THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE 1993 ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE NEWSPAPER ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA Grand Ballroom Marriott Copley Place Hotel Boston, Massachusetts
4:14 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Frank, I am delighted to be here. You reminded me when you said that I came last year to the Waldorf that I was in Los Angeles last year on the day before this convention. And I was flying back, and I got somewhere around Las Vegas, and our plane malfunctioned. We had to go back to California. And I took the red-eye into the Waldorf. I've always thought that was why I was the first Democrat in 28 years to receive a majority of the newspaper endorsements in the last election. (Laughter.) I was thinking today whether there was some stunt I could pull that would have the equal effect. (Laughter.)
When Frank was giving me the introduction -- he said it was a just a year ago, and this young, charismatic governor was out -- I thought to myself, what happened to that guy? (Laughter.) People ask me all the time whether there was anything really different about being President and is it different from being a governor or some other job. And it really is.
One of the things is that people walk around on eggshells all the time and they're always trying to protect you, even from things that aren't necessarily in need of protecting. The other day I came down from the residence floor at the White House to the first floor, and I didn't know this, but my wife was having a meeting with some women there, about 30 of them, talking about health care. And the meeting just let out as I got off on the floor. I was going around the corner to another little room. And all of a sudden I found myself in the middle of 30 people whom I had never met before. I literally just walked out into the midst. So I shook hands with them, said hello. It was quite pleasant. And this young aide who was working there, a man who's a full-time employee of the White House, said, oh, Mr. President, I'm so sorry that I let you out in the middle of all those people. (Laughter.) And I looked at him and I said, that's all right, young man, I used to be one. (Laughter and applause.) That's the way I sort of feel sometimes.
I want to tell you how very proud I am to be here today with you, all of you who offer our fellow countrymen and women the information, the analysis, the range of opinions that they need to make decisions about their future.
I know that there's always a healthy tension between the people in public service and the press. And when I have bad days I remember that another president who had a few bad days with the press himself, Thomas Jefferson, said that if he had to choose between having a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, that he would not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter. I think that was on one of the days when he got a good press. (Laughter.)
I want to say, in all seriousness, that I've had the opportunity over the last several years to read a fairly large number of newspapers from around the country. As all of you know, I believe very strongly that over the last 10 to 12 years the political system, which includes both parties, in many important ways failed our people. And oftentimes, it was newspapers of our country who continued to put the human concerns of people back at the center stage of public debate -- reporting on the stagnation of living standards that created so much anxiety for the middle class and so much despair for the poor.
I think, in particular, of the incredible series run by the Philadelphia Inquirer, called "America: What Went Wrong?, And the detail in which that series documented what happened to the middle class in America, as most families worked harder for lower wages and had more insecurity in the fundamentals of their lives.
But many other papers, perhaps all of them all across the country, issued various reports on other problems that were neglected for too long -- how we went from a $1 trillion to a $4 trillion deficit in debt -- national debt, in 12 years. How most of the gains, the economic gains of the 1980s went to people in the top three to four percent of income brackets. How we came to spend over 33 percent more than any other country in the world on health care and still had over $35 million people without health insurance and millions of others at risk of losing it at a moment's notice. The problems we had in our school systems, our welfare systems. The problems we had with drug abuse and crime. The problems we have in the rising tide of people in what may well be for them a permanent underclass -- most of them young women and their little children, or young, single, unemployed and uneducated men.
Editorial writers warned us about organized interest having too much dominance over public policy, and the slogans and the smears and the sound bites having too much dominance over public debate and election decisions. Newspaper after newspaper reported on the profound disaffection of so many of our people from the political process itself.
When the political system seemed brain-dead and deadlocked, with so many people locked into yesterday's rhetoric and yesterday's policies, many in the newspapers helped to give the American people not only the information they need, but the sense that with that information something profound could be done to change the course of our nation's history.
I don't think there's any question that the size of the turnout last November, the nature of the turnout, which so many people from traditionally underrepresented groups in the electorate, including so many millions of young people, indicated that the American people wanted some fundamental change in the way our government does the people's business. And fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to try to lead that change.
Now that we have taken office and had almost a hundred days to work at it, I know that you are about the business of playing your roles, not as a cheering section for our administration, but as a conscience for the nation, measuring the deeds against the words, reminding us still always, no matter what happens in Washington, of the hurts and the hopes and the capacities of the people who do the voting and who challenge us now to live up to the promise of America.
For those who serve in government, and for those who watch government up close in Washington, it's all too easy to concentrate on the daily events and the inside stories to worry about who's up or down or in or out, who won or who lost the moment's battle; too easy to forget about the real people whose real lives will be changed for better or worse by what we do or do not do -- the unemployed people; the people who are afraid of losing their health insurance; the teenagers who wonder if they'll have a chance to work this summer; the families who feel less safe on their streets when we don't provide enough law enforcement officials, and on and on.
We can't forget, amidst all the gamesmanship of American political life, which is a high form of entertainment, that there are real people with real stories, and they are what all of our efforts are ultimately about.
Every day, I try to devote some time to looking past the deadlines, to look ahead of the headlines, to look beyond the beltway; to go beyond the false choices and the failed policies and philosophies that still grip so much of the debate that I must confront every day; to go beyond the politics of abandonment or the politics of entitlement; to think about how we can all be in this together. No more every person for himself or herself, and no more something for nothing.
I am doing my best to offer every American an opportunity to succeed and to challenge every American to give something back to our country. Everyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules ought to have a chance to be a part of this American community, and I think we all know that that is not the case today.
In the first 96 days of this administration, I think we have begun to fundamentally change the direction taken by the government over the past decade -- to go beyond trickle-down and tax-and-spend to a new approach to our deficit and to government's role that reduces the deficit and increases investment in our future. With an economic plan that reduces the deficit by over $500 billion in the next five years has led to a 20-year low in mortgage rates, and which the business writers say this year alone, if we can keep the interest rates down, will result in refinancings which will put over $100 billion back into this economy.
An economic plan that includes an attempt to avoid the inevitable conflict between the environment and the economy by finding ways to create jobs with responsible environmental policy. An economic plan which tries to deal seriously with the enormous problems occasioned by the dramatic reductions in the defense budget and the impact that's had on high-tech, high-wage employment in the United States. And I might add that, tomorrow here in Boston we're going to have the first of five national conferences on that subject here to try to work in partnership with the private sector to use the fact that the Cold War is over and the defense budget is going down, to find new ways for these people to work, to bring their talents and their knowledge and their enormous experience to bear.
We've tried to go in the trade debate, beyond the old debate between free trade and protectionism to a new policy rooted in the notion that we ought to expand trade to grow our economy and to grow the economy of our trading partners. That is driving us, as we seek to conclude a new agreement on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades, as we seek to conclude a treaty with Mexico and Canada, to integrate our economies over the longrun, and as we seek to redefine our relationship with Japan in the economic area.
We seek to go beyond inertia and ideology, to experimentation and initiative and a reliance on more individual responsibility and social policy with initiatives in welfare reform and national service and national health care and community policing. We seek to go beyond politics as usual to political reform with a serious effort to reduce the influence of lobbying in our political process, to reform the campaign finance system, to reduce the federal bureaucracy and increase the amount of your tax dollars that can be invested in ways that directly promote the health and welfare and economic well-being of the American people. We seek to go beyond the divisive rhetoric of family values to an administration that values families -- one that gives everybody a chance to be part of America's families. That's what the Family and Medical Leave Act was all about. That's what repealing the ban on fetal tissue research so that we could save the lives of children afflicted by diabetes and other dangerous diseases was all about. That's what the effort to immunize all of our children is all about.
There is such an incredible gulf in this country between what we say and what we do, it is an awful burden to bear if you're a serious American citizen. You hear all this talk about how much we care about our children. Well, I'll tell you something. We make over half the vaccines in the world in this country, and we have the third worst immunization record in the Western Hemisphere. And everybody goes around piously talking about how all this government stimulus program I had was a bunch of pork barrel. It wouldn't have been pork barrel for the kids we would have immunized against preventible childhood diseases. (Applause.)
In the aftermath of the Cold War, we are trying to fashion a new world, rooted in democracy and human rights and economic reform, a world in which the United States will lead, but in which we will continue to work with our allies. There is, as we speak now, a Russian election which has just concluded. We don't know how it came out. I can tell you that I know the polls show that the American people think that the President of the United States should not have spent time or their money on Russia. But I respectfully disagree.
I grew up in an age when the biggest threat to my future as a little child was whether there would be a nuclear war between the United States and what was then the Soviet Union. Historic events in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe have given democracy new hope. The START I and START II treaties, if they can both be implemented by all the nuclear powers, give our children new hope. We cannot afford to withdraw from the struggle of promoting democracy, human rights, market reforms, and an end to imperialism in that part of the world. And whatever happens today, we must engage the Russian people on those fronts, because my children and our country's future -- all of our futures and all of our children's -- are at stake there.
We have other interests as well in Bosnia. The United States in the last 96 days has tried to increase the efforts of the West to bring about a settlement. We got a -- we led the effort to put a no-fly zone and to enforce it through the United Nations. We started airlifts of supplies to people who were isolated. We got two of the three parties to sign on to the Vance-Owen peace process. We have dramatically increased the enforcement of tougher sanctions. It has not been enough. And now we are considering what our other options are.
I say, frankly, it is the most difficult foreign policy problem this country faces, but we have to try to bring an end to the practice of ethnic cleansing and to bring a beginning of peaceful resolution of the conflict there.
We told the American people -- I and the people who work with me -- that we would restore real, not just rhetorical responsibility to the actions of government. That's what our education initiative to write the national education goals into the law of this country to have real standards is all about. That's what the initiatives that the HUD Secretary, Henry Cisneros, is undertaking to have certain strict rules of conduct for people who live in public housing is all about. That's what the initiatives we're taking to help people move from welfare to work is all about.
We told the American people we would try to accomplish what no other administration has ever been called up to do in the history of this country before. We would try to reduce this massive federal deficit and increase investments in areas critical to our future; because, funny enough, in the last 12 years we exploded the deficit and reduced our investment in areas critical to our future.
We have to do that, because we have to free this economy of the burden of debt we are shouldering, and we have to invest because while we're doing it, we have to realize that we're in a competitive global economy and we still have technologies and workers and students that have to have the benefit of appropriate investments in order to be fully competitive.
Doing these things will expand job opportunities and incomes for middle-class people and help others to move into the middle class, something that has all but stopped in the last couple of years.
When I submitted to the Congress the core elements of my budget plan, designed to change these policies of debt and disinvestment and decline in return for thrift and investment and growth, the Congress adopted that budget plan in record time -- the first time in 17 years a budget resolution has passed Congress on time.
When people say to me, well, what did you do in your first 100 days, I say, what did the other guys do in their first 100 days? (Applause.) The United States Congress deserves a lot of credit for taking all the heat after all these years of antitax rhetoric -- no such thing as a good tax, taxes are terrible. They adopted a budget with 200 specific budget cuts over and above the last budget adopted under the previous administration, and some tax increases, 70 percent of which fall on people with incomes above $100,000; over 50 percent of which fall on people with incomes above $200,000; with an energy tax that the middle class will have to help pay that is good for conservation and good for the environment and good for the longterm direction this country needs to go in -- budget cuts and revenue increases.
And we are already seeing the fruits of that. Because of interest rates going down, the deficit this year is going to be less than we thought it was going to be. This is something of very significant importance. The financial markets have clearly responded. Stock prices are at all-time highs, and many key interest rates, including home mortgage rates are at 20 year lows.
As I said, this means $100 billion more in money coming from refinancing of homes and businesses, credit card rates, automobile interest rates going directly into the economy over the next year. And that's not my figure -- those are the figures of the business writers who have examined the circumstance that exists.
These refinancing possibilities mean that farmers and small businesspeople and homeowners are going to have a better deal in their ordinary lives, but that money will then flow back to more productive purposes in the economy.
Along with the $514 billion deficit reduction program, we're also trying to confront the long-term economic problems of this country with a life-long learning package that includes an attempt to devise apprenticeship opportunities of two years after high school for every American who does not go on to college; with initiatives to build a 21st century infrastructure that focuses on technology as well as physical infrastructure; with efforts to revitalize our community and to strengthen our economy.
As I said, I think to get this done -- and we're coming back now to try to pass the details of the budget -- we will have to begin to see the world new -- not as tax-and-spend, not as trickle-down, but as invest-and-grow. We'll have to think of government not as the sole problem or the sole savior, but as a partner with the private sector in trying to work our way out of the problems that we have.
We'll have to think about new approaches based on old values, like work and faith and family and opportunity, responsibility and community. Our success will ultimately be measured not by how many programs we've passed, but by whether we improve the lives of our fellow Americans. Not simply by what we do for people, but by what we help people to do for themselves.
We start, I think as we must, with honoring and rewarding work. Just 17 days into this administration, we made family and medical leave the law of the land after eight years of gridlock and delay and two vetoes. Hard-working men and women now can know that if they have to take a little time off for a genuine family problem, they can do it without losing their jobs.
Again, I say, I heard all the clamor about what a terrible bill this was. And I looked around the world, and a hundred and some nations have found a way to give family leave that we just couldn't find it in our heart, our minds, a way to provide before we got around to doing it. It's time Americans put their actions where there rhetoric is, and that's what this administration is trying to do. (Applause.)
Forty-four days into the administration we were called upon to extend unemployment compensation to hundreds of thousands of jobless men and women -- something now Congress will do as a matter of course without regard to party. Everybody is willing to pay people to remain unemployed. But this time we changed the law so that we spend a small portion of that money to offer the unemployed new opportunities for job training and counseling to try to move them back to work more quickly, based on a New Jersey experiment which shows clearly that we can do that if we don't just pay people to stay out of work, but we take some of that money to get them back to work.
That's why we are trying to dramatically increase the earned income tax credit to working poor people. It is a solemn commitment to those who work or care for our sick or tend to our children or do our most difficult and tiring jobs, that we're going to do our best to enshrine in our tax law and in our country's life the principle that if you work for a living 40 hours a week and you've got children in the house, you should not live in poverty. I think that is an important principle and one that's worth fighting for. (Applause.)
And that is why I tried to several weeks to pass an emergency jobs program through the Congress which, I want to point out, I did not campaign on in the campaign on 1992. I ran a fiscally responsible campaign. I did not offer to do anything that we did not pay for in the moment we did it. And this jobs program was a responsible approach based on the fact that the American economy was not producing new jobs, even though we were allegedly into the second year of a recovery.
We're supposed to be in the 24th month of a recovery, according to the economic statistics. But jobs have increased by only eight-tenths of one percent. And private sector jobs have not increased in that period. If we were following the trend of typical past recoveries, jobs would have growth by more than seven percent. We are still 3.5 million jobs behind the rate generated in a normal economic recovery. And we have reclaimed only one-half the jobs we lost in the last recession. This past week, jobless claims went up yet again. At a time in which 16 million men and women are our of work, are looking for full-time work with part-time jobs, I'm fighting to give them a chance to earn a paycheck, to do useful work, to support their families, to contribute to their communities.
Now, the stimulus package that I offered, the jobs plan, would not have revolutionized the economy. It was a $16 billion program in a $6 trillion economy. The purpose of it was to do just exactly what it would have done. It would have lowered the unemployment rate by half a percent. And it might have sparked a new round of job creation in other sectors of the economy.
I decided to do it even though it was not part of my campaign, because the economy was sluggish and because as I looked around the rest of the world, I discovered that all of the advanced industrialized countries were having great difficulty creating jobs, even in recovery.
If you go back and look at what happened to Europe in the last decade, they had two different economic recoveries that have produced virtually no new jobs in many of those countries. And all I wanted to do was to try to find a way to deal with what I think is the number one problem. If everybody in this country who wanted a job had one, we wouldn't have half the other problems we've got. And I think every one of you, without regard to party or philosophy, would agree on that. (Applause.)
There were two objections raised to the program. Some said, well, you ought to pay for it all right now. Well, we had a five-year deficit reduction plan that reduces the deficit by $514 billion. And Congress pays for things all the time over a multi-year period, number one. Number two, because of unpredicted reductions in defense, if we'd spent every penny I recommended, we'd still be under the spending levels approved by the Congress for this year.
And the other thing people said, well, was, there's a lot of pork in this plan. Well, I don't know how you define that. I think if you put 700,000 kids to work this summer, particularly under our plan, which for the first time said that the at-risk kids had to do some education as well as take jobs -- (applause) -- we tried to take more pork out and put more standards in -- it would be a good thing. (Applause.)
I think if you open these immunization centers this summer; I think if you had more kids in summer Head Start and you paid people to work in that; I think if you rehired 20,000 of these police officers who were laid off because of tough economic times and made the streets safer; I think if we accelerated funding under the highway program, which has always had enormous support from the other party, as well as from the Democrats; and I think if we gave some more money to the mayors and the governors of this country for job purposes, that would be a good thing. I don't think it would be a lot of pork. It was amazing to me to listen to some of the debate about the community development program.
I was a governor for 12 years. I used that program. You might quarrel with some of the things we did, but usually what we did was good for creating jobs in my state.
And the Republican Party had always supported community development block grants before. They thought mayors and governors were smart enough to make the decisions. I wanted to give money to Governor Weld, a Republican Governor of Massachusetts. I thought he had enough sense to figure out how to best spend the money here for the Massachusetts economy. Or the Republican mayor of York, Pennsylvania. Or the Republican mayor from Indiana, who's the head of the Republican Mayors Association. You know, all we did was change the occupants of the White House. We didn't change the party or the personality of the governors and the mayors. I don't know what happened that made that program such a bad idea all of a sudden. It was a good idea.
And, again, I tell you that it is not nearly as important as the big picture budget that has already passed. But it is symbolic of the idea battle that we have to fight. We have to be prepared to think anew. Now, if no western country is creating jobs, even in the midst of economic recovery, it is not readily apparent that the $100 billion we're going to put back into the economy with lower interest rates are going to lead to a whole lot of new jobs. They may; it depends on how the money is invested.
That's the big deal -- the fact that we've got interest rates down, we've passed the budget resolution, it's going. All I wanted to do was to strike a little match to that and see if we couldn't put several hundred thousand people back to work in useful places and see if that would help the economy to get going on the job machine. I think still think it was a worthwhile effort. And I'd a lot rather get beat trying to put people to work than get beat fighting putting people to work. (Applause.)
Let me also tell you that I regret the partisan tone of the rhetoric of the last several days, because a lot of the things that I support have a lot of support among Republicans. I'm for the line-item veto. There are Democrats that are against it, and Republicans that are for it. I'm for the crime bill. I hope we can pass it with bipartisan support -- the Brady Bill and more police on the street. I'm for cuts in the budget that a lot of people in my own party won't support. But a lot of them voted for cuts in the budget, because they thought it was a responsible way to go overall.
There are lots of things that I think we need to do that I hope we can get bipartisan support for -- toughening the child support system, having a national service program that will give every young person in this country a chance to borrow the money to go to college and pay it back either as a percentage of their income at tax time so they can't beat the bill, or by working it off and giving something to their country. These are things that ought to have bipartisan support. We cannot solve the problems of this country if every last issue that comes up, just because the President recommends it, becomes a source of a filibuster in the Senate -- or, frankly, attracts only members of my own party. I don't want that. I want us to debate these ideas anew, to look at them anew, to take our blinders off. And I'm not going to be right about everything I recommend, but at least I want us to be up there all working together fighting for change.
And let me say one thing in particular about the work that two very important people in my administration are doing -- the Vice President and the First Lady. I had several people -- I met with a lot of you before I came out here -- and several of you said, well, I generally support what you're doing, but you ought to bring that deficit down more. And I will say to you what I say to everybody: Send me a list of the things you want cut, because we found 200 things that we were cutting that weren't cut in the previous budget, and we're not done yet.
But I want you to know what this government is like now. In my judgment, if you want further meaningful cuts, you have to do two things: You have to look at the whole way the federal government is organized, because there is a limit to how much you can get just out of cutting defense unless you deal with the way it is organized, like procurement and issues like that -- structural things. And that's what the Vice President is involved in -- this whole initiative to reinvent the government. We've got hundreds of gifted people from all over America, coming to work with us in Washington now, reexamining every last government program, every last government organization, committed to thinking about it anew.
This fall, when we come out with our program, we're going to ask the American people to think about the role of the federal government -- what it should do, how it should be organized -- and it's going to be a very challenging report. I hope all of you will read it and give it a lot of publicity. And on the tough things that we recommend, in terms of changes, I hope we can get some good support without regard to party, because a lot of the things that we have to do now require us to rethink how this whole thing is organized.
We've already cut 14 percent in administrative costs, 25 percent of the personnel in the White House, and a lot of other things that we can do symbolically and substantively that will save billions of dollars. But to get more, we're going to have to literally rethink the whole government.
The second point I want to make is, you can do all that and, unless we address this health care crisis, the government's deficit cannot be erased. Under every scenario we saw, from every political source -- that is, the Republicans and the Democrats agreed, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office agreed, everybody agreed -- no matter how much we cut the deficit, we could bring it down for five years. But after that, it would start going right back up again because of the breathtaking increase in health care cost.
The estimates are now that over a five-year period, federal spending for Medicare and Medicaid alone will go up by 67 percent in five years. Taking away the defense cuts, taking away the interest savings, taking away the cuts in other government programs, taking away the cuts in farm support programs, taking away -- you name it; anything you want cut, you're just transferring the money to health care. And not new health care, more money for the same health care. So that this is not only an incredibly compelling human issue -- how do you give coverage to those who don't have it? How do you give courage to those who want to change jobs but can't because they had somebody in their family sick, and the preexisting condition keeps them from getting any health insurance -- but how do you restore sanity to the nation's budget?
And, by the way, how do you restore health to big chunks of our economy? A lot of our biggest and best companies striving to me more competitive. We say, we desperately want you to start investing in America and stop investing so much of your money to create jobs somewhere else. And they say, give me a break -- I'm spending 19 percent of payroll on health care.
This country is spending 15 percent of its income on health care. No other country is up to 10 percent. Only Canada is over 9 percent. So when people say -- you'll hear it all -- they'll say, oh, they're dealing with health care again, there they go again; it's all taxes and terrible and everything -- you figure out what you're paying right now. Every one of you figure out what you're paying for health care -- in taxes, premiums, uncompensated care that gets shifted on to your health insurance bills.
And so I say to you, we have got to face some other big fundamental issues. Not just this budget, but how the government is organized, what it delivers, whether it needs to deliver what it does, whether it needs to stop doing some things altogether. And then, what are we going to do about health care? We cannot go on ignoring the fundamental problems. If you've got it, it's still the best health care system in the world.
There are a lot of things about it that are wonderful. I want the delivery system to stay in private hands. I want people to still be able to pick their doctor. I want the best things about this health care system to stay just as it is. But you cannot look at it as long and hard as we have without concluding that we are spending a dime on the dollar on unnecessary paperwork and bureaucratic and regulatory expenses.
People say to me all the time, you've got to do something about doctors' feels. Let me tell you just one little interest number. In 1980, the average doctor, working in a clinic, took home 75 percent of the money that came into the clinic. By 1990, that doctor was taking home 52 percent of the money coming into the clinic. Where did the rest of it go? Mostly to paper, to regulation, mostly from the proliferation of insurance policies, but some from what the government did.
We can do better. We must. And we're going to bust a gut trying in this administration. We're going to do our best. (Applause.)
The last thing I want to say about this is, I ask for your scrutiny and your understanding as we get into the difficult business of political reform. I intend to ask the Congress to pass a tough campaign finance reform law. I intend to ask the Congress to adopt some restrictions on lobbying and some disclosure requirements that are not there now. We had the toughest ethics rules any president ever imposed on his appointee that prevent people from leaving my administration and going to work anytime in the near future to make money as lobbyists in the areas in which they worked for us.
These things are important. It may never be possible to be perfect, but it is important that we take these things on and that the voters of this country understand what is at stake as these matters begin to be debated.
And finally let me say -- I think it's important to talk about today -- I'm doing my best to restore a sense of real community in this country. As I said right when I came to you last year, we'd just seen Los Angeles racked by riots and we were all talking about how we had to learn to live together without regard to race or income or region. I want to reiterate what I said to you a year ago: We don't have a person to waste in this country, and we're wasting them by the bucketful. We're letting people go -- this way, that way, and the other way. And that's one of the reasons that I have said that we have to fight for a society that is not at all permissive, but that is tolerant.
Today in Washington, many Americans came to demonstrate against discrimination based on their sexual orientation. A lot of people think that I did a terrible political thing -- and I know I paid a terrible political price -- for saying that I thought the time had come to end the categorical ban on gays and lesbians serving in our military service and that they should not be subject to other discrimination in governmental employment.
Let me tell you what I think. This is not about embracing anybody's lifestyle. This is a question of whether if somebody is willing to live by the strict code of military conduct, if somebody is willing to die for their country, should they have the right to do it? I think the answer is yes. (Applause.) If somebody is willing -- (applause).
But in a larger sense, I want to say to you that I think the only way our country can make it is if we can find somehow strength out of our diversity, even with people with whom we profoundly disagree, as long as we can agree on how we're going to treat each other and how we're going to conduct ourselves in public forums. That is the real issue.
It's very ironic to me to see that the traditional attacks on the position I've taken on this issue have come from conservatives saying that I am a dangerous liberal. I took on two issues like this as Governor of Arkansas, and I was attacked by liberals for what I did, and I want to tell you what they were. One was the leadership role I took in crafting a bill that permitted people to educate their children at home, consistent with their religious beliefs and their educational convictions, as long as the kids could take and pass a test every year. And people say, oh, that's a terrible thing. All those kids should be required to be in a school. How can you do that? And I said, because at least these people have coherent families and that's still the most important unit of our society, and people ought to have a chance to try other things. And it wouldn't do the schools any harm to have a little competition -- unsubsidized by the taxpayers, just letting people do it.
Two, when the fundamentalist religious groups in my state were confronting a legal issue that swept the country in the mid-'80s, a bunch of them came to me and said, we do not mind having our child care centers subject to the same standards that everybody else is subject to. But it is a violation of our belief to have to get a state certificate to operate what we think is a ministry of our church. Don't make us do that. I don't know if you remember this, but in one or two states there were preachers that actually wound up going to jail over this issue -- the certification of child care centers.
We sat down and worked out a law that permitted those churches to operate their child care centers without a certificate from the state as long as they were willing to be subject to investigation for health and fire safety, and as long as they agreed to be in substantial compliance with the rules and regulations that those who were certified observed. And people said, how can you do that? You know how many complaints we've had coming out of that, to the best of my knowledge? Zero. Not a one. Why? Because they were good people; and they were willing to play by the rules; and they wanted to have their religious convictions; and they wanted to stick up for their minister; and they desperately love the children that were in their charge. And we protected the public interest.
But all the criticism I got was from the left, not the right. This doesn't have anything to do with left or right, this is about whether we are going to live in a country free of unnecessary discrimination. You are free to discriminate in your judgments about any of us -- how we look, how we behave, what we are. Make your judgments. But if we are willing to live together according to certain rules of conduct, we should be able to do so. That is the issue for America. And it has ever been unpopular at certain critical junctures. But just remember this: A whole lot of people came to this country because they wanted a good letting alone. (Applause.) And that's what we ought to be able to do today. (Applause.)
That's it. I've already talked longer than I meant to. I'll still stay and answer the questions for the allotted time. We've got to change the direction of the country. We've got to compete in a new world we don't understand all the dimensions of. But we ought to be guided by three simple things: How can we create opportunity; how can we require all of us to behave more responsibly; and how can we build a stronger American community. And I don't believe that the answer necessarily has a partisan tinge. And I hope we can begin tomorrow the business of going forward with what this country urgently needs to do.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END4:55 P.M. EDT