President Clinton's Remarks At A Girls Nation Event
July 17, 1998
CLINTON: Thank you very much. Thank you. Please be seated.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
I think I should take Janet Murgia (ph) with me wherever I go
to always introduce me.
I think she's a great advertisement for Girls Nation and
someday before long, a number of you will have these
opportunities as well.
I'd like to welcome your president, Lana Alvag (ph) and your
vice president, Jennifer Hall (ph) and thank Diane Dusec (ph)
and Barbara Kranick (ph) and the other members of the American
Legion Auxiliary for what they do for Girls Nation.
I hope you've had a very good week in Washington. Some of
you may know that this week, these two days here, the 35th
reunion class of my Boys Nation group is also meeting here.
And I happened to turn on the television last night to see
the Ted Koppel on NIGHTLINE was doing a two-day review of it.
And I thought to myself it wasn't all the long ago, but all of
us are aging rather gracefully.
Let me say to all of you, the people I met then, many of whom
had been my friends over all these 35 years, made me believe
that anything was possible.
President Kennedy spoke to us and made me believe that
together we could change world. I think that is certainly no
less true for you and your generation because you will live in
the time of greatest possibility in all human history.
If you think of the revolutionary changes that have taken
place just in the course of your still-relatively short
lifetimes. The Cold War that cast a shadow over my childhood
Technology has advanced at a breathtaking pace, fundamentally
altering the way all of us live and work and learn. A typical
laptop computer today has more computer power in it than the
world's largest supercomputer did in the year you were born.
Many of the barriers that kept women from making the most of
their potential and contributing their talents to our society
have fallen away.
Yesterday, the first lady was up in New York
commemorating the 150th anniversary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
and 68 other women and 32 brave men gathering in New York with
their statement of sentiments, with their 18 objections against
men in America, which included the fact that they did not have
the right to own property. Even the clothes married women had
on their backs belonged to their husbands 150 years ago.
They couldn't inherit; they didn't vote. And what a long way
we have come in the last 150 years, and in your lifetime. I met
my wife in law school when it was still a relatively unusual
thing to find a law school with any significant number of women
in it. Today, a lawyer in America is 12 times more likely to be
a woman than a lawyer was in 1963, when I came to Boys Nation.
Women are earning more college degrees than men. They
outnumber men in graduate school. Women-owned businesses are
growing faster than the national economy. Forty-one percent of
our administration's appointees, including the secretary of
state, the secretary of health and human services, the attorney
general, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency,
the secretary of labor, our trade ambassador, and many others
By far, the highest percentage of women in high positions in
any administration in the history of the United States. I look
forward to the day when I read in the newspaper that America's
new president has invited her own Girls Nation reunion class
back to the White House together.
In the meantime, we need to be working together to strengthen
our country for this new century, because it is a time of
dramatic change. Five and a half years ago, I came here to move
America in a new direction based on our old values of
opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and an American
community of all citizens.
We took a new direction in economic policy, in
education policy, in environmental policy, in welfare policy, in
health care policy, in crime policy, in foreign policy.
We also articulated a new role for government. We tried to
break through the debate that had been dominated Washington for
nearly 20 years -- some people saying government could solve all
our problems and others saying government was the source of all
of our problems. I had been a governor for a dozen years and I
thought the argument was frankly ridiculous. I thought that
neither extreme was true.
And we have sought to create a government whose primary role
is to create the conditions and give people the tools to solve
their own problems and make the most of their own lives and
build good lives, good families, good communities and a strong
The results have been, I think, quite good. America has the
lowest crime rate in 25 years, the lowest unemployment rate in
28 years, the smallest percentage of people on welfare in 29
years. We're about to have our first balanced budget and surplus
in 29 years, the lowest inflation rate in 32 years and the
highest home ownership in the history of the country.
We have also opened the doors of college to virtually every
American through our Hope Scholarships and other tax credits
for college education, through a better student loan program,
through more work-study positions and more Pell Grant
We have added five million people who were children to the
ranks of people with health insurance, or we're in the process
of doing that. We have the highest rates of childhood
immunization in history.
We have worked hard on the environment and the water is
cleaner, the air is cleaner, the food is safer, there are fewer
toxic waste dumps and we have put more land aside to preserve
forever than any administration in the history except those of
the two Roosevelts.
We started the AmeriCorps program and now have had almost a
hundred thousand young people like you, just a little older than
you, serving in their communities, earning money for college,
making America a better place.
With our America Reach program alone, which is designed to
get young college students to go in and help make sure all of
our third graders can read independently by the end of the third
grade, we now have 1,000 colleges participating.
And while all this has happened, we've actually reduced the
size of government. The federal government is now the smallest
it has been since I came here to meet President Kennedy 35 years
So I believe that this country is moving in the right
at after over 20 years of downhill movement, public
confidence in government and the role of government in our lives
is going back up again. I like that very much.
But I feel very strongly, and I think you are predicted -- if
you just read the paper you can see, I think, support for my
point of view -- that it is a grave mistake to say, OK, things
are going well in America and we don't need to do much. We
should just relax now.
Why? For two reasons. One is you will see the older you
get, no condition lasts forever. The good times don't last
forever but neither do the bad ones, and that's the good news.
Secondly, we are living in a very dynamic time. We are
enjoying the success that we are enjoying today partly because
the American people have been very aggressive. Because, you
know, we live in a country where citizens deserve most of the
credit. What we have done to get these impressive numbers,
again, is to create the right conditions, the right environment,
the right incentives for the American people then to take
advantage of it and go forward.
But we have to -- this is a very dynamic time. And there are
all kinds of difficulties and challenges out there.
So for America to sit back now would be a great
mistake. When times are good, but dynamic, that's the time to
bear down, to take on the big challenges, the long-term
challenges, the things that will effect your lifetime when you
begin to have children and you begin to do your work and you
begin to take full responsibility for the welfare of the
What are those things? Let me just mention a few of them.
Number one, I am the oldest of the baby boomers, the largest
generation of young people ever in -- to grow up accept the
generation of which you are the eldest.
As we -- for the last year, for the first time since I was
high school, we had a bigger group of children in kindergarten
through 12th grade than the baby boom generation.
Now what does that mean? It means, among other things, that
we if continue to retire at present trend and the birth rates
continue as they are and the immigration rates continue as they
are, by the time our baby boomers retire, we'll only have about
two people working for every one person eligible for Social
And that is unsustainable. Medicare would be unsustainable.
So what's the answer? The answer is to find a way to preserve
these fundamental programs that have lifted the elderly out of
poverty and given dignity and strength to our professed family
values in a way that does not bankrupt our children and
Everybody I know my age is obsessed with the idea that we
must not have the cost of our retirement be lowering your
standard of living, be undermining your ability to raise your
Now if we're going to have a surplus, we ought to make sure
we've got a long-term plan to save Social Security before we
squander that surplus on tax cuts, which may be very popular in
the short run, but which may leave us with a terrible problem
that will cost us a lot more than you could ever get in a small
tax cut by the time you have to be taking responsibility for
your parents retirement and your children's education.
And we should do it now, when times are good and we're
projecting a surplus.
Number two, we should recognize that while we have the best
system of higher education in the world, no one believes our
schools are yet the best in the world.
And we should take advantage of this moment to make sure all
American young people have access to world class education with
higher standards, with technology that hooks up every American
classroom, to the Internet and all the riches that it holds, by
the year 2000, with smaller classes and with more access to more
constructive choices through things like the charter school
movement, which is very prominent in many of your states.
Number three, we should recognize that the
environmental challenges we have are real and global. If there
is anybody here from Florida, and I'm sure there is, if you --
if you -- all the rest of us had been watching those fires I
went down and saw, and flew over those areas that had been
burned up. Florida had the wettest fall and the winter they had
ever had. They had the driest spring they had ever had, and in
the month of June in Florida was the hottest month in the
history of the state, hotter than any July or August.
And in Florida, that's saying something. There is ample
evidence now that what my wonderful vice president has been
saying for years and years and years is true -- that the climate
of the globe is warming at a rate which is unsustainable, which
will lead us to more extreme weather conditions.
We now have records going back over 500 years which we can
use to measure what the temperature was on this planet. The
five hottest years ever recorded have been in the 1990s.
Nineteen ninety-seven was the hottest year on record, 1998 is
going to be hotter, if it continues. A big part of the problem
is the way countries get rich with their use of energy.
We have to prove -- and by the way, we can prove -- that we
can grow the economy and improve the environment at the same
time. The young people of this country, without regard to their
other differences, of region and political party and philosophy,
by and large, are much more committed to this proposition than
older people are.
Young people -- I find even young people in grade school are
just instinctive environmentalists. We are depending on you to
provide the phalanx of brain power and voting power to move
America to the proposition that we can preserve our environment
and grow the economy.
Next, we have to prove that we can bring the benefits of this
new economy to people who don't have it yet.
Believe it or not, there are still some urban
neighborhoods that have unemployment rates above 10 percent,
some above 15 percent, while the national unemployment rate is
below 5 percent.
If you talk to the delegates here from North Dakota, where
they're having a collapse of farm prices in the aftermath of a
terrible, terrible set of natural disasters all through the high
plains, it's hard -- you could walk down the street in a lot of
towns in North Dakota and they'd have a hard time believing
we're got the strongest economy in a generation.
If any of you've ever been on a Native American reservation
that doesn't have a lot of money from gaming enterprises, you
know that there are still an awful lot of the first Americans
who have received no tangible benefit from this economic growth.
Now that the economy is strong we should be working to
implement strategies that will bring this growth to them, to
make that all Americans feel that they're a part of our future.
Just two more things quickly. Over the long run we have got
to prove that we can be one America. I like it, I look around
this room, I see all of you come from different racial and
ethnic and religious backgrounds.
That's a great, great advantage to America in a global
society, a global economy.
Look around the world at all the problems we have that are
based on racial, ethnic and religious differences.
Why did those three little children have to die in that fire
bomb in Ireland a few days ago? Because somebody just cannot
give up the idea that they ought to fight till the end of time
over their religious differences.
Why can we not achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East?
What is it at the root of the problem in Bosnia, in Kosovo? Why
did hundreds of thousands of people die in Rwanda in a matter of
days in 1994? All over the world you see this.
If America wants to do good in a world like that, we must be
good at home.
We must be able to live in all our communities like
you're working and living together here, and you can lead the
way on that. It is very important that we continue, finally, to
be engaged in the world.
That's why I went to China even though some people said I
shouldn't. Not because we agree with everything the Chinese do,
but because we respect the progress they have made in the last
several years and because they are going to be the biggest
country in the world and it is much better if we work with them
to try to build the kind of role we want than if we're forced
into a situation of continuous conflict and estrangement.
And I feel a moral obligation to you and your future and your
children to try to create that kind of world. But first, the
power of the American example is important.
And you must never forget that.
Now against that background, you need to evaluate everything
we're doing here -- how we're doing to keep America working
today. Are we dealing with the long term challenges of the
Every issue should be evaluated in that context. One of the
things that's most troubling to me is that we have the best
health care in the world, but we don't have the best health care
system in the world and we don't have the healthiest people in
the world partly because of institutional problems.
One we've been talking about is the necessity to pass the
Patients Bill of Rights so we get the benefit of managed care
without the burden of having accountants make decisions doctors
should make in the medical area.
Another big problem we have is probably that the most
prominent health problem your generation faces is the problem of
the epidemic of teen smoking, with 3,000 young people starting
to smoke every day.
A thousand will have their lives shortened as a result of it.
More people die from smoking than -- than accidents and murders
and AIDS and other unrelated maladies put together in this
So it is a very, very serious problem.
I have been working very hard now for a long time to pass
legislation that will raise the price of cigarettes, give the
FDA the authority to regulate tobacco as a drug, stop the
marketing of cigarettes to teenagers, launch new anti-smoking
research and education drives, protect the tobacco farmers in
their communities, and use the money to pay for health care and
medical research, education and child care and any tax cuts that
the Congress wanted to pass so it didn't affect our surplus and
our commitment to save Social Security.
Now, right now our legislative drive has been stalled in the
face of a $40-million advertising campaign by the tobacco
companies that has been unanswered by the public health
advocates because they don't have that kind of money. But the
facts are clear, and if we keep working I think we will prevail
on the issue.
Why? Well, the main reason is the evidence that the tobacco
companies themselves have given us about the dangers of smoking
and their strategy. We now have, as a result of all these
lawsuits, internal tobacco company documents that show that even
as they publicly denied that nicotine was addictive, they
conducted secret research in their labs, devised secret
marketing strategies in their boardrooms to addict children to
smoking for life and they knew exactly what they were doing.
How do we know it? Again, look at the documents that they,
themselves, have produced in the court cases. These documents
tell us in the tobacco companies' own words how children and
minorities became the primary targets they saw as new customers.
There are memos admitting in plain English, for example, "The
base of our business is the high school student."
Memos saying, quote, "Creating a fad in the 14- to
20-year-old market can be a great bonanza." And even as they
insisted that young people were off-limits for advertising, one
company document from 1984 recommended targeting younger adult
smokers as the only source of replacement smokers in the future.
Well, children are the future of America, not the
future of the tobacco companies. And that future should not go
up in smoke. These documents contain a treasure trove of
information that can be used to save lives. Public health
experts can design more effective anti-smoking strategies by
studying the marketing plans of the cigarette companies.
Scientists can look to documents for findings that can aid
their research into nicotine addiction and tobacco-related
illnesses. And all Americans can understand the role the
industry has played in hooking our children to the habit of
There are tens of millions of pages of these documents.
While some of them are already on the Internet, most are stored
in depositories all across our nation, and as far away as
England. They aren't easy to find.
So I've decided to use this moment with you to show you one
thing that the president can do with executive authority that
has nothing to do with legislative action in Congress. I am
directing the secretary of health and human services to report
back to me in 90 days with a plan to make these documents more
accessible to all Americans. So anybody that can get on the
Internet can get them all and can understand them all.
The plan should include a strategy for indexing them and for
making that index widely available through both the Internet and
other methods. It should also have a strategy for broad and
rigorous analysis of the information contained in all these
I'm also pleased that the attorney general will file a brief
in support of the state of Minnesota's efforts to make the
tobacco industry's own currently existing index to all these
millions of documents available to the general public.
We must lift the veil of secrecy on the tobacco industry so
that all Americans understand that there is an epidemic of teen
smoking, and how it came about. Let us use the darkest secrets
of the industry to save a new generation of children from this
habit, and to help us fight and win.
This administration and many of our nation's leaders are
working to make sure that this challenge, along with these
larger, longer-term challenges that I've mentioned, education,
climate change, Social Security, do not become intractable (ph)
problems of your future.
I don't want your generation of Americans to have to face a
problem like the magnitude of the deficit that I faced here when
we took office.
I can tell you that the tougher problems are, the
harder the resolution is and the more controversial the
resolution is and the more painful the price to pay is.
We had to make a lot of tough decisions in 1993 to get that
deficit under control. And a lot of brave members of Congress
lost their seats in Congress because they voted for an economic
program in 1993, the benefits of which were not apparent in 1994
when they were up.
But when we got ready to pass the Balanced Budget Act of 1997
on a bipartisan basis -- guess what. Over 92 percent of the
deficit had already disappeared because of what had been done in
The best thing for a smart country to do is to take these
challenges when they come up and deal with them quickly, looking
to the long run, not waiting for those things to fester and
become infected and become a wound in the nation's psyche.
That's what we're trying to do here. That's why I think
programs like Girls Nation are so important because they enlist
people in the work of citizenship as a disciplined habit, not as
something that you think about when an emergency comes along.
I hope you will be able to do that to your friends and your
neighbors and your family members when you go home.
I hope you will always continued now to help raise awareness
of the issues you care about and propose solutions to them. I
hope you will always continue to lobby your elected leaders and
to participate until you become one. Our democracy is only as
strong as its citizens.
Think about this when you go home. Our founders did a
revolutionary thing. They created a whole country based on the
idea -- at the time totally unheard of -- that God gave every
person in equal portion -- every person in equal portion -- the
right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
They said we've got to create this government because there's
no way we can individually protect and enhance these rights.
That's why we're doing this.
And then they gave us, all of us, every American until time
immemorial, a mission. They said we must work together to form
a more perfect union. They were really smart, those guys.
They were really smart. They understood that every
generation would have its own challenges. They understand the
work of liberty would never be over. They understood all that.
They understood it all. And they gave us a permanent mission.
And keep in mind, they created a limited government, which means
that in this country the most important players will always be
the citizens. As great as the leaders are, and all the
monuments you've seen to our great leaders around this city
since you've been here this week, none of them could have
accomplished anything if the people hadn't said OK, we agree,
we'll do our part.
So, again I say, you've had a remarkable opportunity this
week to learn more about how your country works. You have
yourselves been good citizen servants by doing it. You've had a
chance to manifest your love in America and your belief in
For the rest of your life, I hope you'll do what you can to
make our union more perfect.
Good luck and God bless you.
CLINTON: Thank you.
Now, I'm just going to go sign this order and I'm going to
ask your president and vice president to stand with me, and then
I'm going to turn the microphone over to them.
CLINTON: Well, I'll answer questions. But let's do -- let
us finish the program and then I'll answer a few questions.
That will be fun for them. They'll see a little press
OK. You've got the floor.
(UNKNOWN): Mr. President, we are absolutely thrilled and
honored that you chose to take the time from your highly
demanding schedule to meet with us today. And on behalf of
Girls Nation, I'd just like to present this small token...
... of our appreciation.
CLINTON: Thank you. That's wonderful. Thank you.
(UNKNOWN): Mr. President, distinguished senators, ladies and
gentlemen, it is my honor as the president of the 1998 Girls
Nation session to present to you the legislation that the Senate
of the 19989 Girls Nation has passed. It represents a wide
variety of issues and many of our states.
CLINTON: This is the largest legislative package that's
passed in Washington so far this year.
And I thank you very much. Thank you.
Thank you. I will have our people review this...
... for good ideas.
Now, go ahead, Helen, first. We'll take two or three
questions. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you think that the court rulings are
jeopardizing the duties of the Secret Service?
CLINTON: Well, they believe -- that is, the Treasury
Department and the Secret Service -- based on their experience,
not just with me but with all the presidents in the
institutional memory of the Secret Service -- they believe that.
And so they are determined to pursue it, and the
attorney general has agreed to represent them in that. But that
is their professional judgment. I have decided that it would be
inappropriate for me to express an opinion and I have not done
so. And I believe that I should stay out of it. But they have a
very strong professional opinion about it, and they are pursuing
I do have an opinion -- I have an opinion, I have a legal
opinion, and I have a personal opinion, but I think that it's
not -- I think it's important, and I think it would be
completely inappropriate for me to be involved in this. I want
the American people to understand that notwithstanding what some
have said and others have implied, this was a decision that came
out of the Secret Service about which they feel very strongly.
And these people risk their lives to protect me, and other
presidents, in a professional way, not a political way. And I
-- they have strong convictions; they have manifested those
convictions. The attorney general has determined that there is
sufficient legal merit in their position that they ought to be
represented, and they are pursuing their case, which they have a
right to do.
And I believe that they should speak for themselves, and I
should not interject myself into it.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) to the ruling yesterday by the appeals
court, and specifically, the opinion of one judge, when he said
that the White House had effectively declared war on the
CLINTON: Well, you know, I think you have to consider the
source of that comment.
And that is simply not true. I mean, that -- the judge
should -- can have a right to his legal opinion about what the
Treasury Department and the Justice Department said, but I have
told you that this case is about their professional judgment
about what's necessary to do their job. And I have not --
neither I nor the White House has been involved in it in any
way, shape or form, nor will we. Nor will I complicate it by
commenting further on what he said.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) don't believe that the White House
CLINTON: Well, in a larger sense -- in a larger sense, I'm
spoken for on that by Mr. Kendall. I think the facts speak for
themselves. I think -- again, I say, you've got to consider the
source of that comment.
QUESTION: The trade deficit in May was up around $15
billion. Are you willing to overlook that while the Asian
financial crisis (OFF-MIKE) itself out?
CLINTON: Well, I don't think -- no, I don't think we should
overlook it. I think -- I think it ought to prompt us to
action. But, let's understand why the trade deficit is so large.
The trade deficit is large because we live in a
integrated global economy and our economy has been strong while
the Asian economy has been in trouble.
What does that mean? When they're economy's in trouble, the
value of their currency goes down. What does that mean? That
means that compared to yesterday if their currency goes down,
their money's worth less than ours in the same amounts.
That means it becomes their goods that they sell to us become
cheaper and it means our goods that we would sell to them become
more expensive. Almost the entire increase in the trade deficit
is due to the Asian economic trouble, which is why, since
January, I have been saying, we should make our proper
contribution to the International Monetary Fund to promote
economic reform and economic recovery in Asia.
And the fact that we have not done so is endangering the
livelihood of American farmers and American factory workers
because we are not making the exports, especially to Asia, that
we otherwise could be making if those economies were coming
And a critical part of that is our contribution to the
International Monetary Fund. So we should not ignore it
because, as I said in the State of the Union Address way back in
January, our welfare is tied to the welfare of Asia.
We've got 16 million new jobs in the last five and a half
years. Thirty percent of our economic growth is due to exports.
A significant area of export growth has been Asia.
That's why I worked hard in -- the other big area of real
growth has been in Latin America. And what I tried to do is to
head these things off. You may remember a couple of years ago
when we moved in aggressively to help Mexico when their economy
was in trouble.
And a lot of people criticized that. But Mexico
paid back their loan ahead of schedule and at profit to the
United States and they are now a functioning economic partner
with us again. That's what we need in Asia.
So the American people should be concerned about this, but we
should know that there is a disciplined answer with (ph) it
We need to restore growth in Japan, restore growth in Asia.
And our major goal here for our own actions should be to pay our
fair share to the International Monetary Fund so we can support
economic recovery so they can afford to buy our products and so
there's some greater parity in the prices of our products.
Meanwhile, what you see is a product of the strength, not the
weakness of the American economy.
QUESTION: What do you think of the speaker's proposal to use
the budget surplus for big tax cuts?
CLINTON: I think, first of all, let's remember how we got
where we are. We got the strength of economy to the point where
it is now by being determined to bring down the deficit until we
balanced the budget, by expanding trade to sell more American
products around the world, and by investing in education, in
training, in technology, in scientific research. Those are the
engines of our economic recovery.
Now, we have not had a balanced budget for 29 years. And
now, before we've had the first year, the first year of a
surplus, to be talking about spending hundreds of billions of
dollars on a tax cut based on projected surpluses that may or
may not materialize, before we have spent the first dollar to
save Social Security so that you aren't going to have to support
your parents in a way that diminishes your standard of living, I
think is a mistake.
So I'll got back to my position. I think we should save
Social Security first.
That's (ph) material. Let's show the American
people this balanced budget. Let's show the American people
this surplus. Let's try to keep this economy going and get our
growth going. And when we have passed a plan to save Social
Security, let's see what it costs and then make a decision on
the tax issue.
But let -- you know, we don't want to count our chickens
before they hatch. Now, the end of the fiscal year here is
September the 30th. And it's now projected that we'll have a
$63 billion surplus.
And I honestly hope we do. But it wouldn't do any harm to
rack one up before we start spending it.
We had 29 years of deficits. Between 1981 and 1983 (sic), in
12 years alone, we increased by four times the total debt of the
United States. We quadrupled the debt of the United States in
12 years that we'd amassed in the previous 200. It won't do us
any harm to take one year and enjoy the fact that we've balanced
our books, ran up a surplus and plan to save Social Security.
That will not do us any harm. It will keep our economy
stronger. And it's better for America's future.
Thank you very much.