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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts)
For Immediate Release August 5, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT DINNER FOR KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts
8:50 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. I've had a wonderful time.
When I saw what a big crowd it was, I thought I had come to the wrong place
-- I thought you were just having a family reunion. (Laughter.) I wanted
to come here for a long time and I'm honored to be here for Kathleen. I
have said -- every time I go to Maryland I say she is the finest lieutenant
governor in America by a long stretch, but it is clearly true. (Applause.)
You heard Mark say this, but I came here not only because of my
friendship for her and so many members of her family, but because she did
make Maryland the first state in the country to require community service
for graduates from high school. That meant something to me. (Applause.)
And she and Governor Glendening were out there on the front lines fighting
for gun safety legislation when the NRA was trying to beat their brains out
and beat our brains out, and I haven't succeeded in Congress yet, but they
did succeed in Maryland in passing sweeping gun safety legislation. And
she deserves a lot of credit for it. (Applause.)
And I can say so much else about her, but I admire her so much and she
and her husband and her kids, they're the kind of family that we ought to
lift up in America. And I look forward to her elevation, and who knows,
maybe someday I'll be knocking on doors for her when she's running for
national office. I'd like to do that. (Applause.)
Now, let me say -- Ethel, you may have to put me up tonight --
(laughter) -- and if so, that would tickle me, because Ethel's been sending
me these raunchy Valentine cards for years -- (laughter) -- and I'm
completely in love with her, and I keep trying to get some tabloid to write
something sleazy about it, and I haven't been able to so far. (Laughter
But the reason you may have to put me up tonight is, on the way out,
Hillary said, you're going to this fundraiser for Kathleen tonight. I said
yes. And she said, and last week, you went to one for Patrick. I said
yes. She said, and a couple of weeks ago, you went to one for Teddy. She
said, but it's your wife that's running for senator from New York in 90
days -- (laughter) -- where it costs $30 million plus to run. She said,
maybe they'll just put you up tonight. (Laughter.) And the she said she
was glad I was going and wished she could be here. But I thank you --
thank you, Ethel, for being my friend all these years. (Applause.)
I want to thank Joe Kennedy. I miss him so much in the Congress and I
was reminded of how much I missed him when I saw him up here speaking
tonight. (Applause.) And I'd say Mark has a good future, wouldn't you?
He did a great job over here. (Applause.)
When Ted and Vicki were taking me through the house tonight with
Ethel, or all the houses, and Sarge and Eunice and Pat went with us, and
Sarge told me in a couple of weeks he was going to be 85 years old. I
thought, well, Mark, you've got another 40 years to run for office. You
don't have to even be in a hurry. It's great.
Let me just say one word, too, if I might, about Senator Kennedy. He
has been so good to me and to Hillary and to our family and so wonderful to
work with. And when we suffered the terrible disappointment of losing the
Congress in the 1994 elections, you know, a lot of people wanted to quit.
Some people did quit, because the Democrats had been the majority for quite
a long while, except for a six-year interruption in the Senate. And the
thing that I liked most about Ted Kennedy is that he doesn't understand the
meaning of the word quit.
You know, he was sort of like me. I woke up the next day and I said,
boy, we got a terrible licking. We've got to figure out why it happened
and go take it back and keep working for the things we believe in, and in
the meanwhile, we could certainly stop them from doing what they're trying
to do. And Ted thought it was a pretty good fight.
I cannot tell you what an inspiration he has been not only to me, but
to people in the Congress -- just reminding them that nobody's got a right
to be in the majority, nobody's got a right to be in office. But we do if
we have the office -- we have a responsibility to get up every day and make
something good happen. And that's what he does. And I can tell you --
(applause.) I have said many times that there would be no way in the world
any informed historian could make a list of the 10 greatest United States
senators from the beginning of the Republic in the 18th century without
putting Ted Kennedy's name on it. That's absolutely true. (Applause.)
I also want to thank my old friend, Brendan Byrne, the former governor
of New Jersey, for being here tonight. (Applause.) And two of my former
ambassadors, Tom Siewert (phonetic), who was my ambassador to Sweden; and
Elizabeth Bagley who represented us in Portugal, are here tonight. I thank
them for being here. (Applause.) The chairman of our Democratic
Convention in L.A., Terry McAuliffe, is here tonight. (Applause.) He's
probably the one who has really been copying your license number down.
Let me also say that I first came to this place -- not to this
compound, I've never been here before -- but I first came here 32 years ago
with my college roommate. And I nearly drowned, actually, swimming off the
waters here. It was just a year after then Senator Robert Kennedy had
filled in for his brother at a meeting that my class at Georgetown
sponsored, along with a Massachusetts club. And my roommate, Tommy Capling
(phonetic), got him to come. And he came with me tonight, and I think
that's pretty sweet that after 32 years we're still bumming around
together. So I want to thank him for coming. (Applause.)
Now, I want to stop walking down Memory Lane for just a minute, and
tell you that I believe that Kathleen represents the best of what I want
for the future. I'm really proud of my wife for running for the Senate
seat once held by Robert Kennedy in New York. (Applause.) I am glad that
there are devoted people who still believe public service is noble and
worthy and worth spending your life on. And I'm always tickled when the
people who run against them think they can't beat them head up, so they
just try to breed personal resentment against them, as if public service
were some sort of possession. Well, for some of them it might be. But for
us, it's an opportunity to serve.
And all the memories that are piled high here, from President Kennedy
and Senator Kennedy and Ambassador Joe Kennedy before, all the memories
that are embodied in the wonderful pictures I saw in the house, and the
sacrifice of their older brother in World War II, and all the things that
this far-flung network of younger people have done really make a case for
the primacy of citizenship.
What's that got to do with anything? Well, the Republicans just had
their convention; we're about to have ours. Kathleen wants to run for
governor. A lot of the other young people here are going to run for
things, themselves. Some of you may run who aren't even related to the
Kennedys. (Laughter.) And what I would like to say to you is that what
happens this year will have a lot to do with the world in which you grow,
in which you raise your children, and if you're fortunate enough to be
elected, the world in which you serve.
I have done everything I could do for seven and a half years to turn
our country around. We were in a time of economic distress, social
division, political decline in 1992. And we not only have the strongest
economy in our history, but this is a more just nation. We have the lowest
minority unemployment we ever recorded, the lowest female unemployment in
40 years. The lowest single-parent household poverty rate in 46 years. A
lower crime rate. The lowest welfare rolls in 32 years. It's a more just
society. The lowest child poverty rate in a generation.
But the issue is, what are we going to do about it? I was pleased
that the Republicans said one thing at their convention I really like.
They did acknowledge these were good times. (Laughter.) And it was both
perceptive and generous of them to do that. (Laughter.) But, of course,
they differed about what caused it. I noticed it was a totally different
take than they had back when Mr. Reagan was in office. And they differed
about what we ought to do with it. That's good; that's what makes America
a great and thriving democracy.
But what I want to say to you is that what you're about to do this
year as citizens -- and this election is every bit as important as the
election in 1992 -- in fact, it may be more important. Why? Because you
didn't have to be a genius in 1992 to know that the country was in the
ditch, and if we were going to get out of it we had to change. But it
takes some real thought and analysis and kind of hooking your brain in with
your heart to feel your way and think your way through what we should do
with this phenomenal time we're living in.
And one of the things that has concerned me as President and as a
citizen and as someone who is not on the ballot this year is, all the
stories I read saying that people think the economy's gone along so well
that it doesn't really much matter what happens in this election, or
stories I read that say that there's really not much difference in the
public's mind between the two candidates.
What I would like to say to you is, there are three things you need to
remember about this election. One is, it is profoundly important. Two is,
there are huge differences. Three is, only the Democrats want you to know
what they are; what does that tell you about who to vote for? (Applause.)
If you see the reports in the paper today, finally a kind of a
reassessment of the convention that was just adjourned, and interviewing
all these undecided voters and they said, it was really nice, it was very
appealing and all, but where are the specifics. There's a reason they
weren't there. Because they can't do that. Not and win. (Laughter.) And
the object is to win. So I say to all of you, if you believe in the spirit
of public service and the piling high of sacrifice that is embodied by this
magnificent piece of history that Ethel's made it possible for us to share
tonight, you've got to go out and do your part in this election. I can
tell you, it would be a lot easier for Kathleen to be governor if Al Gore
is president. (Applause.) It will be a lot easier if Dick Gephardt is
speaker, if Tom Daschle is the majority leader; it will be easier.
And let me just say, just very briefly, you have got to tell the
people you know who are not here tonight -- every one of you has friends
who are not as political as you are. I hope you do; otherwise you'd all go
nuts if everybody were like us. (Laughter.) Everyone of you do. What are
you going to tell them about this election? The first thing I want you to
tell them is it is a really big election. What a country does with an
unprecedented moment of prosperity may be a bigger test of its character
than what you do in adversity.
There's not a person in this audience tonight over 30 who hasn't made
at least one mistake in life at a time not because it was so tough, but
because things were going so well you thought there was just no penalty to
the failure to concentrate. Isn't that right. Everybody -- if you're over
30, that's happened to you. (Applause.) Now, that's all I'm worried about
in this election. If we get that out of the way, the rest of it's fine.
What are the differences? What does it matter? Let me just mention
two or three. I think this is a moment for laying before the American
people the great challenges and great opportunities of the 21st century. I
think we ought to say this is not a time for complacency. Who knows when
we'll have times this good again. We have to think about the long-term and
do the big things.
We have to deal with the aging of America. We have to deal with the
fact that we've got the largest and most diverse group of school children
we've ever had. We have to deal with our opportunities to spread this
economy to people in places who have been left behind in our prosperity.
We have to deal with environmental challenges. We have to deal with the
challenges, as well as the opportunities presented to us by the revolution
in information technology and in biomedical sciences. We have to fulfill
our responsibilities around the world to help people deal with the
challenges of AIDS, of malaria, of TB, of crushing debt in the poorest
countries in the world. We have to deal with new security threats.
There's a whole world out there -- we should be thinking, big, big, big,
Now, let me just deal with two or three things. The economy -- one of
the things I think Al Gore ought to be President and Hillary ought to be in
the Senate and Ted ought to be a committee chairman again is that we didn't
quadruple the debt of this country in 12 years, and we got rid of the
deficit in 6, and we're going to have $400 billion of the debt paid down,
and we still have the lowest average tax burden on average families we've
had in 35 years and we've doubled investment in education. (Applause.)
Now, it's a good economic strategy. But the American people have got
a big choice to make here -- huge. And they don't understand yet how
different the two strategies are. Our strategy is, let's modernize what
got us this far. Let's keep paying down the debt; keep investing in
education and science and technology and health care and the environment;
give the American people a tax cut we can afford. In other words, do those
things and then have a tax cut with the rest. And help people send their
kids to college, pay for long-term care for the elderly and the disabled.
Increase tax benefits for lower income people with lots of kids. Help
people save for retirement. Moderate the marriage penalty. But don't, for
goodness sakes, go back to the bad old days of big deficits and high
Now, it took me a while to say that. Their plan is so much easier,
and it sounds better at first. They say, hey, we've got this big surplus;
it's your money, we're going to give it back to you. Doesn't take very
long to say and it sounds so good. Well, there's a few problems with it.
The first problem is, they don't save any money for their promises. If
they do what they say they're going to do on Social Security, that will
cost a trillion dollars. If they do what they say they're going to do on
defense, that will cost another $200 billion or $300 billion. And then
there will be emergencies along the way.
But forget about all that. Their tax program alone would take away
the entire projected surplus. The big problem with their economic policy
is, it's a projected surplus. You know, did you ever get one of those
letters in the mail from Ed McMahon and the Publisher's Clearinghouse?
(Laughter.) "You may have won $10 million." That's a projected surplus.
You can use this, and you don't have to give me credit. (Laughter.)
You've got to clarify the choices. So tell people. Say, when you got that
letter, if you went out the next day and spent the $10 million, you should
support them. Otherwise, you had better stick with us, and keep this
economy going. (Laughter and applause.)
Now, let me tell you. We got an economic study last week that said
that the Vice President's plan, as opposed to the Republican plan, which
would keep paying the debt down, would keep interest rates at least -- at
least -- one percent lower over a decade. Do you know what that's worth to
you in tax cuts effectively? It means $250 billion less in home mortgage
payments, $30 billion less in car payments, and $15 billion less in student
loan payments. Never mind lower business loans and all that. This is a
Let me give you another example. It's very important to Kathleen and
to the whole Kennedy family and that affects the governors big time because
it will have a big impact on the crime rate.
Gun safety. What's our position? Our position is, I was right to
sign the Brady Bill and the previous Republican administration was wrong to
veto it. (Applause.) And since then, 500,000 felons, fugitives and
stalkers haven't been able to get handguns.
Now, you know what they said to me when I signed the Brady Bill -- the
"aginners," the ones that were against it? They said, this bill will do no
good because all the real crooks buy their guns at gun shows or urban flea
markets, so this won't do any good. Well, it turned out they were wrong.
We've got a half million people that couldn't get guns.
So now, we want to close the loophole and apply to gun shows and urban
flea markets, and put child trigger locks on and stop these large-capacity
ammunition clips from being imported into America and getting around our
assault weapons ban, and the same crowd that once said that's where the
criminals got their guns, they don't want us to do that now.
So our position is -- and let me just faithfully repeat the Vice
President's position -- close the gun show loophole, mandate child trigger
locks, ban large-capacity ammunition clips, and establish a photo ID
licensing system for people that want to buy handguns so they have to pass
a background check, and show they can use the gun safety. Now, that's his
Their position is, more concealed weapons even in houses of worship.
Now, it's not like there's no evidence here. This is like the economy.
That's the last point I should have made on the economy. It's not like you
don't have any evidence. We tried it their way for 12 years, we've tried
it our way for eight years. Just ask your friends to make a judgment on
The same thing is true on crime. Crime has gone down for eight years
in a row; gun crime is down 35 percent. Listen, this is a huge issue.
There are people's lives on the line based on who the American people think
And I could go through every -- I just want to mention one more,
because it's really important to me, and Senator Kennedy talked a lot about
it, and Kathleen did. If God came to me tonight when I laid my head down
and said, this is the last night of your life and you're not going to be
able to finish your term, but I will give you one wish for America, I would
not wish to continue the prosperity, I wouldn't wish for zero crime rate; I
would wish for us finally to be one America, to be undivided by race, by
gender, by income, by sexual orientation. (Applause.)
Because you know, we all find in our personal lives and our public
lives that most of life's greatest wounds are self-inflicted. America can
solve any problem. We can meet any challenge. We can overcome any
mistake, except the poison in the human heart. So I've worked hard for
that. That's why Ted and I are trying to raise the minimum wage again.
That's why I want to broaden the Family and Medical Leave law. That's why
we did have that event for people who are mentally retarded, but fully able
to do so much, on the White House Lawn. That's why I'm for the hate crimes
legislation and the employment nondiscrimination legislation and all the
civil rights initiatives we've undertaken.
And you know, we're just different there. We're for the hate crimes
bill and their leadership's against it in Washington because gays are
protected. We're for the employment nondiscrimination act and they're not,
and we want to raise the minimum wage and they don't. And I could just
give you lots and lots of examples.
And you know, we really do believe that the people that served this
dinner tonight ought to have as much of a chance to send their kids to
college of those of us who ate it. That's what we believe. (Applause.)
That's what we believe. So I ask you to think about that. And I want to
make one last point.
Kathleen introduced my longtime friend, Dr. Craig Benner (phonetic)
there, who has done so much to break through the barriers of ignorance on
the human genome. There's one other thing I think you ought to think about
in this election. It is very important that people be elected to important
positions who understand the future.
I used to joke that before Craig and the people from NIH came to the
White House the other day for us to announce that the sequencing -- the
first rough sequencing of the human genome had been completed, I had to
read for a year to understand what I was going to say for those 15 minutes.
But you know, there are a lot of issues that have to be faced. How
are we going to deal with all the implications when young mothers bring a
little gene card home with their baby? What would Ethel's life have been,
how would it have been different, how much more hope and less worry would
there have been -- and would there have been more worry -- if when every
one of those little Kennedy tots she brought home from the hospital there
had been a little gene card there that said, okay, this is the things that
-- now, Kathleen, this is the things that are likely to happen to her that
are good, and the things that are likely to happen to her that are bad?
That's going to happen.
And some people will want to use that information to deny people
employment or a pay raise or a promotion or health insurance. I think we
ought to have somebody in the White House that understands all that. And I
think it's important. (Applause.)
Al Gore -- I noticed the Republicans made fun of him on whether he
invented the Internet or not -- which, by the way, if you read the New
Republic, you'll see it's a totally bum rap, like a lot of the things they
lay on him. But I'll tell you this -- he sponsored legislation years and
years ago when the Internet was the private province of a handful of
physicists to make it broadly available to all people. And then in 1996,
when we passed the telecommunications law, the Vice President said, we
can't do this unless we have an e-rate that guarantees that every single
school and hospital in America can afford to hook up to the Internet so all
of our kids can get a world-class education. I think we ought to have
somebody that understands that in the White House -- all these things, and
what -- they matter. (Applause.)
So when you leave here tonight, another thing you'll remember most is
seeing Ethel and Ted and all this younger generation, thinking that Mark
and Kathleen have such enormous potential. But it's important that you do
your job now. And it's important that we not sit on our laurels over the
last eight years.
Look, I'm grateful that I got a chance to serve as President. I
listened to a lot of those guys at the convention; it sounded to me like
they thought we had interrupted the ordinary flow of things when I got
elected -- (laughter.) I remember being struck in '92 how they really
thought there would never be anybody in our party elected President again.
They kept referring to me as the governor of a small southern state.
(Laughter.) And I was so naive I thought it was a compliment. (Laughter.)
And I still do.
Listen to me now. I still do. Nobody is entitled to any of these
jobs. If my life had taken one or two different turns I'd be home doing
real estate deeds in some law office right now. So I don't feel like a lot
of them do; I'm grateful for every day that I had here. I am very
grateful. And I don't think -- (applause) -- I don't believe -- I don't
think anybody's entitled to serve. But I think that before anyone serves,
the people have to make sure they know what they're doing. Now, you hear
me tonight, and you can go out and tell people this. Tell people what the
economic differences are. Tell them what the law enforcement differences
are. Tell them what the environmental, the educational, the health care
Tell them what the differences are in terms of what kind of national
community we're going to be. Talk to them about these future issues.
Climate change is very real, folks. I know it's cool tonight and it's
nice. If we don't do something within 20 or 30 years, the Everglades and
the sugar cane fields in Louisiana will start flooding. The polar ice
cap's already breaking up at an alarming rate. It's a big deal. I think
we ought to have somebody in the White House that understands it.
And I tell you, I've just tried to have a talk tonight. I haven't
given much of a speech. But I know this: Things can get away from you.
Ted said in a wistful way when he was talking tonight that -- he didn't say
it exactly this way, but I will say it exactly this way -- before we broke
the record for the longest period of economic expansion in history, the
last longest economic expansion in history was between 1961 and 1969; the
Kennedy-Johnson years. (Applause.) And I graduated from high school in
1964, and I thought, just like, apparently, a lot of voters today thought
-- thought, man, you couldn't mess this economy up with a stick of
Unemployment was low, inflation was low, growth was high, no problem.
I thought all the civil rights problems were going to be solved in the
courts or in the Congress. I didn't dream Vietnam would get out of hand.
I never dreamed we would have riots in the streets, or that people I
literally adored could be killed. But it hall happened in four short
years. And then, the last longest economic expansion in history was
You need to nourish and cherish this moment. I have waited for 35
years for my country to be once again in the position to build the future
of our dreams for our children. I am grateful that this family has given
so much to that end. But in the end, we rise or fall on the good judgment
and the good service of the people. Do not blow this election. The best
is still out there.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
9:24 P.M. EDT
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