Transcript of Chairman David Wilhelm's Speech
as the Distinguished Speaker for the Kennedy Lectures
at Ohio University. Athens, Ohio.
April 4, 1994
Thank you. Thank you, very much Dr. Dinos, for that generous introduction.
There are probably a few people in this audience who are shaking their heads
in complete disbelief. After all, this is my home town, and no one is a
prophet in their home town. My father, though, I know he appreciates it. And
my mother even believes parts of it.
I also want to thank Dr. Ping for being with us this evening. You know,
he took on the job of being the President of Ohio University just as I was
graduating from it. And the combination of his leadership and my departure has
led to a resurgence in Ohio University. It is a great honor to participate in
the Kennedy Lecture series that Edwin J. Kennedy, the university's good friend
and benefactor made possible and I join with all of you here tonight in wishing
that he were here with us.
Now there have been many, many distinguished speakers as part of the
Kennedy Lecture Series. But I guarantee you this-- you have never had a
Kennedy Lecture Series speaker at Memorial Auditorium before that worked in
the ticket office of Memorial Auditorium as part of his college work study
Now my parents are here tonight, and they are two people who are pretty
well known about these parts.
When I ran for Congress, I lost, it was a primary, it was a humiliation.
I got killed in the northern parts of the district, but I did well in Athens
County. And there is only one reason I did well in Athens County--people
thought they were voting for my father and that is a real testament to you
dad...I don't know where you are.
You know, I took my father's classes twice; which is a real statement of
faith or foolishness or whatever. And he is tough. He is tough. One time I
got an A minus in a class that one of my friends called Geography 2000.
Because I failed to type a paper and there was no requirement that you type the
paper. And I said, "Dad, what's the deal here?" And he said, "You should have
typed the paper." He is tough.
I picked up The Ohio University Post, the Friday edition, and my father is
quoted on page one, and this is one of the great political statements that I've
ever seen in my life. He says, "We continue to be proud of David." It could
be taken away at any minute. Well, I continue to be proud of him. The year I
graduated from Ohio University, he was named Outstanding Professor for the
first of, I don't know, three, four, five times. And Dad, where ever you are,
The lessons my mother taught me were not in the classroom, but they were
part of everyday life. She taught me very early that the ultimate test of
personal character is kindness in interpersonal relationships. They don't
always understand that in Washington, D.C.
She has always been my instant public opinion poll or focus group -- she
has an intuitive grasp of how regular folks feel (my father's a professor, so
he lost that grasp a long time ago).
My mother is very opinionated, -- for being a nice person. Let me tell
you about last night's dinner conversation. My mother said, " Are you eating
right? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you taking your vitamins? Can I buy
you some slippers? And, oh yeah, listen, with this Whitewater thing, no matter
how low your opponents go, don't get down in the mud with them." Jeez. The
only problem with that advice is that she's never had to go on CNN and debate
Both of my sisters are here. Both are graduates of Athens High School.
Diana is an alumnus of Ohio University. Only Suzanne, the youngest sister, fell
off the wagon. The youngest always, always, always has all the freedom. But
it's, of course, freedom that I would have never taken advantage of.
My high school social studies teacher is here, and he is the reigning
Democratic chair of Athens County. So now he reports to me. Pete Lalich is
here, and he has taught me and literally hundreds of others that public service
can and should be an honorable profession.
I would also like to recognize the faculty of the Ohio University
Political Science Department. They nurtured and challenged my interest in the
theory of politics. But they did something more than that; they cleared the
way for my actual participation in real world campaigns.
This faculty has always understood that political theory and political
action go hand-in-hand. And I would not be where I am today without people like
Professors Elsbree and Molineu and Prisley, Huntley and Hunt and Henderson,
Richard, Gustavson and Tucker and all the rest that taught me during my years
at Ohio University.
Finally, I would like to introduce my wife, Degee. Degee and I are proof
that even the worst campaigns can have incredible benefits. We met on the
famous and short lived Joe Biden presidential campaign.
There are a couple of things you need to know about Degee. She is a
graduate, she is a Baptist and the only known graduate of Baylor University to
declare herself a Democrat over twenty years. And secondly, she is the world's
greatest political advance person. She served as Bill Clinton's travelling
aide during the 1992 campaign. And neither he nor I would be in our respective
positions without her help.
Look, I know tonight is the NCAA championship game. I've already fired my
scheduler over this. Actually we shot for Super Bowl Sunday, but Dr. Dinos
wouldn't hear of it. But, this game is important to me as I know it is to you.
Partly because the outcome will have a lot to do with the mood my boss is in
A few moments ago, I spoke about the conversation I had with my mother
over dinner. She was very focused on the things that affect my life. And she
was right to bring up the issue of Whitewater.
It has dominated the newspapers and the television shows. It is an issue
that has become the topic of Washington gossip. It has become the centerpiece
of the Republicans' 1994 strategy as they try to figure out some way to reverse
the President's string of legislative victories. While it has affected me in
some obvious ways--like the Sperling Breakfast that I went to the other day,
which is a traditional media breakfast in Washington D.C., where I was drilled
over an hour by twenty-five of the leading political reporters in this country.
And only one question was on a topic other than Whitewater. The whole
Whitewater affair has prompted me to reflect on the true motivation of why I
do what I do, and that's why I've changed the topic of tonight's speech.
What prompts somebody like me, and I hope some of the people in this
audience, to a life of campaigns and public policy advocacy? Why do we do
these things? Why do we demand such sacrifices not only of ourselves, but of
our families? Is it just the thrill of political victory? Is it the challenge
of putting together an electoral strategy? Or is there something more?
So It is appropriate for me to come back to Athens to ask that question.
Because, the answer to that is right before me -- in this hall, on this campus
and in this community. I look into the faces of my family, my teachers and my
neighbors and it is obvious how I came to do this sort of work, and it is
obvious why I feel so strongly about it.
Everything that I am, everything that I do, I owe to the values and
experience I learned here in Athens, first as the child of a faculty member
and then as a student.
My parents raised me to believe that values were to be lived, and not
And while they provided me with security and comfort, they also helped
open my eyes to the world around me.
It was here in Athens County that I came to realize that not everyone
shared the security and comfort that I enjoyed--that not far from the walls of
this great university, people were struggling to simply survive, to house and
feed their families, to obtain the medical care that they need.
I remember riding the bus every day to the Athens Middle School. And I
also remember the fact that, a couple of the kids that got picked up every day
lived in an abandoned school bus not far from Beachwood Estates where we lived.
As I got older, I came to realize that this area called Appalachia was one
of the poorest in the nation. Many of the counties in this region, while I was
growing up, didn't have a doctor. And, during the 1980's, there were many
counties in this part of the state of Ohio where a third of the children lived
in families with incomes below the poverty level.
I learned early on that coal played a big role in the development of this
region. I knew that because there were creeks the color of rust. I knew that
because there were roads that were hot, even in the dead of winter, from fires
that have been lit by the forerunners of the United Mineworkers nearly a
century ago. And I knew it because of all the abandoned coal tipples around
this area like the one in Millfield where over a hundred miners were buried in
the largest mining disaster in the history of this state.
I also remember the ferment of the Vietnam War era here in Athens. I
remember one day coming home from baseball practice to find every single
parking meter on Court Street covered by a National Guardsman. I remember my
parents leaving home to stay at dorms to help keep the peace. And what was a
very trying and difficult period for this town and for this nation. And I
also remember the accounts of so many local kids from places like Shade and
Glouster and Albany. Kids that didn't have student deferments and who died
Somewhere along the line, I learned with pride that one of the first
academies, perhaps the first, ever instituted by black Americans for black
Americans was begun in Albany right by the Ohio University Airport. It was
attended by the future wife of Booker T. Washington.
I remember standing on the side of the road with my second grade classmates
in 1964, waving to a parade of cars speeding past me--one of which contained
President Lyndon Johnson, who came to Memorial Auditorium here in Athens to
help kick off his Great Society initiative.
Now no one would call LBJ a naive politician, but what he had to say that
day in Athens almost exactly thirty years ago today, sounds very naive to
today's cynical ears.
Here's what he said to the crowd of students and town's people in Athens,
"With your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build the
Great Society. It is a society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster
will go unschooled. Where no man who wants work will fail to find it. And
Where no citizen will be barred from any door because of his birthplace or his
color or his church."
Now it may have been right then that I realized that the world was a lot
larger than just the Wilhelms, and that we all have responsibilities to each
other and to the future.
That is the philosophy that I learned each and every step of the way here
at Athens Middle School, Athens High School, East Elementary, Ohio University
and I feel it more strongly today than ever in part because of Whitewater. It
is recognizing the moral imperative of action. It is the reason I am so
committed to a President who is more interested in posterity than in polls,
more concerned with building a better future for this country than building
political capital for himself.
But I must tell you that between the 1960s, when an inspiring young
President named John Kennedy asked us what we could do for our country and
President Johnson urged us "to go out of here with great resolve, because we
have great works to achieve," and the 1990's when another young President named
Bill Clinton rekindled that flame, we went through a horrible time in the
political history of our country.
And we are still fighting to shake off its effects.
Disheartened by an unpopular war, unethical government and hard economic
times, the American people lost heart, and John Kennedy's challenge to service
gave way to the politics of greed and indifference.
Selfishness was raised to the level of high principle, and those who
wanted to focus on America's real problems were dismissed and ridiculed as
relics of the discredited past.
Junk bond dealers replaced working people as celebrated heroes, and the
nation turned its back on itself--ignoring poverty, crime, joblessness, failing
schools, decaying communities and declining values.
We bought into a big lie as a country--that all of our problems would work
themselves out in a go-go economy.
They didn't tell us that the economy was built on credit cards.
They didn't tell us that the party would have to end someday, leaving an
enormous debt to be paid, not by the politicians of today, but by you and by
They didn't tell us about the incalculable cost of ignoring education and
training, the explosion of drugs and teen pregnancies, and other problems that
are now coming home to roost.
All they said was take what you can--while you can--and don't worry about
your neighbor and your community or the future of our nation.
The greatest menace that we face today is a lack of faith. Lack of faith
in government, the media, the church, the business world, even lack of faith in
academia. All of these institutions of society have something in the eyes of
Americans in this cynical era, and it is no wonder why.
Take the case of one Congressman who was recently the attack of a pretty
tough attack from the Christian Coalition. He is your congressman, and he is
here tonight--Congressman Ted Strickland. Congressman Ted Strickland voted for
the President's budget package last year. And for that Pat Robertson's folks
at the Christian Coalition took sharp exception to it and ran any number of
radio ads in Athens, Marietta, Chillicothe and all across this district
denouncing Congressman Ted Strickland.
Well let me tell you this because he probably won't. Congressman
Strickland is a person of great faith, a person of unquestioned devotion to
his community, the families he represents and his church.
He attended a Christian College in Kentucky--Asbury College--and then
earned a Masters of Divinity there. He served as an ordained United Methodist
Minister. He worked for seven years at a Methodist youth home. This is the
man being attacked by the Christian Coalition.
No one in the Congress, I guarantee you, no one in the Congress, cast a
more carefully considered vote for what he believes are the best interests of
his constituents than did Ted Strickland on the President's budget.
He cast his vote according to the dictates of his conscience. And he
doesn't deserve to be targeted with mean spirited ads by the Christian
Coalition, or any other group purporting to speak for religious Americans.
Attacks on our faith only serve to encourage the political cynicism that
we are experiencing today in this country. And that's why I did one of the
crazier things that I've done since I've been the chair of this party. I went
and spoke to the Christian Coalition.
If there had been tomato vendors outside they would have done real well.
But here is what I said. Here is what I said. I had a pretty simple
message that I wanted to impart to them that I want to impart to you:
Like most Americans, I believe strongly that God and faith are not
and can not be the province of one political party or movement.
No political party has a corner on the allegiance of the community of
However inconvenient it might be, God is an Independent.
No single entity can claim to speak for all persons who believe in Christ
and consider themselves to be Christian.
The Democratic Party is and always has been a party of values. [That
line was booed--lustfully. The Christian Coalition can be lusty about
anything.] Those values are at least as richly informed by religious beliefs
and moral principles as is the Republican Party.
Separation of church and state means that we, as Americans, are free to
practice our faith without government coercion or interference. Our
forefathers and foremothers fled to these shores, in large part, to escape
No American can be kept out of the political process because of their
religion. And no American can be kept out of the political process because
he or she does not practice religion.
But, as the President has said, freedom of religion doesn't mean that we
must be, or should be, free from religion.
And as Thomas Jefferson understood so well, the separation of church and
state was designed not to promote the state, but to strengthen the practice of
Now Congressmen like Ted Strickland first under attack because of his
vote on the budget, is now under attack from the Christian Coalition for
support for health care reform.
Now look, I believe with all my heart and all my mind that the correct
"Christian" position on health care reform, is to be for it.
But something as complex as health care reform is a good example of the
limits of religious faith in politics. Faith can tell us what we should be
concerned about, but faith does not tell us whether or not the consumer
purchasing alliance should be mandatory or voluntary. It doesn't do it.
And nobody should be thought of as a bad Christian because of his or her
position on health care. No matter what the position.
Now, I do believe that there is a moral imperative to act--and to act
now--on the issue of health care reform.
As I mentioned earlier, in the counties of surrounding Athens County,
Vinton County, right next door there wasn't a doctor for years and years and
years. And only today there is a part-time doctor that serves Vinton County.
Many children in this part of the state go without immunizations.
People who work in this area, tend to work at low wage jobs.
I don't have any statistics in front of my nose, but I think that it's a
safe bet that there a lot of full-time workers here in Southeastern Ohio who
work without the benefits of health care coverage.
So, here's the dilemma facing a lot of households right here, right now in
Southeastern Ohio: Stay on welfare; keep your health care, go to work and lose
it. It is the ultimate welfare trap. And if you go to work, the income you
earn gets taxed to pay in part for the health care that the folks on welfare
will get if they just stay there. If we are going to have welfare reform in
this country, its got to start by reforming the health care system in this
I think of the many times that I've travelled up and down Route 33 between
Columbus and Athens and I am struck by the explosion of strip malls (you see
them in Lancaster), the convenient stores, the strip malls. And you know that
the people that work in those convenient stores work for the minimum wage,
generally work part time, don't have health care coverage, and a lot of them
are women--single women who are raising families on their own.
I think of the woman that I met along the campaign trail-- from Cleveland,
who was originally a supporter of Ross Perot -- who became politically active
because of her own encounter with this nations health care system. She was
forced to quit her $50,000 a year job, sell off all her assets because her
seriously ill child needed long term care. She sold off her assets, she quit
her job, cared for her child and then the child died.
I'm reminded of James Day, a young man who worked for our 1992
presidential campaign. It was his job to keep all the advance people for
Al Gore organized and on schedule.
And like many campaign staffers, including me, he went without insurance
for a short while after the campaign. Just a short period of transition, you
understand -- until he got a job in the Administration. But James Day wasn't
so lucky. He came down with pneumonia, which led to kidney failure, which led
to hospital bills in excess of $25,000.
Each of us has a story to tell like this. I'm young and healthy, my wife
is young and healthy, my parents are relatively young and healthy -- so we have
fewer stories to tell than most families.
But the politics of health care reform -- the impetus for health care
reform in this country-- begins with stories like these repeated in families
all across the country.
If we are going to make a change, we need a plan.
There are a lot of competing plans out there, so to get started, let's
take a look at one. I want you to think about whether this is the kind of
plan you'd like to see congress adopt.
The plan would create a big bureaucracy processing more than 1,500
different claim forms.
This plan won't provide patients with information about their outcomes
to compare hospitals and physicians.
The plan minimizes competition among health care providers.
The plan lets your employer choose health care plans and your doctors.
The plan rations care, favoring the young, the healthy and the wealthy.
The plan puts a lifetime limit on the amount of insurance you can collect
so that if you do need long term care, you do have to pay off your assets.
The plan puts an emphasis on unneeded medical procedures.
The plan refuses to guarantee coverage if you have a pre-existing
condition, and even a skin rash is enough to be called a pre-existing
This plan is structured so that people don't get care until they are
seriously sick, in a real crisis and show up at the emergency room.
I think you'll agree that any politician introducing such a plan today
would be voted out of office at the next election, if not recalled immediately.
But Congress doesn't need to do anything to enact this plan.
It is the plan we are living with.
Fifty-eight million Americans are forced to play health insurance roulette
every year, going a month or more without any coverage.
Eighty-one million Americans can be denied insurance or charged excessive
rates because they have a pre-existing condition.
One hundred thirty three million Americans today have a health care plan
with lifetime limits.
Now, no one actually sat down and intentionally designed such a perverse
No one said, hey, let's have a plan whereby health care costs will grow
from six percent of our gross domestic product 25 years ago to 14 percent today.
No one said, hey, let's have a health care system in this country where
companies have strong incentives to hire part-time workers.
No one said, hey, let's have a health care system where employees are
afraid to leave their jobs for fear that they'll lose their health care
No one said, hey, let's have a plan where people on welfare are guaranteed
coverage, but people who go to work are not.
No one said, hey, let's have a health care system where cars made in
this country have $1,100 of the sticker value representing the cost of covering
the health care automobile workers in this country while Japanese cars have
$550 of their sticker price representing the very same thing.
Passing health care reform will be difficult. It will be hard. There
will be ups and downs. People will get mad at each other. Big change is
always hard. It is hard because the contest gets played out between those who
have a stake in the status quo and those who are arguing on behalf of future
And if there is one thing I have learned in the fourteen months since
I have been the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, it is that it is
tough to organize future beneficiaries. It is the toughest thing to do.
The political landscape almost by definition is oriented towards the
status quo. People who benefit from the status quo--they know who they are,
they're benefiting. And because they're benefiting they're profiting. They
have the money to make their case known to the American people. They are the
most politically articulate people in American society. So they've got the
money to make their point of view known.
Now, now, there are the people who are the future beneficiaries. Who are
they? And how easy is it to organize them?
The woman who works at the check-out counter at a Wal-Mart or a K-Mart who
doesn't have health care coverage--that is a tough person to organize.
Try it sometime, it is tough.
The person that wants to make the jump from welfare to work--that is a
tough person to organize.
The college student who is healthy today but might not be tomorrow
but doesn't know it-- tough person to organize.
The entrepreneur who's trying to start up a business in his or her
home--you know we're not talking about Ford or GM here, this is a tough person
The small business which pays for the health care of their employees and
pays twice not only for the health care for their employees, but for the health
care for those businesses who don't cover their employees when they show up at
the emergency room--a tough entity to organize.
But make no mistake about it, that's why we're here. That's why there's
a Democratic Party. That's why we do the things we do. To give voice to the
people who are future beneficiaries.
So in this time of such focus on Whitewater. I think it's important to
ask what differentiates the run-of-the-mill politician in this country from the
ethical politician. What differentiates the hack from the statesman? What
things should we look for as voters in judging whether an individual has the
political courage to do the tough thing, do the right thing, do the moral thing?
I think there are three, maybe four qualities to focus on.
The first question to ask, the first key is this: Does the person have an
eye to the future or is the person almost wholly grounded in the demands of the
Is there an orientation to the future in the things that a politician does
-- a willingness to consider the future impact of decisions made today, and
even a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of that future? Or, is the
politician overly concerned with the polls of the moment, willing to avoid
difficult trade-offs today and let the bills be paid later? That's the first
For years in this country, we've had politicians in the driver's seat who
were willing to defer just about every tough political decision to future
generations. Skyrocketing deficits were perhaps the clearest symbol of this
failure of ethical leadership.
The second key question, the second key to ethical political behavior is
this: Does the political figure try to appeal to what the last great
Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, called "the better angels of our
nature," or does the politician appeal to our worst instincts? You can win
in politics both ways. You can do it by appealing to people's better instincts,
you can do it by appealing to their worst instincts. And in my view, after all
my years in politics, there is no clearer delineation between the good guys and
the bad guys.
Do you try to win by appealing to the best in us--our optimism, our hopes,
our solidarity, our sense of community, our sense of compassion? Or do you try
to do it the other way--with an appeal to our pessimism, our fears, our
hatreds, our prejudices our selfishness?
I've talked tonight about how faith can and should inform the values we
hold, and the positions that we take in public debates. Well, my reading of
the Gospels says that Jesus puts perhaps the most central emphasis on other-
centeredness--on caring for others, on sacrificing for others --and decried
Robert F. Kennedy said in a commencement address twenty-five years ago
that, "your education..." Speaking to students--it was a commencement.
"your education has taught you that undue self-interest is the enemy of truth--
and politics is corrupted where selfishness takes precedence over respect for
I would like to think that there is a reason why there is no functional
equivalent to Floyd Brown in the Democratic Party. Do you know who Floyd Brown
is? He's the guy who brought us Willie Horton in 1988 and, he's the guy today
who is escorting reporters around Little Rock trying to dig up whatever sleaze
he can find. We don't have a Floyd Brown in the Democratic Party, and I am
proud of that.
The third characteristic of ethical behaviors is this: Are you a builder
or are you a destroyer? Are you a builder? Are you a destroyer?
It is easy to tear things down. It is the simplest thing in the world.
It is easy to be a critic. It is easy to be sarcastic. It is easy to find
fault. It is easy to make fun of somebody. That is cheap. That is simple.
That is the easiest thing to do in politics.
Rush Limbaugh has it easy. What a life. He sits behind a microphone day
after day after day and rips to shreds the hard work of others. It's cake.
It is cake.
But ultimately, what Rush Limbaugh does is not enough. In fact, it falls
way short of what we need to do to move our country forward.
We need politicians who are builders. People who are willing not just to
find flaws, but people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and go to work
everyday to find real solutions.
The fourth characteristic that I think you need to look for is really
built on the last one. We need politicians who define politics not merely or
exclusively as the art of compromise, but who define what they do as helping
to expand the envelop of what is possible.
The art of the deal is not all there is to politics. You've got to know
when to fold 'em, you've got to know when to hold 'em, but you've also got to
know when to walk away. Principle requires it sometimes.
Look, politicians are not and should not be saints. You are looking at
somebody who has managed two Chicago mayoral campaigns. You are looking at a
guy who until three years ago was a precinct captain in the 44th Ward
Organization in the city of Chicago. Politics and Politics are not and should
not be saints. If they were, we wouldn't need a Congress or a President.
But, we do need people who have an eye to the future, who appeal to the
better angels of our natures, who are builders and not just critics and who
are willing to act on belief and faith.
So in the midst of this brouhaha about Whitewater, I submit to this
audience that since day one of his Presidency, Bill Clinton has behaved in a
way perfectly consistent with the ethical characteristics I've just described.
In fourteen months, he has cut the deficit by 40 percent, ending twelve
years of deferring tough trade-offs.
He has appealed to the better angels of our natures, fighting for health
care reform so that our neighbors, our fellow citizens will never again know
the insecurity of a day without health care.
And throughout, he has played the role of the builder, fighting for real,
constructive change whether it has been on the North American Free Trade
Agreement, whether it's been in the Middle East, or it's been reforming the
I remember very well something Bill Clinton said when Degee and I just
moved to Little Rock to go to work for this guy we barely knew.
I think it was Lisa Myers of NBC News who looked at then Governor Bill
Clinton and asked him the toughest question you can ask a politician. Why are
you in politics? Why do you do what you do? And Bill Clinton looked back at
Lisa Myers and said, "I do what I do because every day I want to do all that I
can to allow each and every individual in our country to make the most of their
To me, that is the essence of ethical behavior in politics.
So instead we are deluged with headline after headline about Whitewater...
And here is the risk that we run-- that the politics of cynicism will lead
to the politics of despair and surrender. Ultimately, after losing faith in
our leaders and our system, we lose faith in ourselves; that we come to believe
that our problems are greater than our determination and ability to solve them.
And the greatest tragedy is that this cynicism might engulf you, upon whom
our success or failure in the future truly rests.
For much of your lives, and I'm talking to the college students in this
crowd tonight, you have been bombarded by bad news. You've seen the evidence
of failed government of societal decline on hundreds of different stations, and
these harsh and bitter lessons must tempt you to turn your backs on the notion
that we can shape a better future.
But for you, above all, this is not the time to turn away.
It is the time to get involved.
We're on the brink of a new century.
Things that earlier generations might have taken for granted can no longer
be assumed-- like the fact that a college education guarantees you a job.
Or the toxic waste we discard will be safely absorbed.
Or that health care will always be available or that the Social Security
system will always be solvent.
There was a false belief in the 1980s that you could wall yourself in--and
wall out the problems; that your neighbors' problems were not yours, that your
communities' problems were not yours, and that your nation's problems were not
Today, we know better. We know the truth.
We know that if we don't do something to stop the spread of guns, a bullet
will eventually find us or someone we love.
We know that if we don't do something to train our workers and improve our
schools, the jobs of the future will pass us by.
We know that if we don't do something to preserve our environment, the air
we breathe and the water we drink will no longer be safe.
We know if we don't do something to stop the growth of the national debt,
the price will be too great for our children to pay.
And that's why it's more important than ever that we look beyond ourselves
and ask--not what is best for me--but what is best for America.
It's not self-interest, but the national interest that is truly at stake.
And so I would ask you to ignore those who say we can't solve the problems
They're the ones who said we couldn't cut the deficit and put the economy
back on track--but we did it.
They're the ones who said we couldn't pass common sense gun laws like the
Brady Bill-- but we did it.
They're the ones who said we couldn't make family medical leave a law --
but we did it.
And those same forces of cynicism are telling us now that Whitewater is
everything, that we can't have health care and welfare reform, we can't have a
strong crime bill, we can't protect the environment and create jobs at the same
time, and we can't provide for better education system in this country.
We did not become the country we are today by turning away from tough
We have beaten those challenges before, and we will beat them back again.
In the past, we have made difficult moral choices about what was moral
and what was not.
We decided, for instance, that is was immoral for children to be forced
to work as if they were adults, and outlawed the practice.
We decided that it was wrong for people to work 12 to 14 hours a day, six
days a week, and after long and bitter struggles, we instituted the 40-hour
We decided that it was wrong for the elderly to face retirement with no
source of income, so we instituted Social Security.
We decided that it was wrong that people were prevented from being allowed
to register and vote because of the color of their skin, and wrote new voter
registration laws--and we did so because we were shamed into doing it by one of
our nation's greatest leaders--Martin Luther King, who was gunned down
twenty-six years ago today.
We decided that is was wrong that the elderly should be unable to afford
medical care, so we passed Medicare.
We decided that is was wrong to sexually harass women in the workplace,
and so we outlawed sexual harassment.
All of these examples involved making tough choices, changing the way we
were accustomed to doing business.
None of these changes took place quickly, or without resistance, and some
of them were paid for in blood.
But we changed, and we are a better nation in every instance.
Thirty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson visited Memorial Auditorium--
and we have made progress. But we have so far to go. Thirty years from now, we
will look back and be amazed by how we lived in 1994.
We will be amazed that 40 million people in this country went every day
without health insurance.
We will be amazed that thousands of babies in Southeastern Ohio went
We will be amazed that people on welfare had health care and people who
We will be amazed that over 100 million people had lifetime limits on
their health care coverage--and had to sell off their assets if a loved one,
if their spouse got really sick for a really long time.
We will be amazed that cars got 20 miles to the gallon.
We will be amazed that one in five children in this country are today
raised in poverty.
We will be amazed, astounded, shocked that fifty percent of the kids that
go to school-- high schools in our inner cities drop out before they graduate.
The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Don't ever underestimate the
power of a small, committed group of people to change the world." And she
added an even more important kicker, when she said, "Indeed, it's the only
thing that ever has changed the world."
So whether it's befriending a lonely senior citizen, tutoring a youngster
at Trimble Middle School where I visited this morning, jumping on the
Osteopathic College's immunization van and providing medicine to kids who need
it, housing a homeless person or feeding a hungry child, every single person in
this audience has the power to change the world at least for somebody.
And more important, you have a responsibility to yourselves, to your
families, to your community, to your generation, and the generation of children
yet unborn to join the effort to make our world better, safer and healthier for
Thank you very much.
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