THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 29, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO CONGREGATION AT ALFRED STREET BAPTIST CHURCH
Alfred Street Baptist Church
12:40 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you, ladies and
gentlemen. Good morning.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
THE PRESIDENT: I want to thank Reverend Peterson and Mrs.
Peterson, and Reverend Jackson, all the staff and members of the Alfred
Street Baptist Church family. I'd like to say a special word of
appreciation to the young choir and choir director for the music. They
were great. (Applause.) You made the rest of us feel pretty young again,
there singing. (Laughter.)
I am delighted to be here with a large number of folks from the
White House -- you saw them all stand up. (Laughter.) You should know, we
have -- we actually have two ministers in the White House -- Zina Pierre,
who works in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Kevin Jefferson,
who is the Deputy Director of Vice President Gore's Community Empowerment
Board. They're doing their job every day.
I am also very grateful for one of your members who works with
us, Ms. Jena Roscoe, who made sure I got here today. Where's Jena? She's
here somewhere. Where are you? Stand up there. (Applause.)
This church, I am well aware, is not just a Sunday church. You
minister to the spiritual and physical needs of the people every day of the
week, from nurturing border babies to promoting to good health to this
Habitat project that your pastor just told you how much you were giving to
today. (Laughter.) The Scripture says, while we have time, let us do good
unto all men. And a week from Tuesday it will be time for us to vote.
I am grateful that your Representative in Congress, Jim Moran,
came with me today. He is a very fine man and a great member of Congress,
and he's been a good ally of mine for these years I have served as your
President. And I thank him. (Applause.) But for many reasons, I am
especially grateful that Linda Robb came with me today to be with you. You
know, her husband, Chuck, has been your governor, your lieutenant governor,
your senator. Her father, President Johnson, did more for civil rights
than any President since Abraham Lincoln. (Applause.)
Linda and Chuck have been friends of Hillary's and mine for
almost 20 years now. We've seen our children grow up together. We served
as governor together. We have fought the battles of the last eight years
together. In the United States Senate, almost no one had more to lose than
Chuck Robb by voting for my economic plan in 1993. You know, we'd been
living on that deficit medicine for so long, we were pretty well hooked up.
(Laughter.) We were addicted.
I used to have a Senator from Arkansas named Dale Bumpers, who
just retired, who used to joke that if he could write everybody in America
$200 billion worth of hot checks, he could show them a good time, too.
And I remember when I became President, Senator Robb knew he had
to run for reelection the next year. And once you get in that big a hole,
there's no easy way to crawl out, everybody has got to hurt a little bit.
But without blinking, he came in and voted for the economic plan, and he
and -- thanks to him and thanks to Vice President Gore -- if we'd lost
Chuck Robb, Vice President Gore never would have gotten the vote. By one
vote, the narrowest of margins, it turned the economy around, got interest
rates down, got things going again. And we've gone from the biggest
deficits in history to the biggest surpluses.
I think you shouldn't forget that on election day, that he was
there. (Applause.) But in so many other ways, large and small, Senator
Robb always tries to do the right thing, even when it's not the popular
thing. When it comes to civil rights and human rights, he's always tried
to do the right thing. When it comes to the safety of our children on the
streets, the Brady Bill, assault weapons ban, 100,000 police, even if some
big, powerful interest group is going to get mad at him, he just sort of
stands up there and does the right thing.
I don't know how many times -- there's been a time or two in the
last eight years I've tried to get him to vote against me. (Laughter.) I
have. I've said, Chuck, what are you doing, you're from Virginia, you've
got to run again. He'd just say, it's the right thing.
When I normalized relations with Vietnam, Senator Robb, who
probably saw more combat in Vietnam than any other combat veteran, stood by
my side and said it was the right thing to do. So we've been friends a
long time and I'm highly biased, but I want you to know, there is not a
braver person in the United States Congress, or a person more likely day in
and day out, no matter what the pressure is to do wrong are, to stand up
and do right for you. (Applause.)
Now, mostly I came here to say thank you. You know, this is the
first time in 26 years I haven't been on the ballot somewhere. (Laughter.)
I have been coming into African American churches for almost 27 years now,
listening, learning. And today my mind is both here, concentrated on the
task at hand -- which is to try to persuade you to go out and talk to every
friend, family member, co-worker, and stranger on the streets you see
between now and November 7th and drag them to the polls -- but my mind is
also wandering back over this amazing life the American people have given
me, and the people of my native state of Arkansas.
I've thought about all the early times in the 1970s I was in
various churches. I can still remember the songs that were sung. I can
still remember when I was in poor churches when they didn't have all the
instruments, and men would sit in chairs around the singers and use spoons
on their knees to provide the rhythm. I can still remember going to
investitures of pastors in churches built for 200, where there were 300
people there and 8 choirs. And it was hot. And we couldn't tell whether
the people were being seized with the spirit or just having strokes.
So I just came mostly to say thank you. I have a heart filled
with gratitude that I have had the unusual opportunity to serve. I have
tried to turn our country around, to move it forward, and to bring it
together. I am proud that we have had an administration from the Cabinet
to our appointees -- at least one of whom is a member of this church -- to
our judicial nominees that looks like America. (Applause.)
I am grateful that we have had an economy that has not only given
us the longest economic expansion in history, but has benefitted all
Americans. (Applause.) We have the lowest African American and Latino
unemployment rates ever recorded. (Applause.) We have a 15 percent
increase, after inflation, in income over the last 8 years for African
Americans, and in just the last 3 years it's almost 10 percent; 1.1 million
buying their own homes for the first time; child poverty at a 20-year low.
I am glad that this has been about more than economics. We're a
more united country. We have the lowest welfare rolls in 32 years, the
lowest crime rates in 26 years. The teen birth rate has dropped by
one-third for African American teens since 1991 alone -- by one-third.
(Applause.) For the first time in history, over 90 percent of our children
have been immunized against serious childhood diseases. And for the first
time in a dozen years, the number of people without health insurance is
going down, because 2.5 million kids have been given health insurance under
the Children's Health Insurance Program that was part of our balanced
Listen to this -- for the first time in history, African American
children are graduating from high school at the same rate as white
children. (Applause.) And the number of African American children taking
advance placement exams in the high schools is up 300 percent in just the
last three years. It has tripled in the last three years. (Applause.)
Record college-going rate; and record levels of support through the HOPE
Scholarship, the Lifetime Learning tax credit, the Pell grant, and so many
other things for our young people to go on to college.
Now, what I want to say to you is not didn't we do great. That's
not why I came here. I came here to say thank you, and now it's your turn.
I have done everything I could to turn our country around, to move it
forward, to pull it together. But it is in the nature of, first of all,
human beings, secondly, democracy, and thirdly, America, that there's
always something to be done. And our public life always is about tomorrow.
When the framers of the Constitution wrote the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution, hey, they were smart guys. They knew
that the world was about more than white male property owners. They
weren't dumb. They knew what they were saying when they said, all men are
created equal. They knew they meant men, women, and kids. And they knew
they meant blacks and whites and whoever else shows up -- the Native
Americans. They were not stupid.
I've got a copy of the only book Thomas Jefferson ever wrote --
The Notes On The State of Virginia. I believe it was the first printing;
certainly it was printed in the 1700s. Before he became President. And
there is in one of these chapters about a paragraph on slavery, but it's
pretty obvious that Mr. Jefferson knew before he became President that it
was a bad deal, and that it would have to fall and that change would have
to come. So we would start with a set of ideals, and then we would work on
making our union more perfect.
So that is the eternal purpose of America. And election time is
your time to make a more perfect union. It's your job. On November 7th,
you count as much as I do. Your vote counts just as much -- unless you
stay home; then mine counts more than yours. (Applause.)
And there are still issues out there. Racial profiling,
affirmative action, diversity on the bench. I have named 62 African
American judges, three times the number of the previous two administrations
combined, but -- (applause) -- wait a minute. That's not why I came here.
I came here for you to think about your responsibility to the future. But
there has never been an African American judge on the federal court of
appeals here in Virginia for the 4th Circuit, which has the largest number
of African Americans in the entire United States, because I have been
trying for eight years to do it, and for eight years I have been blocked in
the United States Senate. I appointed Roger Gregory from Virginia; I
appointed two people from North Carolina. I have virtually gone out with a
searchlight looking for people that could get by the folks in the Senate.
They were all qualified. This was not about qualifications.
And so, in the year 2000, when we still don't have an African
American jurist on the federal court of appeals, and we're running over
with qualified people, there's still work to do in this country.
While poverty among African American children has dropped by
almost 30 percent since I took office, it's still way too high. Poverty
among people over 65 is below 10 percent, for the first time in the history
of our country. But the poverty rate among our children is still nearly
double that. There is still a digital divide. Even though we've hooked up
95 percent of our schools to the Internet, thanks to Vice President Gore's
e-rate program, which gives a discount to poor schools, you and I know
there's still a digital divide and if we don't close it, the world will not
Well, there are lots of other issues, but you get the point. You
know, I'm 54 now -- it looks younger every day. (Laughter.) The pastor
said it was young. And I can honestly say there has never been a time in
my lifetime where we have had the longest economic expansion in history and
lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, so we're moving in the right
direction economically. But we also have declining crime, declining
welfare rolls, declining teen pregnancy and drug abuse among young people,
improving schools, improving health care coverage, and a cleaner
environment. So you've got the economy getting better, the society getting
stronger, with the absence of severe domestic crisis or external threat to
We all know it's still a dangerous world, as the people of
Virginia felt most of all when our USS Cole was attacked and we lost those
fine young men and women sailors several days ago. But we are as free from
external threat to our security and internal paralyzing crisis as we have
ever been. And all these things are going well.
Now, what's the point of -- why am I telling you this? Again,
not to make you clap, but to make you think. Everybody in this church over
30 has made at least one big mistake in your life not because things were
going well at the time -- poorly -- but because they were going so well at
the time, you thought you didn't have to concentrate anymore. Isn't that
right? Is that true? Has everybody here over 30 made a mistake because
things were going well in your life at least once? You didn't think you
had to concentrate, at that moment, it's just going so well, everything is
Nothing is ever on automatic -- ever. Ever. And the reason I am
here today is I don't know if we'll have another chance in my lifetime, or
yours, to go and vote as equals, to shape the future of our country -- when
you have economic prosperity, social progress, the absence of internal
crisis or external threat.
We can paint the future of our dreams for kids. We can figure
out how to deal with the aging of America, how to save Social Security and
Medicare when the baby boomers retire, how to give all of our kids
excellence in education, how to make the most of the scientific and
technology revolution. The young women in this audience will be having
babies within five or 10 years that have a life expectancy of 90 years,
because of the Human Genome Project.
These young people behind me that sang for us so beautifully
today, when they begin to have their children, just be a matter of a couple
of years until they'll -- every mother will come home from the hospital
with a little gene card that tell you everything about your baby's
biological makeup. Some of it will be kind of scary, but at least you will
know. And they will say, if you do these 10 things, you can dramatically
increase your child's life expectancy.
We worry about the energy crisis now, but GM just announced they
developed a car that gets 80 miles to the gallon. And yesterday I signed
the Agriculture appropriations bill which funds research into energy --
listen to this -- and right now, some cars in America, but not many, run on
ethanol. You know, that's basically you make fuel from corn. And the
problem with that is it takes 7 gallons of gasoline to make 8 gallons of
ethanol, so the conversion is not too good. But the chemists are working
on cracking the resistance to this, and when they do, they estimate that
you'll be able to make 8 gallons of ethanol with one gallon of gasoline;
furthermore, that you'll be able to make it -- you don't have to use corn,
you can use rice hulls, or even grass -- anything.
Now, when that happens, all of you will be driving around in cars
that will have the equivalent of 500 miles to the gallon. And the world
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Amen! (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Now, why is that important? Because the 1990s
were the hottest decade in a thousand years, and we don't want these kids
and their children to grow up in a world full of storms and troubles and
burned-up fields and global instability and wars because we couldn't take
care of our environment.
So all this big stuff is out there. This is very exciting. I
just hope I can stick around long enough to watch it unfold. It's really
great. The best stuff is still out there. But it all depends on the
choices we make. And, look, I don't have to -- I shouldn't tell you who to
vote for -- you already know who I'm for. (Laughter.) So this is not
rocket science. But here's what I want you to know. You may not ever get
another chance like this in your lifetime to vote in an election like this
-- ever. And those of us who are older have a solemn responsibility to
tell that to the younger people, who may take this for granted, who may
think this kind of a ride just goes on and on and on.
You know, my first election was between Hubert Humphrey, Richard
Nixon, and George Wallace. And my country was torn clean apart. This
stuff does not last forever. We've got to make the most of this moment.
Number two, there are -- we can have a happy election. We don't
have to say anything bad about anybody in this election. We don't have to
bad-mouth -- the Republicans don't have to bad-mouth the Democrats, and the
Democrats don't have to bad-mouth the Republicans. We can just posit,
every is patriotic; everyone loves their family; everyone loves their
country. Now, let's just see what they say and where they disagree.
But I'm telling you, there are huge differences -- on economic
policy, on health care policy, on education policy, on crime policy, on
environmental policy, on foreign policy and how we deal with arms control
and how we relate to Africa and other emerging areas of the world. And
you need to know that.
One side believes that it would be better if we had a very large
tax cut and we partially privatize Social Security and we spent a fair
amount of money -- even though to do this would get us back into deficit,
because they believe that tax cuts grow the economy more than deficits hurt
Then one side, our side, believes that we ought to first say,
let's stick with what works and keep paying this debt down, get the country
out of debt, because if we get the country out of debt we won't be
borrowing money, and therefore, you can borrow money more cheaply. That's
the biggest tax cut we can give everybody. If we keep interest rates one
percent lower a year for a decade, do you know what that's worth for you?
Listen to this -- for the American people, $390 billion in lower home
mortgages, $30 billion in lower car payments, $15 billion in lower college
loan payments. That's a lot of money.
But more important, it keeps the economy healthy. But anyway,
that's our view. Our view is first things first; let's go on and get out
of debt here. And then whatever is left we'll invest in our education,
health care, our children, and then give people a tax cut we can afford.
But there are differences. And you should listen to them and listen to us,
and make up your mind. But don't pretend that there aren't any
When I hear people say, this is not really a very significant
election, it makes me want to go head first into an empty swimming pool.
(Laughter.) I mean, this is -- we really do have a good choice here. I
mean, a big, clear, unambiguous, stark choice. We don't have to get upset,
we don't have to get mad, but we need to be smart.
So I want to tell you, as I said, you know how I feel, but that's
not what's important. What's important is how you feel. Because on
November 7th, you're just as important as the President. And I will say
again, I have done everything I could do to turn the country around, move
it forward, pull it together. I have loved doing it. It has been a joy
for me. I am thrilled to see an election unfolding in a more positive
environment than so many in recent years have. It is wonderful. But the
only thing I'm concerned about is people believing that it doesn't much
matter whether they vote, that the consequences are not great, that there
aren't any significant differences. Those things are not true.
It matters whether you vote. It's the most important election
in, arguably, that you've ever had to vote in, because you've never gotten
to vote at a time when you could be completely faithful to your vision, to
build a future of your dreams for your children.
So I implore you, show up. Call every friend, family member,
co-worker, and halfway interesting-looking stranger you see on the street
-- (laughter) -- between now and November 7th. It's a great chance for
these kids here in this church to avoid some of the mistakes and trouble
and heartbreak all of us had to live through -- to keep making America the
beacon of hope in the world. What a great chance it is; what a great
responsibility it is.
For me, I'm grateful -- I'm grateful that I got to serve. I'm
grateful that you stuck with me. I'm grateful that I got to serve with
people like Jim Moran. I'm grateful that when I'm gone I hope Chuck Robb
will be left behind, because he is a rare bird. I want you to remember
what I told you. I've known a lot of people in politics; I never saw
anybody take more chances to stick up for little people and lost causes. I
never, ever saw anybody do it in a tougher environment. And I think that
kind of courage should be rewarded. I thank you from the bottom of my
heart. God bless you. (Applause.)
END 1:10 P.M. EST