to honestly speak with one another about these issues, we'll find a way to do it.

I believe we have to find a balance between the security people need to change and the changes we need to make. I believe we will never make America what it ought to he until we provide health care security to all of our citizens. I believe we will never have an America that is strong until we tell the American people, "You can he a successful parent and a successful worker." That's what that family leave bill was all about. That's what our budget bill was all about, which lifted the working poor out of poverty when they have children at home.

I believe we will never he able to do what we need to do as a people until we say, "Okay, if we can't guarantee you a job anymore, we can at least guarantee you employability." If the average person has to change jobs eight times in a lifetime, how can we not have a program worthy of the capacities of all Americans. It gives them a chance for lifetime education and training.

And finally, let me say, I believe we will never meet our challenges at home and abroad until the American people are more secure on their own streets again. For all the violence in the Middle East, my friends, we can read stories every day on every street in America that rivals anything you can read about in the Gaza in the toughest times. If you look at what has happened, 90,000 murders in 4 years in America, more in any given year than ever happened at the height of the war in Vietnam; you look at the fact that this is the only advanced country in the world, the only one where we don't even cheek your criminal record or your mental health history in some States to see if you can get a gun and where people seriously argue that that infringes on constitutional rights. This is the only country in the world where police go to work on mean streets every day and confront young people who grew up in chaotic circumstances who are often better armed than they are.

So, I say to you, we have some things to do here at home. We are breeding generation after generation of people who have no claim to the mainstream of this society and on whom the future has no claim. We are breeding so many people who are so alienated and who have no sense of all these things that you and I came here to celebrate tonight. Just 3 weeks ago, a little girl named Launice Smith was shot and killed in this city. She was on a playground 3 1/2 miles from this wonderful building. She was 4 years old, one of 1,500 people who are shot in this town every year, our Nation's Capital. Her father could not go to her funeral because he's in prison for shooting another 4-year-old on another playground several years ago when he was 19 and got in an argument over hair barrettes. He got angry, and another kid handed him a gun, and he used it.

The point of all that I am saying is this: We've got to change in this country. And we've got to have the security—

[At this point, there was an interruption in the tape. ]

—have to first recognize that the great power of America is the power of our ideals, our values, our institutions, and our example. And that we cannot do what we're supposed to do unless, as a Nation we are both more united and more self confident than millions of our fellow citizens are as we enjoy this great dinner tonight.

So, I ask you to remember that and to renew your commitment not only to peace in the Middle East and to American's continuing role in the world—and I thank the many of you who said as we walked through the line tonight, that you believed we did have a role of leadership in the world to alleviate suffering and to do what we can to promote freedom and democracy-but also, to rebuild this country here at home.

Most people in this country, whatever their incomes, whatever their race, whatever their walk of life, and wherever they live, are wonderful people. They get up every day. They go to work. They never break the law. They do the best they can by their kids, and they're absolutely determined to make the most they eau of their lives. But they are living in a country that has not yet made the decisions necessary to organize itself in a way that permits all of us to live up to the fullest of our God-given capacities. And until we make the decision to have an economic program, an education program, a health care program, a family policy, and a law enforcement policy, and a commitment to rescuing our kids that will permit us to do that, we will not have the security we need to lead the world and to face the future. I believe that we are on the road to changing this country. I know what I saw on September the 13th, when Arafat and Rabin shook hands, was an instant, shocking realization ,all across the world that things we never thought possible were, in fact, possible.

And I ask you to help me now liberate the imagination and the spirit, and the energy of the American people for the jobs that we have yet to do at home and abroad, because those things can also be done.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Sources: Public Papers of the President