THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 29, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO CONGREGATION AT SHILOH BAPTIST CHURCH
Shiloh Baptist Church
9:40 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Good morning.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
THE PRESIDENT: Reverend Smith, Mrs. Smith, honored guests, members of
the church family. All I could think about for the first 30 minutes is how
much I wished I were in the choir today. (Laughter and applause.)
I want to say how honored I am to be here, and to be here with so many
members of the White House staff, including two ministers. Some would
argue we need more. (Applause.) Zina Pierre, who works in the Office of
Intergovernmental Affairs, and Kevin Johnson, the Deputy Director of our
Community Empowerment Board, under the Vice President. We also have a lot
of other folks, as you know, who are here who wanted me to come here I
think so they could be sure to show up. (Laughter.)
I, too, want to thank Lorraine Miller, one of your members and one of
my advisors, for all she did to make this possible; and all the others who
have been mentioned. I want to thank this church for your outreach, to
love not in word, but, indeed, in truth. I want to say a special word of
appreciation to my friend, your delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes
Norton, for being here. (Applause.)
I've known Eleanor a long time, and we have worked closely together
since I was trying to because President, in 1992. We have shared high
moments and low moments. We shared a disappointment last week when the
Supreme Court said the people of D.C. shouldn't have full voting rights --
I believe you should, and I always have. (Applause.)
But I think we can take a lot of pride, as your pastor just said,
about the economic revitalization of the District of Columbia, and I am
very honored that I could work with Eleanor to alleviate the extraordinary
financial burdens on this city, and have the national government pay for
the responsibilities that in any other circumstance would be done by a
state government. And we took that off your shoulders; I think it will
I am proud of the D.C. College Access Act, which now has 3,000 of your
young people going to college in other places for low in-state tuition.
(Applause.) And I am still hoping we will succeed in passing our New
Markets program and some extra incentives for people to invest in the
District of Columbia, to bring it all the way back.
So, I thank you, Eleanor. I thank you for the work that you've done
to get Frederick Douglass's home established as a national memorial.
(Applause.) And the preservation of the Carter G. Woodson home, which is
near here, just up the street, I think. (Applause.)
This is a very kind of emotional day for me. I was thinking back --
this is the first time in 26 years I haven't been on the ballot somewhere.
(Laughter.) And so I started kind of visiting around almost 27 years ago.
And when you were singing and having your service, I was both here and my
mind was wandering back over those 26 years. I thought of a time once when
I was in an African American service at night in the Mississippi Delta, in
1976, early. And it began to hail. And the building I was in was a
tin-roof building. And it began to hail just as a lady got up to sing, "If
I Can Help Somebody" -- a cappella. She had perfect pitch, and she just
kept on singing through the hail.
And I thought of so many other things that have happened over the
years, because I have had the opportunity to be blessed in churches like
this one -- to come as a fellow believer and a child of God and a fellow
sinner, to say, thank you. So, thank you. Thank you very much.
I don't know what ex-Presidents do exactly. I wonder if anybody will
ever ask me back when I leave. He finally did -- Reverend Smith did.
(Laughter.) One of my predecessors told me that he was lost for the first
four months after he left office because when he walked in a room nobody
played a song anymore. (Laughter.) He was never sure where he was.
(Laughter.) I am quite sure of where I am today. And I thank you.
I thank you for giving me the chance to serve these last eight years,
to give America a government that looks more like America. (Applause.)
For working to create an economy that helps all Americans. I am very proud
that we have achieved the lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment
ever recorded since we've been keeping these statistics. (Applause.) And
that we have record home ownership, and that we've tripled the number of
small business loans to minorities, and we have the lowest crime rate in 27
years, and the African American teen birth rate has dropped one-third since
1991 -- one-third. (Applause.)
We have 2.5 million children with health insurance who didn't have it.
Over 90 percent of our children immunized against serious childhood
diseases for the first time in the whole history of the country. For the
first time ever, African American children are graduating from high school
at the same rate as white students. (Applause.) The number of African
American children taking advance placement tests up 500 percent over the
last six years, 300 percent in the last three years alone. (Applause.)
And all over the country -- this relates to something that's in the
Pastor's Letter today, which I urge you to read. I'll say more about it in
a minute, but all over the country one of the most hopeful things is that
schools where children weren't learning are being turned into places where
children are learning.
I was in a little town in western Kentucky the other day where, three
years ago, this grade school I visited was one of the worst schools in the
state -- 12 percent of the children reading at or above grade level; 5
percent doing math at or above grade level; none of them doing science, not
one, at or above grade level. Three years later, 57 percent doing reading
at or above grade level; 70 percent doing math at or above grade level; 63
percent doing science at or above grade level. You can turn these things
I was in Harlem the other day in an elementary school where two years
ago, 80 percent of the children were reading and doing math below grade
level. Two years later, 74 percent doing reading and math at or above
grade level. All children can learn and we can turn these schools around.
They can be made to work. (Applause.)
So I'm grateful. I'm grateful that we've had the longest economic
expansion in history and that everybody has gone along for the ride. I'm
grateful that we have the lowest crime rate in 27 years, and the lowest
welfare rolls in 32 years, and the environment is cleaner, and we've got
more kids with health insurance, and the schools are getting better. I'm
grateful for all that.
But in America our public life must always be about tomorrow. It's
very interesting to go back and study the founding of this country and to
read very carefully the words of the founders. Look, these guys weren't
stupid. They knew God created somebody besides white male property owners.
(Laughter and applause.) They weren't stupid. You ought to read -- Thomas
Jefferson just wrote one book, called "The Notes On The State of Virginia."
I have a copy, original copy, going back to the late 1700s. This is before
he was ever President. And he has a stunning little, one-paragraph
indictment of slavery. So they weren't fools, they knew what they were
They were creating a system which would force people to slowly give up
their hypocrisy, and as we broadened our horizons, would force us to keep
going further and further toward God -- toward the good, toward the common
humanity that is in us all. So what did they pledge their lives, their
fortunes, and their sacred honor to? To form a more perfect union. Not a
perfect union, we don't get to do that on this Earth. But it would always
become more perfect.
Now, that's what this election season is about. I'm now 54 years old.
In my lifetime, we have never gone to the polls, ever, with so much
economic prosperity, so much social progress, so little domestic crisis, so
few foreign threats to our security -- ever, not once. Now, I argue that
that imposes on us a profound responsibility.
This is more a subject for a preacher than a political leader, but it
occurs to me that everybody who is over 30 in this congregation today can
remember at least once in your life when you made a huge mistake, not
because things were going so badly, but because things were going so well
you thought you didn't have to concentrate anymore. Right? Everybody who
has lived a certain length of time has made one of those mistakes.
So I grew up in the civil rights era and the Vietnam War era; I
remember the energy crisis; I remember the hostages in Iran; I remember all
the troubles this country has had just in my lifetime. So here we are. We
went from record deficits to record surpluses. We went from quadrupling
the debt to paying the debt down. We're all going forward together, and
here we are -- we have the first election of the 21st century. And all the
evidence is a lot of people don't think, as the Pastor's Letter said, they
don't understand what the differences are, and maybe they shouldn't go.
And I just came here to say, and to say to you and through you to the
country, in my lifetime we've never had an election like this. Not one.
Where there was so much prosperity, so much social progress, so few
domestic crises and foreign threats. And we have the chance, therefore, to
think about the big challenges and build the future of our dreams for our
children. To save Social Security and Medicare, so when the baby boomers
retire we don't bankrupt our kids. To give an ever more diverse group of
children, all of them, an excellent education.
Now you have over half the married couples with children in America
now both work, both the husband and wife work; 59 percent of the women in
America with a baby under 1 work. We have to do more to balance work and
family. I sometimes think the best law I signed the whole time I was here
was the first one, the Family and Medical Leave law, because over 20
million people -- (applause) -- over 20 million people have taken some time
off when a baby was born or a parent was sick, without losing their job.
We have to do more things like this to help people balance work and family.
The best things about the welfare reform law was that we spent more
money on child care and training and transportation to help people succeed
as parents, as well as in the work force.
The pastor talked about the ozone hole -- the world is getting warmer.
The 1990s were the warmest decade in a thousand years. And that relates to
this energy crisis we've been toying around with here lately, where we're
all concerned about. We need to develop a whole different long-term
General Motors just announced a car getting 80 miles to the gallon; we
need to get it on the market, all of them. We've got researchers with
Department of Agriculture grants trying to figure out how to make fuel from
biomass -- that's a fancy word for corn or rice hulls, or even grasses.
You know it as ethanol today. And the problem with ethanol is it takes 7
gallons of gas to make 8 gallons of ethanol. But if they get their job
done in the laboratory, you'll be able to make 8 gallons of ethanol with 1
gallon of gas. And that means that, in effect, we'll all be driving around
getting 500 miles to the gallon. But we've got to do it. We've got to do
So you've got all these challenges out there. We've made a lot of
progress in building one America, but our work is not over. We still have
racial profiling; we still have debates over affirmative action; we still
have qualified African American judges who can't even get a hearing before
the Senate. (Applause.) We have the lowest childhood poverty in 20 years,
and we had the biggest drop last year since 1966, but it's still way too
high. We've got poverty among people over 65 below 10 percent for the
first time in the history of the entire country, but poverty among our
children is still too high.
We may have 90 percent of our schools hooked up to the Internet,
thanks to the e-rate that the Vice President fought so hard for, to give a
discount to the poorest schools. But there's still a digital divide, and
it will have a huge impact unless we close it.
On Friday I signed a bill, HR 2879, which authorizes, appropriately,
the placement of a marker commemorating Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech at
the Lincoln Memorial. (Applause.) I say that -- if you go back and read
that speech, part of it was "I dream that one day certain things will
happen and that everything will be all right," but part of it was a dream
that we would just keep on working on our more perfect union.
Read the Pastor's Letter. You do not have to become too political to
say that we're having an election in which there are vast differences that
will have vast consequences for the way we live together as a people. And,
actually, I think it's something we ought to be celebrating. We don't have
to say anything bad about anybody running this year. Maybe part of the
story the last eight years is that I got to take all the poison out of the
electorate. (Laughter and applause.) I'm just glad you folks were there
to administer the serum, or I wouldn't be here. (Laughter and applause.)
But this could be a happy time. We ought to get up every day and thank God
we're alive and all this good stuff is going on. We should be happy, happy
about our country. (Applause.)
And then we need to imagine what kind of future we want and figure out
the choices we have to make and which leaders are most likely to take us
there. But I promise you, this is an election that is not only profoundly
important, where we make a terrible mistake thinking because things are
going well it's not important -- but it is one in which there are real
The Pastor's Letter mentioned some -- the choices on affirmative
action and education, on appointments to the courts, on the nature of tax
policy. But there are others. The pastor talked about sacrifice -- you
know, a lot of members of my party sacrificed their seats in Congress in
1994 because they voted in 1993 to get rid of the deficit. Because when
you have deficits and you have big debt, interest rates are high. The
interest rates are high because the government is borrowing money that
you'd like to borrow and there's not enough to go around, so the price of
money goes up. It's not very complicated.
So now we're paying off the debt and interest rates are lower. So one
big decision you have to make is, do you want a bigger tax cut now, even if
it means we don't get out of debt and interest rates stay high, or should
we first say we're going to keep getting this country out of debt, we'll
take what's left, give what we need to to education and health care and our
children and our future, and take what's left and have a tax cut?
Let's go back to the theme of the sermon today -- I think it's better
to think about the future and keep getting us out of debt, and keep the
interest rates down. It also, by the way, is like a tax cut. If you keep
interest rates one percent lower every year for 10 years, do you know what
that's worth to you -- $390 billion in lower home mortgages; $30 billion in
lower car payments; $15 billion in lower college loan payments -- by
thinking about tomorrow.
But anyway, it's a choice. Some people disagree with that. And they
make their case. But don't pretend there's no difference that won't have
any impact on you. It will have a huge impact, which decision we make.
There are differences in education policy, in health care policy, and
environmental policy, and crime policy, and our foreign policy -- arms
control, and how we relate to Africa and the rest of the world. Just a ton
of things here that you need to know -- and you need to show -- on election
The pastor mentioned Congressman John Lewis, and what a great leader
he was for civil rights, and how he came a long way from his little Alabama
farm and a childhood when he stuttered so bad he could hardly speak, and
now he bellows his speeches in the Congress. And America listens. One of
the greatest honors of my presidency was walking across the Edmund Pettus
Bridge with John Lewis and Josea Williams and Coretta Scott King and Jesse
Jackson -- (applause) -- on the 35th anniversary of the Selma march. And
on that day, I gave a little talk which basically said, we still have
bridges to cross.
Now, we're going to cross some bridges. The questions are, are we
going to be walking in the right direction -- (applause) -- are we all
going to walk across, or just a few of us; and if we all walk across, are
we going to walk arm-in-arm, with outstretched hands instead of clenched
I tell you, I look at the young children in this audience -- the young
girls in this audience that still have the time of giving birth to their
own children ahead of them, because of this Human Genome Project, a lot of
these children will have -- they'll be having babies within 5 or 10
years that have a life expectancy of 90 years. A lot of us that are moving
into our later years, if we're lucky, the Human Genome Project will give us
a cure for Parkinson's, cancer, even the ability to reverse Alzheimer's
before our time is done.
But, as I was reminded the other day when I met with the bishops of
the Church of God in Christ, and I thought I was being kind of cute when I
said to the head bishop, you know, I wanted to come here and meet with some
leaders who aren't term-limited -- I thought that was pretty funny --
(laughter.) And the bishop looked at me and said, Mr. President, we're all
So I say to you, we're all just here for a little while. We've got to
decide how we spend our time and what we care about. We're supposed to
live with troubles, as well as good times. For whatever reason, God has
blessed us all -- me, most of all -- to make this a good time. And now
we're going to be judged on what we do with the good time.
We still have bridges to cross; we still have dreams to build for our
children. The choices are stark and clear and will have great
consequences. And we can say that with a happy heart today, honoring our
opponents, not condemning them or criticizing them, or saying anything bad
about them, but just going out like America was supposed to work all the
time, and making our choice.
But I am pleading with you -- I have done everything I know to do to
turn this country around, to pull this country together, to move us
forward. I have done everything I know to do --(applause.) But, you
remember this, the best things are still out there; it's still out there.
And as long as we keep striving for that more perfect union, tomorrow will
always be out there. But in order to do it, you have to show.
So talk to your friends, talk to your neighbors, talk to your family
members, talk to your co-workers, and make sure nobody takes a pass on
November 7th. Learn, decide, and choose.
Thank you and God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 10:10 A.M. EST