THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release
November 28, 1995
Remarks By First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
at the New York Women's Agenda "Star Breakfast"
New York, New York
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much. Elly, thank you for
bringing us all together again this morning. You are, as all of
us who know and admire you, not only remarkable, but
inspirational and something of a gOD to the rest of us. So that
when we believe we cannot go another day or take on another
project, think of you and feel somewhat ashamed that we are not
as willing as you have been for so many years.
I also want to congratulate all of the award recipients and
all of the members of the agenda. This is the biggest, longest
dais I've ever seen. When Elly told me how many more people had
joined the agenda and how many more were going to be here this
morning, I was somewhat astonished. And then she told me that
there are two other ballrooms filled with people, and I want to
say a special word of welcome to them and I will, along with the
others here, come to see those of you in the other ballrooms as
soon as the breakfast here is over.
What Elly said just now is something that I hope all of us
will take to heart. We gather this morning to applaud and
congratulate women and those men who are amongst us for their
contributions to the economy and to our lives together,
particularly in this great city.
Yet we know that we are faced with some very difficult
challenges on a personal level -- in our homes, in our
workplaces, and on a social level -- as we try to define what
kind of people we intend to be and what kind of country we want
I think there is no greater question for any of us to
consider. Because while we are doing well and honoring those who
do well, we also have to think hard about how in this changing
world we intend to do good. And that is not just a question for
do-gooders. It is not just a question for people like Elly, who
have made a life of doing what she could to bring people
together, to solve problems, to bring reason where reason was
often not welcome.
It's becoming an urgent question for all of us. It is not
only the great disparity that Elly referred to in her phrase,
"between the cave dwellers and the castle dwellers." It is the
anxiety that grips all of us today. We do have problems.
There's no getting around that. We do face challenges on all
But I think it's time for us to quit wringing our hands and
roll up our sleeves and take on these challenges and work for
common ground that brings us together. We have for too long been
willing to listen to the siren songs of simplism and extremism.
Those siren songs are very inviting. They make us believe that
complex problems can be solved easily, that we can withdraw from
our responsibilities to one another both here at home and around
the world. That all we need are scapegoats to point our fingers
at. And that we then can go on, aiming to be among the castle
dwellers, leaving behind everyone else.
The current budget battle that's going on in Washington is
not just about money. It is about values. It is about where we
place our priorities, what we care about and who we intend to be
and what we leave our children. Yes, there are very strong
feelings on all sides of this debate. But when one analyzes the
feelings and looks through all of the position papers and the
statistics, the choices are stark and each of us will be held
responsible for those choices that are made in our names.
This morning I wanted to just share a few of the issues and
choices that we are confronting. Historically, women have played
a disproportional role in reminding all of us about priorities
that do go beyond the headlines, that may only make stories, as
Elly reminded us, on pages 10 or 11, or may never make stories at
all. If we don't raise our voices about what we believe are
eternal values that withstand partisan politics -- the idealogy
of the moment -- then I'm not sure that any voices will be heard.
As we look at the decisions we face, it's particularly
important that women like those who are gathered here, play a
role in talking amongst themselves, their colleagues, their
friends and their neighbors. Because we all have been very
lucky, as well as working very hard.
I go in and out of communities all over this country. I
meet many women who I think are talented, smart, able -- who just
weren't very lucky. Maybe it was illness, maybe it was their
home situation, maybe it was some other matter outside their own
control. And I think to myself, there but for the grace of God
go I and so many others whom I know. And what will we do to help
not only the lucky, but to provide some support for everyone
This is an important debate because historically Americans
have thought of themselves as a country that is rooted in both
personal responsibility and mutual obligations. We have had high
aspirations and expectations for ourselves and we have looked to
every sector of our society to play its role. We've expected our
businesses and business leaders not only to produce returns for
investors, but to provide jobs and opportunities, quality
services and goods, and to make a contribution in their
We have expected our government to be limited by our checks
and balances and other constitutional limitations, but to play a
role as an instrument of our will to help us solve problems. We
have looked at every sector, whether it's the media or religion
or education and expected in return both personal and mutual
Now we find ourselves splitting apart with different sectors
being assigned roles that may or may not have responsibility for
anyone beyond their own boundaries. And this debate about the
budget poses these choices as starkly as we have seen in 100
years. We have not had such a fundamental debate about what we
expect our government to do, what the social responsibility of
business should be, what citizenship requires, since the
Progressive Era. It was during the Progressive Era that we began
to put together a coalition amongst reasonable people from
different sectors of our society -- all of whom developed a
consensus that was bipartisan for most of the century about both
domestic and foreign policy.
That's when we started doing things like creating national
parks because we thought we should have a heritage that lived
beyond what we could exploit for the moment. That's when we
started passing laws like child labor legislation, minimum wage,
and other laws to protect workers -- not because we thought
business was evil, but because we knew it was run by human beings
who themselves were imperfect.
We began to try to create a government -- a private sector ,
a voluntary sector -- that could meet the challenges of what was
then the Industrial Age. There were mistakes made. There fits
and starts. People had to readjust and then they had to go back
and think things over again, but through the process of those
decades, through leaders who looked very hard at where we were
and what we needed to do. We made progress.
But every age demands new looks, demands a new evaluation of
what is required, and that is what we are confronting today.
Yes, we all want to balance the budget. That is a given, but
there is a right way and wrong way to do that. There is a way
that sets back research and investment in what makes a country
strong, but undercuts education and training that puts those who
already are behind -- even further behind -- and takes those who
are losing jobs in corporate restructuring and sends them to the
back of the line as well.
There is a way to create opportunity for people by a
partnership between business and government in which government
has an appropriate role to play and businesses assumes its share
as well. But if we look at the choices that are posed, we see
that many of those who are advocating a move away from this
consensus that took 100 years to develop -- that believes all of
our problems should be put at the feet of government -- would
make changes in our common life together that would not merely
cut budgets, but undercut dreams and aspirations and make the
American dream even more out of reach then it already is for
millions and millions of Americans.
That is why this balance that was struck in this continuing
resolution is so important. Balance the budget, do it in seven
years, but do it in a way that protects priorities that will
enable us not only to build for the future, but to look in the
mirror. The President, and I don't believe any American, should
want to balance the budget on the backs of children and families.
I don't believe that we should cut nutrition programs for
pregnant women and babies, the school lunch and breakfast
programs simply to buy 20 more B-2 bombers that the Pentagon
itself says it does not want or need. I don't believe we should
ask the senior citizens of America, three-quarters of whom live
on less than $24,000 a year, to go without or to pay much more
for medical care that they need to live their final years in
dignity and comfort.
And I also don't believe that any American should feel good
about the idea that we would raise taxes by taking away from the
Earned Income Tax Credit that goes to working families with
children in the home who make less than $28,500 a year with two
children, in order to give many of us in this ballroom a tax cut.
I don't want it, and I don't think most Americans would either.
You know there are some who argue that drastic cuts in
school nutrition and education programs and college loans and
Medicare and Medicaid are absolutely essential in order to secure
a debt-free future for our children. That's just not true.
There are many other programs of much less significance to our
future that do not affect the poor, the vulnerable, and the
children among us that can be cut back.
Yes, we need to free our children from the debt that was run
up between 1981 and 1992, but we should not put the cart before
the horse. It will do very little good to have a debt-free
society -- which is kind of an odd concept since I bet every one
of us are in debt in this room in some way or another, whether
it's a mortgage or a credit card -- if we do not provide a future
for children because they are poorly feed, cannot read, cannot
breathe clean air or drink clean water, do not feel safe going to
and from school, and do not have access to basic health care.
What we should be trying to figure out how to do, as we face
the Information Age, is what we figured out how to do as we faced
the Industrial Age: when men and women and children began leaving
rural areas and farms and coming into cities and going to work in
factories and living in tenements; when immigrants came from
every corner of the world trying to find their way; we worked out
an arrangement, by personal responsibility could be rewarded, but
mutual obligations in part delivered through the government, were
there to provide a social safety net, a support mechanism, and
incentives for people to do what they should do in order to make
a future for themselves and their children.
As the global economy today has become even more
competitive, and the current trends toward moving workers out of
jobs because they are no longer needed, has hit workers who never
thought their jobs were insecure.
We need to be sure that we are doing what is necessary once
again to provide a common-sense, middle-of-the-road response to
what people need. The efforts to dismantle the social safety net
at the very time when many people in the middle class are feeling
increasing economic insecurity, is not the way to go about
solving social, political, or economic problems.
If we however, take a middle course -- a sensible course --
that thinks about where we will be in 10 or 20 years, that
doesn't provide tax cuts that then explode the deficit eight
years out, after reaping the political windfall from having
delivered them, then we can begin to make sense out of the
challenges we are confronted with.
I think every time we end a century, and particularly as we
end a millennium, there is going to be a lot of confusion about
where we go. If one goes back and reads some of the millennial
literature and turn of the century literature, you can get a
sense of that.
So I don't think any of us should be surprised that at the
end of the Cold War -- at the movement into a much more
competitive and difficult environment economically around the
globe, at a time when we have rightly given up on certain objects
being achieved through either government action or other ways
that we have tried in the past and we're looking for new ideas --
that there should be some sense of being unsettled.
I think that is all to the good, actually -- if we use this
time effectively; if we really try to reason together and if
people with the kinds of backgrounds and experiences and values
that all of you have, take part in this debate. And it is not
just a debate in Washington, nor even just in Albany or in New
York City. It is a debate that needs to take place everywhere we
gather as Americans. It is a debate about how men and women
define our roles, how we share responsibility for breadwinning
and caregiving and homemaking. It is a debate about what goes on
in our work places. It is a debate that affects every one of our
institutions and in which all of us have a stake as to its
So part of the reason I wanted to come again this year, was
not only to say thank you for what you are doing here in New
York, what you do individually through the organizations
represented here and now in this coalition, but to ask you to be
part of this great American debate. I believe that just as we
have in the past, a majority of Americans will make the right
decisions. The answers for these challenges are not partisan.
They go way beyond politics. They really require us, as Abraham
Lincoln said during the Civil War, to think anew.
There has never been the kind of unlimited choices that we
confront, the sort of difficulties that we wrestle with. Life
might be a little easier if we had cooker-cutter roles that each
of us fulfilled and we never had to ask a question. But that is
not to be. There is no turning back on what we have wrought
during this century. And there is much to be grateful for
because we are living longer, we are healthier, we survive child
birth, we see our children live to adulthood, we see untold
prosperity that wasn't even dreamed of two generations ago.
There is much to be grateful for and just as those of us who
are blessed should count those blessings in this Thanksgiving and
holiday season, we should also take them and put them to work --
not because it's nice to do, not because we'll get points
somewhere on a resume or get an award. But because we will be
part of molding what this country's future will be. There isn't
any more important task.
If we want to wake up in the year 2012 at the 30th
anniversary of this agenda and we want to believe that America is
still making good on its promises, then we have to get about the
business of making hard decisions that will lay the groundwork
that will enable us to say with pride and confidence, "We made it
through another tough period with our ideals and our values
intact, and we're ready for the twenty-second century."
Thank you all very much.
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