President Clinton's Remarks at Portrait Unveiling of Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 24, 1999


Herbert Hoover Building
Washington. D.C.

10:49 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me, first ofall, say I thought Secretary Daley did a remarkable job today, and hewas the funniest I have ever heard him. (Laughter and applause.)Which means either that the Commerce Department has been very goodfor him, or he has found an extraordinary speechwriter. (Laughter.)If it is the former, I thank you. If it is the latter, I would likethat person dispatched to the White House this afternoon.(Laughter.)

I want to thank Congressman Ford and Mr. Mayor, and allof our Cabinet for being here. And Mickey, Heidi, thank you forbeing here. Members of the Brown family. This is both a happy and abittersweet day. We are now in the springtime, even thoughWashington is not quite behaving like it yet. Soon the dogwood thatwe planted on the back of the White House lawn will be blooming forRon again. And now this portrait will be here forever, to remind usall of his service and his spirit.

Mr. Polson, I think you did a terrific job, and Icongratulate you. We love it. (Applause.)

If Ron Brown were here I know exactly what he'd say.He'd say, well, you did well. I'm dressed well -- (laughter) -- andI look very strong. But you could have made me a little thinner.(Laughter.)

And I'd just like to just take a minute to remind all ofyou about the spirit. Secretary Daley was kind enough to say that Ihave tried to elevate the Commerce Department. I think that is true,but I would like to just say a word about it as it relates to RonBrown.

After the election of 1992, when we were puttingtogether our economic team, and I had been listening rather carefullyto what others had said, and what I had seen, about previousadministrations and how they ran their economic policy,it seemed to me that, by and large, previous administrations hadlodged the making of economic policy too much either in Treasury, orthe White House, or both, and had sort of overlooked the integralrole of Commerce and our Trade Ambassador, on a daily basis, to thedevelopment of our long-term economic well-being.

Same thing could be said of other departments -- theAgriculture Department, the Energy Department -- how they were neededto make a joint economic policy. And so we put together thisNational Economic Council to integrate all the departments. And thenwe decided to elevate the economic role, particularly of the CommerceDepartment, and to try to bring the Trade Ambassador in to the dailywork of the economic life of the administration, not just when therewas some big trade negotiation going on. And I think the evidence is, it worked pretty well. Butit worked pretty well in no small measure because Ron Brown was here,and Mickey Kantor was our Trade Ambassador -- and because Ron Brownbelieved me when I told him that I thought the Commerce Departmenthad been grossly under-utilized, at least in recent history, in termsof building the economic potential of America -- within our countryand beyond our borders. So he bought the big idea and then he soldthe big idea.

But the second point I want to make is that he did it,in no small measure, because of the spirit you see reflected in theset of the jaw and the glance of the eyes in this fine portrait. Hebasically believed there was no mountain that couldn't be climbed.He believed that American businesses had a responsibility to act intheir enlightened self-interest to help themselves and others, hereat home and around the world.

He also believed that people driven by ancient hatredscould find a way to put them aside. I will never forget how excitedhe was in the last conversation we had right before he left forBosnia, how proud he was that he could lead a delegation of Americanbusiness people to the Balkans to try to make peace.

Well, the peace process is working in Bosnia. As all ofyou know, it's under siege again in the Balkans because of what isgoing on in Kosovo. I don't want to talk about that here todayexcept to say that there are basically two kinds of people that aredominating the public discourse around the world today -- there arepeople that are determined to divide and drive wedges between anddepress people because they're of different ethnic and racial andreligious groups; and then there are people like Ron Brown, whobelieve that everybody ought to be lifted up and brought together,and don't understand why anyone would waste lives and take otherpeople's lives to gain a false sense of power in a smaller andsmaller life based on oppression.

And when you look at this picture today, when you goout, first of all, I want all the members of the Commerce Departmentto be proud of what you are doing, proud of what he did and proud ofwhat you are doing under Secretary Daley, who has also, in myjudgment, done a magnificent job. And I want you to think about thetroubles of the world today, and I want you to see your life as aninstrument of bringing out the spirit that Ron Brown brought to hislife and his work in this department every day, and think about itfor what it is -- the principal opposing force to all thisdestructive racial, ethnic, religious and cultural destruction we seeall over the world today.

Every country has to make that choice, and in a way,every business has to make that choice and every person has to makethat choice.

We're all blessed that we knew Ron Brown. We're gladthat his family is here today. We're glad we've got Alma right wherewe want her -- she can't talk back. I could have given her a wholelecture today. (Laughter.) But I know Ron Brown would want me tosay, to use this moment to say, look at this picture, look at thislife, look at the troubles of the world. The choice is clear:America needs to stay on the path that he blazed.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

What's New - March 1999

The People Of Nicaragua

Kosovo At A Photo Opportunity

Rabin Center Event

Press Conference

Statement on Kosovo

Event with Congressional Leaders

AFSCME Biennial Convention

150th Anniversary of the Department of Interior

Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown

Italian Prime Minister D'Alema

Airstrikes in the Former Yugoslavia


Shamrocks Presentation

Legislative Assembly of El Salvador

Opening of the Central American Summit

Close of the Central American Summit

Dedication of His Boyhood Home

Departure for Camp David

Domestic Terrorism

Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher


1998 Social Security Trustees Report

U.S.-Africa Partnership for the 21st Century

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