William J. Clinton (February 4, 1997)
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of the 105th Congress,
distinguished guests, my fellow Americans:
I think I should start by saying thanks for inviting me back.
I come before you tonight with a challenge as great as any in our peacetime
history--and a plan of action to meet that challenge, to prepare our
people for the bold new world of the 21st century.
We have much to be thankful for. With four years of growth, we have won
back the basic strength of our economy. With crime and welfare rolls
declining, we are winning back our optimism, the enduring faith that we can
master any difficulty. With the Cold War receding and global commerce at
record levels, we are helping to win an unrivaled peace and prosperity all
across the world.
My fellow Americans, the state of our union is strong, but now we must rise
to the decisive moment, to make a nation and a world better than any we
have ever known.
The new promise of the global economy, the Information Age, unimagined new
work, life-enhancing technology--all these are ours to seize. That is our
honor and our challenge. We must be shapers of events, not observers, for
if we do not act, the moment will pass and we will lose the best
possibilities of our future.
We face no imminent threat, but we do have an enemy. The enemy of our time
So tonight I issue a call to action--action by this Congress, action by
our states, by our people to prepare America for the 21st century; action
to keep our economy and our democracy strong and working for all our
people; action to strengthen education and harness the forces of technology
and science; action to build stronger families and stronger communities and
a safer environment; action to keep America the world's strongest force for
peace, freedom and prosperity; and above all, action to build a more
perfect union here at home.
The spirit we bring to our work will make all the difference.
We must be committed to the pursuit of opportunity for all Americans,
responsibility from all Americans in a community of all Americans. And we
must be committed to a new kind of government: not to solve all our
problems for us, but to give our people--all our people--the tools they
need to make the most of their own lives. And we must work together.
The people of this nation elected us all. They want us to be partners, not
partisans. They put us all right here in the same boat. They gave us all
oars, and they told us to row. Now, here is the direction I believe we
First, we must move quickly to complete the unfinished business of our
country: to balance the budget, renew our democracy, and finish the job of
Over the last four years we have brought new economic growth by investing
in our people, expanding our exports, cutting our deficits, creating over
11 million new jobs, a four-year record.
Now we must keep our economy the strongest in the world. We here tonight
have an historic opportunity. Let this Congress be the Congress that
finally balances the budget. Thank you.
In two days I will propose a detailed plan to balance the budget by 2002.
This plan will balance the budget and invest in our people while protecting
Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment. It will balance the
budget and build on the vice president's efforts to make our government
work better--even as it costs less.
It will balance the budget and provide middle-class tax relief to pay for
education and health care, to help to raise a child, to buy and sell a
Balancing the budget requires only your vote and my signature. It does not
require us to rewrite our Constitution. I believe, I believe it is both
unnecessary, unwise to adopt a balanced budget amendment that could cripple
our country in time of economic crisis and force unwanted results such as
judges halting Social Security checks or increasing taxes.
Let us at least agree we should not pass any measure, no measure should be
passed that threatens Social Security. We don't need, whatever your view on
that, we all must concede we don't need a constitutional amendment, we need
action. Whatever our differences, we should balance the budget now, and
then, for the long-term health of our society, we must agree to a
bipartisan process to preserve Social Security and reform Medicare for the
long run, so that these fundamental programs will be as strong for our
children as they are for our parents.
And let me say something that's not in my script tonight. I know this is
not going to be easy. But I really believe one of the reasons the American
people gave me a second term was to take the tough decisions in the next
four years that will carry our country through the next 50 years. I know it
is easier for me than for you to say or do. But another reason I was
elected is to support all of you, without regard to party, to give you what
is necessary to join in these decisions. We owe it to our country and to
Our second piece of unfinished business requires us to commit ourselves
tonight, before the eyes of America, to finally enacting bipartisan
campaign finance reform.
Now, Senators McCain and Feingold, Representatives Shays and Meehan have
reached across party lines here to craft tough and fair reform. Their
proposal would curb spending, reduce the role of special interests, create
a level playing field between challengers and incumbents, and ban
contributions from non-citizens, all corporate sources, and the other large
soft-money contributions that both parties receive.
You know and I know that this can be delayed, and you know and I know that
delay will mean the death of reform.
So let's set our own deadline. Let's work together to write bipartisan
campaign finance reform into law and pass McCain-Feingold by the day we
celebrate the birth of our democracy, July the 4th.
There is a third piece of unfinished business. Over the last four years we
moved a record two and a quarter million people off the welfare roles. Then
last year Congress enacted landmark welfare reform legislation demanding
that all able-bodied recipients assume the responsibility of moving from
welfare to work. Now each and every one of us has to fulfill our
responsibility, indeed our moral obligation, to make sure that people who
now must work can work. And now we must act to meet a new goal: two million
more people off the welfare rolls by the year 2000.
Here is my plan: Tax credits and other incentives for businesses that hire
people off welfare; Incentives for job placement firms in states to create
more jobs for welfare recipients; Training, transportation and child care
to help people go to work. Now I challenge every state--turn those welfare
checks into private sector paychecks. I challenge every religious
congregation, every community nonprofit, every business to hire someone off
welfare. And I'd like to say especially to every employer in our country
who ever criticized the old welfare system, you can't blame that old system
anymore; we have torn it down. Now, do your part. Give someone on welfare
the chance to go to work.
Tonight I am pleased to announce that five major corporations--Sprint,
Monsanto, UPS, Burger King and United Airlines--will be the first to join
in a new national effort to marshal America's businesses large and small to
create jobs so that people can move from welfare to work.
We passed welfare reform. All of you know I believe we were right to do it.
But no one can walk out of this chamber with a clear conscience unless you
are prepared to finish the job.
And we must join together to do something else, too, something both
Republican and Democratic governors have asked us to do: to restore basic
health and disability benefits when misfortune strikes immigrants who came
to this country legally, who work hard, pay taxes, and obey the law. To do
otherwise is simply unworthy of a great nation of immigrants.
Now, looking ahead, the greatest step of all, the high threshold to the
future we must now cross, and my number one priority for the next four
years, is to ensure that all Americans have the best education in the
world. Thank you.
Let's work together to meet these three goals: every eight-year-old must be
able to read, every 12-year-old must be able to log on to the Internet,
every 18-year-old must be able to go to college, and every adult American
must be able to keep on learning for a lifetime.
My balanced budget makes an unprecedented commitment to these goals--$51
billion next year--but far more than money is required. I have a plan, a
call to action for American education based on these 10 principles:
First, a national crusade for education standards--not federal government
standards, but national standards, representing what all our students must
know to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century. Every state
and school must shape the curriculum to reflect these standards and train
teachers to lift students up to them. To help schools meet the standards
and measure their progress, we will lead an effort over the next two years
to develop national tests of student achievement in reading and math.
Tonight I issue a challenge to the nation. Every state should adopt high
national standards, and by 1999, every state should test every 4th grader
in reading and every 8th grader in math to make sure these standards are
Raising standards will not be easy, and some of our children will not be
able to meet them at first. The point is not to put our children down, but
to lift them up. Good tests will show us who needs help, what changes in
teaching to make, and which schools need to improve. They can help us end
social promotion, for no child should move from grade school to junior high
or junior high to high school until he or she is ready.
Last month our secretary of education, Dick Riley, and I visited northern
Illinois, where 8th grade students from 20 school districts, in a project
aptly called First in the World, took the third International Math and
That's a test that reflects the world-class standards our children must
meet for the new era. And those students in Illinois tied for first in the
world in science and came in second in math. Two of them, Kristen Tanner
and Chris Getsla, are here tonight along with their teacher, Sue Winski.
They're up there with the first lady, and they prove that when we aim high
and challenge our students, they will be the best in the world. Let's give
them a hand. Stand up, please.
Second, to have the best schools, we must have the best teachers. Most of
us in this chamber would not be here tonight without the help of those
teachers. I know that I wouldn't be here.
For years many of our educators, led by North Carolina's governor, Jim
Hunt, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, have
worked very hard to establish nationally accepted credentials for
excellence in teaching.
Just 500 of these teachers have been certified since 1995. My budget will
enable 100,000 more to seek national certification as master teachers. We
should reward and recognize our best teachers. And as we reward them, we
should quickly and fairly remove those few who don't measure up, and we
should challenge more of our finest young people to consider teaching as a
Third, we must do more to help all our children read. Forty percent--40
percent--of our 8-year-olds cannot read on their own. That's why we have
just launched the America Reads initiative, to build a citizen army of one
million volunteer tutors to make sure every child can read independently by
the end of the 3rd grade. We will use thousands of AmeriCorps volunteers to
mobilize this citizen army. We want at least 100,000 college students to
And tonight I'm pleased that 60 college presidents have answered my call,
pledging that thousands of their work-study students will serve for one
year as reading tutors.
This is also a challenge to every teacher and every principal.
You must use these tutors to help your students read. And it is especially
a challenge to our parents. You must read with your children every night.
This leads to the fourth principle: Learning begins in the first days of
life. Scientists are now discovering how young children develop emotionally
and intellectually from their very first days and how important it is for
parents to begin immediately talking, singing, even reading to their
infants. The first lady has spent years writing about this issue, studying
it. And she and I are going to convene a White House conference on early
learning and the brain this spring to explore how parents and educators can
best use these startling new findings.
We already know we should start teaching children before they start school.
That's why this balanced budget expands Head Start to one million children
by 2002. And that is why the vice president and Mrs. Gore will host their
annual family conference this June on what we can do to make sure that
parents are an active part of their children's learning all the way through
They've done a great deal to highlight the importance of family in our
life, and now they're turning their attention to getting more parents
involved in their children's learning all the way through school. I thank
you, Mr. Vice President, and I thank you especially, Tipper, for what
Fifth, every state should give parents the power to choose the right public
school for their children. Their right to choose will foster competition
and innovation that can make public schools better. We should also make it
possible for more parents and teachers to start charter schools, schools
that set and meet the highest standards and exist only as long as they do.
Our plan will help America to create 3,000 of these charter schools by the
next century, nearly seven times as there are in the country today, so that
parents will have even more choices in sending their children to the best
Sixth, character education must be taught in our schools. We must teach our
children to be good citizens. And we must continue to promote order and
discipline; supporting communities that introduce school uniforms, impose
curfews, enforce truancy laws, remove disruptive students from the
classroom, and have zero tolerance for guns and drugs in schools.
Seventh, we cannot expect our children to raise themselves up in schools
that are literally falling down. With the student population at an all-time
high, and record numbers of school buildings falling into disrepair, this
has now become a serious national concern. Therefore, my budget includes a
new initiative: $5 billion to help communities finance $20 billion in
school construction over the next four years.
Eighth, we must make the 13th and 14th years of education--at least two
years of college--just as universal in America by the 21st century as a
high school education is today, and we must open the doors of college to
To do that, I propose America's Hope Scholarship, based on Georgia's
pioneering program--two years of a $1,500 tax credit for college tuition,
enough to pay for the typical community college. I also propose a tax
deduction of up to $10,000 a year for all tuition after high school, an
expanded IRA you can withdraw from tax free for education, and the largest
increase in Pell Grant scholarship in 20 years.
Now this plan will give most families the ability to pay no taxes on money
they save for college tuition. I ask you to pass it and give every American
who works hard the chance to go to college.
Ninth, in the 21st century we must expand the frontiers of learning across
a lifetime. All our people, of whatever age, must have the chance to learn
Most Americans live near a community college. The roads that take them
there can be paths to a better future. My GI bill for America's workers
will transform the confusing tangle of federal training programs into a
simple skill grant to go directly into eligible workers' hands.
For too long this bill has been sitting on that desk there, without action.
I ask you to pass it now. Let's give more of our workers the ability to
learn and to earn for a lifetime.
Tenth, we must bring the power of the Information Age into all our
Last year I challenged America to connect every classroom and library to
the Internet by the year 2000, so that for the first time in our history,
children in the most isolated rural town, the most comfortable suburbs, the
poorest inner-city schools will have the same access to the same universe
That is my plan--a call to action for American education. Some may say
that it is unusual for a president to pay this kind of attention to
education. Some may say it is simply because the president and his
wonderful wife have been obsessed with this subject for more years than
they can recall. That is not what is driving these proposals. We must
understand the significance of this endeavor.
One of the greatest sources of our strength throughout the Cold War was a
bipartisan foreign policy. Because our future was at stake, politics
stopped at the water's edge. Now I ask you, and I ask all our nation's
governors, I ask parents, teachers and citizens all across America, for a
new nonpartisan commitment to education, because education is a critical
national security issue for our future and politics must stop at the
To prepare America for the 21st century, we must harness the powerful
forces of science and technology to benefit all Americans. This is the
first State of the Union carried live in video over the Internet, but we've
only begun to spread the benefits of a technology revolution that should
become the modern birthright of every citizen.
Our effort to connect every classroom is just the beginning. Now we should
connect every hospital to the Internet so that doctors can instantly share
data about their patients with the best specialists in the field.
And I challenge the private sector tonight to start by connecting every
children's hospital as soon as possible so that a child in bed can stay in
touch with school, family and friends. A sick child need no longer be a
We must build the second generation of the Internet so that our leading
universities and national laboratories can communicate in speeds a thousand
times faster than today to develop new medical treatments, new sources of
energy, new ways of working together. But we cannot stop there.
As the Internet becomes our new town square, a computer in every home: a
teacher of all subjects, a connection to all cultures. This will no longer
be a dream, but a necessity. And over the next decade, that must be our
We must continue to explore the heavens, pressing on with the Mars probes
and the International Space Station, both of which will have practical
applications for our everyday living.
We must speed the remarkable advances in medical science. The human genome
project is now decoding the genetic mysteries of life. American scientists
have discovered genes linked to breast cancer and ovarian cancer and
medication that stops a stroke in progress and begins to reverse its
effects, and treatments that dramatically lengthen the lives of people with
HIV and AIDS.
Since I took office, funding for AIDS research at the National Institutes
of Health has increased dramatically to $1.5 billion. With new resources,
NIH will now become the most powerful discovery engine for an AIDS vaccine,
working with other scientists, to finally end the threat of AIDS. Thank
you. Remember that every year, every year we move up the discovery of an
AIDS vaccine we'll save millions of lives around the world. We must
reinforce our commitment to medical science.
To prepare America for the 21st century we must build stronger families.
Over the past four years the Family and Medical Leave Law has helped
millions of Americans to take time off to be with their families.
With new pressures on people and the way they work and live, I believe we
must expand family leave so that workers can take time off for teacher
conferences and a child's medical checkup. We should pass flex time so
workers can choose to be paid for overtime in income or trade it in for
time off to be with their families.
We must continue--we must continue, step by step, to give more families
access to affordable quality health care. Forty million Americans still
lack health insurance. Ten million children still lack health insurance.
Eighty percent of them have working parents who pay taxes. That is wrong.
My--my balanced budget will extend health coverage to up to 5 million of
those children. Since nearly half of all children who lose their insurance
do so because their parents lose or change a job, my budget will also
ensure that people who temporarily lose their jobs can still afford to keep
their health insurance. No child should be without a doctor just because a
parent is without a job.
My Medicare plan modernizes Medicare, increases the life of the trust fund
to 10 years, provides support for respite care for the many families with
loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer's, and, for the first time, it would
fully pay for annual mammograms.
Just as we ended drive-through deliveries of babies last year, we must now
end the dangerous and demeaning practice of forcing women home from the
hospital only hours after a mastectomy.
I ask your support for bipartisan legislation to guarantee that a woman can
stay in the hospital for 48 hours after a mastectomy. With us tonight is
Dr. Kristen Zarfos, a Connecticut surgeon whose outrage at this practice
spurred a national movement and inspired this legislation. I'd like her to
stand so we can thank her for her efforts. Dr. Zarfos, thank you.
In the last four years, we have increased child support collections by 50
percent. Now we should go further and do better by making it a felony for
any parent to cross a state line in an attempt to flee from this, his or
her most sacred obligation.
Finally, we must also protect our children by standing firm in our
determination to ban the advertising and marketing of cigarettes that
endanger their lives.
To prepare America for the 21st century, we must build stronger
communities. We should start with safe streets. Serious crime has dropped
five years in a row. The key has been community policing. We must finish
the job of putting 100,000 community police on the streets of the United
We should pass the Victims' Rights Amendment to the Constitution, and I ask
you to mount a full-scale assault on juvenile crime, with legislation that
declares war on gangs with new prosecutors and tougher penalties, extends
the Brady bill so violent teen criminals will not be able to buy handguns,
requires child safety locks on handguns to prevent unauthorized use, and
helps to keep our schools open after hours, on weekends and in the summer
so our young people will have someplace to go and something to say yes to.
This balanced budget includes the largest anti-drug effort ever--to stop
drugs at their source; punish those who push them; and teach our young
people that drugs are wrong, drugs are illegal, and drugs will kill them. I
hope you will support it.
Our growing economy has helped to revive poor urban and rural
neighborhoods, but we must do more to empower them to create the conditions
in which all families can flourish and to create jobs through investment by
business and loans by banks.
We should double the number of empowerment zones. They've already brought
so much hope to communities like Detroit, where the unemployment rate has
been cut in half in four years. We should restore contaminated urban land
and buildings to constructive use. We should expand the network of
community development banks.
And together, we must pledge tonight that we will use this empowerment
approach, including private sector tax incentives, to renew our capital
city so that Washington is a great place to work and live--and once again
the proud face America shows the world!
We must protect our environment in every community. In the last four years,
we cleaned up 250 toxic waste sites, as many as in the previous 12. Now we
should clean up 500 more so that our children grow up next to parks, not
poison. I urge to pass my proposal to make big polluters live by a simple
rule: If you pollute our environment, you should pay to clean it up.
In the last four years, we strengthened our nation's safe food and clean
drinking water laws; we protected some of America's rarest, most beautiful
land in Utah's Red Rocks region; created three new national parks in the
California desert; and began to restore the Florida Everglades.
Now we must be as vigilant with our rivers as we are with our lands.
Tonight I announce that this year I will designate 10 American Heritage
Rivers to help communities alongside them revitalize their waterfronts and
clean up pollution in the rivers, proving once again that we can grow the
economy as we protect the environment.
We must also protect our global environment, working to ban the worst toxic
chemicals and to reduce the greenhouse gases that challenge our health even
as they change our climate.
Now, we all know that in all of our communities some of our children simply
don't have what they need to grow and learn in their own homes or schools
or neighborhoods. And that means the rest of us must do more, for they are
our children, too. That's why President Bush, General Colin Powell, former
Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros will join the vice president and me to
lead the President's Summit of Service in Philadelphia in April.
Our national service program, AmeriCorps, has already helped 70,000 young
people to work their way through college as they serve America. Now we
intend to mobilize millions of Americans to serve in thousands of ways.
Citizen service is an American responsibility which all Americans should
embrace. And I ask your support for that endeavor.
I'd like to make just one last point about our national community. Our
economy is measured in numbers and statistics. And it's very important. But
the enduring worth of our nation lies in our shared values and our soaring
spirit. So instead of cutting back on our modest efforts to support the
arts and humanities I believe we should stand by them and challenge our
artists, musicians, and writers, challenge our museums, libraries, and
We should challenge all Americans in the arts and humanities to join with
their fellow citizens to make the year 2000 a national celebration of the
American spirit in every community, a celebration of our common culture in
the century that is past and in the new one to come in a new millennium so
that we can remain the world's beacon not only of liberty but of creativity
long after the fireworks have faded.
To prepare America for the 21st century we must master the forces of change
in the world and keep American leadership strong and sure for an uncharted
Fifty years ago, a farsighted America led in creating the institutions that
secured victory in the Cold War and built a growing world economy. As a
result, today more people than ever embrace our ideals and share our
interests. Already we have dismantled many of the blocks and barriers that
divided our parents' world. For the first time, more people live under
democracy than dictatorship including every nation in our own hemisphere
but one, and its day, too, will come.
Now we stand at another moment of change and choice, and another time to be
farsighted, to bring America 50 more years of security and prosperity.
In this endeavor, our first task is to help to build for the very first
time an undivided, democratic Europe. When Europe is stable, prosperous,
and at peace, America is more secure.
To that end, we must expand NATO by 1999, so that countries that were once
our adversaries can become our allies. At the special NATO summit this
summer, that is what we will begin to do. We must strengthen NATO's
Partnership for Peace with non-member allies. And we must build a stable
partnership between NATO and a democratic Russia.
An expanded NATO is good for America, and a Europe in which all democracies
define their future not in terms of what they can do to each other, but in
terms of what they can do together for the good of all--that kind of
Europe is good for America.
Second, America must look to the East no less than to the West.
Our security demands it. Americans fought three wars in Asia in this
Our prosperity requires it. More than 2 million American jobs depend upon
trade with Asia. There, too, we are helping to shape an Asia Pacific
community of cooperation, not conflict.
Let our--let our progress there not mask the peril that remains. Together
with South Korea, we must advance peace talks with North Korea and bridge
the Cold War's last divide. And I call on Congress to fund our share of the
agreement under which North Korea must continue to freeze and then
dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
We must pursue a deeper dialogue with China for the sake of our interests
and our ideals. An isolated China is not good for America. A China playing
its proper role in the world is. I will go to China, and I have invited
China's president to come here, not because we agree on everything, but
because engaging China is the best way to work on our common challenges,
like ending nuclear testing, and to deal frankly with our fundamental
differences, like human rights.
The American people must prosper in the global economy. We've worked hard
to tear down trade barriers abroad so that we can create good jobs at home.
I'm proud to say that today America is once again the most competitive
nation and the No. 1 exporter in the world.
Now we must act to expand our exports, especially to Asia and Latin
America, two of the fastest-growing regions on earth, or be left behind as
these emerging economies forge new ties with other nations. That is why we
need the authority now to conclude new trade agreements that open markets
to our goods and services even as we preserve our values.
We need not shrink from the challenge of the global economy. After all, we
have the best workers and the best products. In a truly open market, we can
out-compete anyone, anywhere on earth.
But this is about more than economics. By expanding trade, we can advance
the cause of freedom and democracy around the world. There is no better
example of this truth than Latin America where democracy and open markets
are on the march together. That is why I will visit there in the spring to
reinforce our important ties.
We should all be proud that America led the effort to rescue our neighbor,
Mexico, from its economic crisis. And we should all be proud that last
month Mexico repaid the United States, three full years ahead of schedule,
with half a billion dollar profit to us.
America must continue to be an unrelenting force for peace. From the Middle
East to Haiti, from Northern Ireland to Africa, taking reasonable risks for
peace keeps us from being drawn into far more costly conflicts later. With
American leadership, the killing has stopped in Bosnia. Now the habits of
peace must take hold.
The new NATO force will allow reconstruction and reconciliation to
accelerate. Tonight I ask Congress to continue its strong support of our
troops. They are doing a remarkable job there for America, and America must
do right by them.
Fifth, we must move strongly against new threats to our security. In the
past four years, we agreed to ban--we led the way to a worldwide agreement
to ban nuclear testing.
With Russia, we dramatically cut nuclear arsenals and we stopped targeting
each other's citizens. We are acting to prevent nuclear materials from
falling into the wrong hands, and to rid the world of land mines.
We are working with other nations with renewed intensity to fight drug
traffickers and to stop terrorists before they act and hold them fully
accountable if they do.
Now we must rise to a new test of leadership--ratifying the Chemical
Weapons Convention. Make no mistake about it, it will make our troops safer
from chemical attack. It will help us to fight terrorism. We have no more
important obligations, especially in the wake of what we now know about the
This treaty has been bipartisan from the beginning, supported by Republican
and Democratic administrations, and Republican and Democratic members of
Congress, and already approved by 68 nations. But if we do not act by April
the 29th, when this convention goes into force--with or without us--we
will lose the chance to have Americans leading and enforcing this effort.
Together we must make the Chemical Weapons Convention law so that at last
we can begin to outlaw poisoned gas from the earth.
Finally, we must have the tools to meet all these challenges. We must
maintain a strong and ready military. We must increase funding for weapons
modernization by the year 2000. And we must take good care of our men and
women in uniform. They are the world's finest.
We must also renew our commitment to America's diplomacy and pay our debts
and dues to international financial institutions like the World Bank--and
to a reforming United Nations. Every dollar--every dollar we devote to
preventing conflicts, to promoting democracy, to stopping the spread of
disease and starvation brings a sure return in security and savings. Yet
international affairs spending today is just 1 percent of the federal
budget, a small fraction of what America invested in diplomacy to choose
leadership over escapism at the start of the cold war.
If America is to continue to lead the world, we here who lead America
simply must find the will to pay our way. A farsighted America moved the
world to a better place over these last 50 years. And so it can be for
another 50 years. But a shortsighted America will soon find its words
falling on deaf ears all around the world.
Almost exactly 50 years ago in the first winter of the Cold War President
Truman stood before a Republican Congress and called upon our country to
meet its responsibilities of leadership. This was his warning. He said, "If
we falter, we may endanger the peace of the world, and we shall surely
endanger the welfare of this nation."
That Congress, led by Republicans like Senator Arthur Vandenburg, answered
President Truman's call. Together, they made the commitments that
strengthened our country for 50 years. Now let us do the same. Let us do
what it takes to remain the indispensable nation, to keep America strong,
secure and prosperous for another 50 years.
In the end, more than anything else, our world leadership grows out of the
power of our example here at home, out of our ability to remain strong as
All over the world people are being torn asunder by racial, ethnic and
religious conflicts that fuel fanaticism and terror. We are the world's
most diverse democracy, and the world looks to us to show that it is
possible to live and advance together across those kinds of differences.
America has always been a nation of immigrants.
From the start, a steady stream of people in search of freedom and
opportunity have left their own lands to make this land their home. We
started as an experiment in democracy fueled by Europeans. We have grown
into an experiment in democratic diversity fueled by openness and promise.
My fellow Americans, we must never, ever believe that our diversity is a
weakness; it is our greatest strength.
Americans speak every language, know every country. People on every
continent can look to us and see the reflection of their own great
potential, and they always will, as long as we strive to give all our
citizens, whatever their background, an opportunity to achieve their own
We're not there yet. We still see evidence of a biting bigotry and
intolerance in ugly words and awful violence, in burned churches and bombed
buildings. We must fight against this in our country and in our hearts.
Just a few days before my second inauguration, one of our country's
best-known pastors, Reverend Robert Schuller, suggested that I read Isaiah
58:12. Here's what it says: "Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many
generations, and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach, the
restorer of paths to dwell in."
I placed my hand on that verse when I took the oath of office, on behalf of
all Americans, for no matter what our differences in our faiths, our
backgrounds, our politics, we must all be repairers of the breach.
I want to say a word about two other Americans who show us how. Congressman
Frank Tejeda was buried yesterday, a proud American whose family came from
Mexico. He was only 51 years old. He was awarded the Silver Star, the
Bronze Star and the Purple Heart fighting for his country in Vietnam. And
he went on to serve Texas and America fighting for our future here in this
We are grateful for his service and honored that his mother, Lillie Tejeda,
and his sister, Mary Alice, have come from Texas to be with us here
tonight. And we welcome you. Thank you.
Gary Locke, the newly-elected governor of Washington state, is the first
Chinese-American governor in the history of our country. He's the proud son
of two of the millions of Asian American immigrants who strengthened
America with their hard work, family values and good citizenship.
He represents the future we can all achieve. Thank you, governor, for being
here. Please stand up.
Reverend Schuller, Congressman Tejeda, Governor Locke, along with Kristen
Tanner and Chris Getsla, Sue Winski and Dr. Kristen Zarfos--they're all
Americans from different roots whose lives reflect the best of what we can
become when we are one America.
We may not share a common past, but we surely do share a common future.
Building one America is our most important mission, the foundation for many
generations of every other strength we must build for this new century.
Money cannot buy it, power cannot compel it, technology cannot create it.
It can only come from the human spirit.
America is far more than a place; it is an idea--the most powerful idea in
the history of nations, and all of us in this chamber, we are now the
bearers of that idea, leading a great people into a new world.
A child born tonight will have almost no memory of the 20th century.
Everything that child will know about America will be because of what we do
now to build a new century. We don't have a moment to waste.
Tomorrow there will be just over 1,000 days until the year 2000. One
thousand days to prepare our people. One thousand days to work together.
One thousand days to build a bridge to a land of new promise.
My fellow Americans, we have work to do. Let us seize those days and the
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.