Prayer Breakfasts – Bill Clinton
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 4, 1993
Thank you very much. Congressman Emerson and distinguished guests at the head table; to my friend Reverend Billy Graham and Ruth; and to all those who have given such moving presentations. This has been a wonderful morning, I think, for all of us.
When I heard Wentley Phipps recounting our first, rather awkward meeting, I thought that I would admit to being Governor of Alabama just to hear him sing. [Laughter]
My mind has been full of memories this morning. I helped to start the first Governor’s prayer breakfast in my State; it became a very important part of our life there. And every year I had the pleasure of delegating two Arkansans, one a clergyman or -woman and one a citizen, to come to this wonderful event.
I thought about the first time I ever saw Billy Graham—appropriate to mention now. He came in the 1950’s, in the heat of all our racial trouble, to Arkansas to have a crusade. And the white citizens council tried to get him, because of the tensions of the moment, to agree to segregate his crusade in the fifties in the South. And he said, “If I have to do that, I’m not coming.” And I remember I got a Sunday school teacher in my church—and I was about 11 years old—to take me 50 miles to Little Rock so I could hear a man preach who was trying to live by what he said. And then I remember, for a good while thereafter, trying to send a little bit of my allowance to the Billy Graham crusade because of the impression he made on me then.
I am honored that all of you are here not for a political purpose. We come here to seek the help and guidance of our Lord, putting aside our differences, as men and women who freely acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. And we come here seeking to restore and renew and strengthen our faith.
In this town, as much as any place on the face of the Earth, we need that. We need faith as a source of strength. “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen,” the Scripture says. What it means to me is that here, if we have enough faith, in spite of all the pressures to the contrary, we can define ourselves from the inside out, in a town where everybody tries to define you from the outside in.
We need our faith as a source of hope because it teaches us that each of us is capable of redemption and, therefore, that progress is possible—not perfection, for all the reasons Reverend Graham said, but progress. We need our faith as a source of challenge because if we read the Scriptures carefully, it teaches us that all of us must try to live by what we believe or, in more conventional terms, to live out the admonition of President Kennedy that here on Earth God’s work must truly be our own.
But perhaps most important of all for me, we need our faith, each of us, President, Vice President, Senator, Congressman, General, Justice, as a source of humility, to remember that, as Bishop Sheen said, we are all sinners. St. Paul once said in an incredibly moving Scripture in the Bible, “The very thing which I would not do, that I do, and that which I would, that I do not.” And even more, not only because we do wrong but because we don’t always know what is right.
In funerals and weddings and other important ceremonies, you often hear that wonderful verse from Corinthians cited: “Now abideth faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.” But the important thing is often left out, which is the verse above. Why is the greatest of these love? Because “now I see through a glass, darkly … now I know only in part.” None of us know all that we need to know to do what we need to do.
I have always been touched by the living example of Jesus Christ and moved particularly by all the religious leaders of His day who were suspicious of Him and always trying to trap Him because He was so at ease with the hurting and the hungry and the lonely and, yes, the sinners. And in one of those marvelous attempts to trick Christ, He was asked, “What is the greatest Commandment?” And He answered, quoting Moses, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And then He added, as we should add, “This is the great and foremost Commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Just 2 weeks and a day ago, I took the oath of office as President. You know the last four words, for those who choose to say it in this way, are “so help me God.” And the Chief Justice was giving me the oath, and I was trying to remember the words. And I said, you know, when I get to the end I’m going to think of the ringing voice of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and the Roosevelts and Kennedy and all the other great Presidents through the ages, and I will say “so help me God” with all the strength at my command. And I did. But deep down inside I wanted to say it the way I was thinking it, which was, “So, help me, God.” [Laughter]
So today my prayer for you as we begin this great new adventure, and I pray that your prayer for me, will be that God will help us to have the strength to define ourselves from the inside out, not the outside in, to have the hope that it takes never to give up and the determination it takes always to make progress in an imperfect world and the humility to walk by faith and not by sight.
Remarks at a White House Interfaith Breakfast
August 30, 1993
Thank you. Thank you very much. I want to once again, as the First Lady did, welcome all of you to the White House on behalf of Vice President and Mrs. Gore and Hillary and myself. We’re delighted to have you all here.
We wanted to make this new beginning by beginning with a group of religious leaders from all faiths and parts of our country to come here today as we rededicate ourselves to the purposes for which we’re called here.
I wanted to make just a couple of brief remarks. We’ve had an immensely interesting conversation at our table about some of the things which are dividing Americans of faith as well as those which are uniting them. I would say to you that I am often troubled as I try hard here to create a new sense of common purpose. All during the election I would go across the country and say that we’re all in this together. Unless we can find strength in our diversity, our diversity of race, our diversity of income, our diversity of region, our diversity of religious conviction, we cannot possibly meet the challenges before us. That does not mean, in my view, that we have to minimize our diversity, pretend that we don’t have deep convictions, or run away from our honest disagreements. It means that we must find a way to talk with respect with one another about those things with which we disagree and to find that emotional as well as the intellectual freedom to work together when we can.
A couple of days ago, when I was on vacation—let me say, the most important religious comment made to me this morning was that several of you gave me dispensation for my vacation. You said I did not need to feel any guilt for taking a little time off, so I appreciate that. [Laughter] But I bought a book on vacation called “The Culture of Disbelief ” by Stephen Carter, a professor at our old alma mater, Hillary’s and mine, at the Yale Law School. He is himself a committed Christian, very dedicated to the religious freedoms of all people of faith, of any faith, in the United States. And the subtitle of the book is “How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion.” And I would urge you all to read it from whatever political as well as religious spectrum you have because at least it lays a lot of these issues out that I am trying to grapple with.
Sometimes I think the environment in which we operate is entirely too secular. The fact that we have freedom of religion doesn’t mean we need to try to have freedom from religion. It doesn’t mean that those of us who have faith shouldn’t frankly admit that we are animated by the faith, that we try to live by it, and that it does affect what we feel, what we think, and what we do.
On the other hand, it is very important that, as Americans, we approach this whole area with a certain amount of humility, that we be careful when we say that because we seek to know and do God’s will, God is on our side and therefore against our opponent. That is important for two reasons. One is, we might be wrong. [Laughter] After all, we’re only human. The other is that the thing that has kept us together over time is that our Constitution and Bill of Rights gives us all the elbow room to seek to do God’s will in our own life and that of our families and our communities, and that means that there will be inevitable conflicts; so that there will never be a time when everything that we think is wrong can also be illegal. There will always be some space there because there will have to be some room for Americans of good faith to disagree.
I think we need to find areas where we can agree and work together on. The restoration of religious freedoms acts is a very important issue to me personally. And this administration is committed to seeing it through successfully. And I think virtually every person of faith in this country, without regard to their party or philosophy or convictions on other issues, agrees with that. So we are hopeful that that will happen. But there must be other areas in which we can meet together and talk together and work together and frankly acknowledge our agreements and our disagreements.
If people of faith treat issues about which they disagree as nothing more than a cause for a screaming match, then we also trivialize religion in our country. And we undermine the ability to approach one another with respect and trust and faith. And I say that not just to those who disagree with me on some of the particularly contentious issues but also to those who agree with me. Every person in this country who seeks to know and do the will of his or her Creator is entitled to respect for that effort. That is a difficult job, difficult to know, even harder to do. That is hard work.
But people that have that level of depth, that aren’t totally carried away by the secular concerns of the moment must, it seems to me, find a way to talk and work with one another if we’re ever going to push the common good. We can’t pass a health care program without a conviction that this is in the common interest, that over the long run we will all win. If this becomes some battle where I’m trying to slay some dragon of special interest and that’s all it is, we’ll never get where we want to go. The American people have to open their hearts as well as their minds and figure out, this is this horrible problem. We have to solve it. But we have to solve it in a way that enables us to be united together.
We can’t work our way through a lot of these economic problems unless we frankly admit that we’re moving into a new age where no one has all the answers. We may have to modify, all of us, our specific policy positions. But our goal should be to enable every person who lives in this country to live up to his or her Godgiven potential. And if we look at it that way and frankly admit we’re in a new and different era, then we can go forward.
We can’t possibly do anything for anybody in this country unless they’re willing to also do something for themselves. There has to be a new ethic of personal and family and community responsibility in this country that should unite people across the lines of different faiths and even different political philosophies. And the people of faith in this country ought to be able to say that, so that if you say that you’ve got to have that sort of revitalization at the grassroots, person by person, that the Democrats can feel comfortable with saying that; no one says, “Oh, you’re just being a rightwinger.” It’s just simply true, it is self-evidently true: You cannot change somebody’s life from the outside in unless there is also some change from the inside out.
So these are the kinds of things that I’ve had a lot of time to think about over the last few days. And I have felt in the last several months during my Presidency that we oftentimes get so caught up in the battle of the moment, the heat of the moment—how are you going to answer this charge and make that change or deal with this difficulty—that sometimes we forget that we are all in this because we are seeking a good that helps all Americans. There must be some sense of common purpose and common strength and, ultimately, an end which helps us all, that revels in the fact that there are people who honestly disagree about the most fundamental issues but can still approach one another with real respect, without assuming that if you disagree on issue X or Y, you’ve jumped off the moral and political cliff and deserve to be banished to some faraway place.
So I wanted to have you here today because I wanted you to hear this direct from your President. I wanted to ask you to continue to pray for me and for our administration, and I wanted to invite you to be part of an ongoing dialog, which we will come back to all of you later on, talk about how we can continue to involve people who care about their citizenship as well as about their relationship to their God and how we can work through these things.
There are no easy answers to this. The Founding Fathers understood that; that’s why they wanted us to have the first amendment. There are no simple solutions. But I am convinced that we are in a period of historic significance, profound change here in this country and throughout the world and that no one is wise enough to see to the end of all of it, that we have to be guided by a few basic principles and an absolute conviction that we can recreate a common good in America.
But it’s hard for me to take a totally secular approach to the fact that there are cities in this country where the average murderer is now under the age of 16. Now, there may not be a religious answer to the policy question of whether it’s a good thing that all these kids can get their hands on semiautomatic weapons. But there certainly is something that is far more than secular about what is happening to a country where we are losing millions of our young people and where they shoot each other with abandon and now often shoot total strangers for kicks, shoot at them when they are swimming in the swimming pool in the summertime.
So I believe that we have enormous possibilities. I think we have enormous problems. There will always be some areas of profound disagreement. What I would ask you today to do is to, as I said, to pray for us as we go forward, to be willing to engage in this dialog, to reach out to others who may disagree with us on particular issues and bring them into the family of America, and to give us a chance to find common ground so that we can build a common good and do what all of us in our own way are required to do. For I believe that each of us has a ministry in some way that we must play out in life and with a certain humility but also with deep determination.
So I thank you for being here. This has been a wonderful morning for me and for all of us. And I ask you to think about these things and to be willing to continue to engage in this dialog. We have a lot of work to do to lift this country up and to pull this country together and to push this country into the 21st century. And we have serious responsibilities beyond our borders. Every day there is some good news in the press about that—some of you have been talking about the Middle East, how many times we thought we had good news and been disappointed, but better than the bad—and every day there is some frustration. So we have to go forward with a much deeper sense of shared values and togetherness toward the common good than we’ve had so far. That is what I seek to do and what I ask for your prayers and guidance and support and involvement, active involvement, to achieve.
Thank you very much.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 3, 1994 (President’s remarks at 1:25:00 minute mark)
Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Senator Stevens. Ladies and gentlemen, you have to forgive me; my voice has not quite returned. The Vice President said earlier that being on the same program with Mother Teresa reminded him of the basketball player who scored one point in a game where Michael Jordan scored 68, and then he said for the rest of his life, “Well, we scored 69 points together.” I feel like the guy who comes in with 5 seconds left to go with—the team’s gotten a 40-point lead, and all I have to do is hold the ball until the buzzer rings. [Laughter]
First of all, I thank you, Mother Teresa, for your moving words and more importantly for the lifetime of commitment, for you have truly lived by what you say, something we would all do well to emulate, and I thank you for that.
Like all of you, I was so moved by the profession of faith and the experiences of Mother Teresa that almost anything that any of us could say would be anticlimactic. However, I would like to make these points as briefly as I can, for we come here to pray for those in authority, those given, by the people of the United States under our Constitution and laws, responsibility and the opportunity of making decisions every day which affect all of us.
First, I say that this prayer breakfast is an important time to reaffirm that in this Nation where we have freedom of religion, we need not seek freedom from religion. The genius of the book which I have promoted almost shamelessly for the last several months, “The Culture of Disbelief,” by Professor Stephen Carter, is that very point, that we should all seek to know and to do God’s will, even when we differ.
Second, if we really seek to do that, it requires certain personal characteristics that, very frankly, all of us in this room who have ever been elected to anything have abandoned from time to time, including me. It requires first that we be humble, that we know that even as we seek to do God’s will, we remember what President Lincoln said, “The Almighty has his own purposes, and we are not capable of fully knowing them.” It requires, second, that we be honest and that we be fair. Sometimes I think the commandment we most like to overlook in this city is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Third, it requires that we give our bitterness and our resentments up.
I was thinking of this when Mother Teresa told the story of the person who died in her arms saying simply, “Thank you,” not “I’m cold, I’m hungry,” a simple thank-you; someone with more cause to be resentful, more cause to be bitter, more cause to be angry than anyone in this room could ever be bitter or angry or resentful because of what one of us has said or done to the other, and still dying with a simple thank-you. Somehow we all have to give up our resentments. We have to find the courage and the faith to forgive ourselves and to forgive our foes. And if we cannot, we will surely fail.
Finally, that will permit us to do what Mother Teresa has done, to focus every day on other people. If Christ said we would all be judged by how we treated the least of these—the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the strangers, the imprisoned—how can we meet that test in a town where we all spend so much time obsessed with ourselves and how we stand on the totem pole and how we look in the morning paper? Five years from now, it will be nothing. Five hundred years from now, the papers will be dust. And all that will endure is the strength and the integrity and the beauty of what we felt and what we did.
Today this headline is in our papers: “Nineteen Children Found Amid Squalor in Chicago Apartment,” not in Calcutta but in Chicago, 19 children living amid human waste and cockroaches, fighting a dog for food.
I say to you, we will always have our differences; we will never know the whole truth. Of course, that is true. But if we have learned today, again, that we must seek to know the will of God and live by it, that to do it we have to give up our bitterness and our resentment, we have to learn to forgive ourselves and one another, and we have to fight, as hard as it is, to be honest and fair, and if we can be focused on others and not ourselves, realizing that we did not get one whit of power from the Constitution and laws from the framers to do anything for ourselves, it all comes for the purpose of helping others, then perhaps we can do honor to the faith and to the God who has brought us all here today.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 2, 1995
Thank you, Martin Lancaster, for your incredible devotion to this prayer breakfast and for all the work you have done to make it a success. To Vice President and Mrs. Gore and to the Members of Congress and the Supreme Court, the Governors, the distinguished leaders of previous administrations, and of course, to all of our foreign guests who are here and my fellow Americans: Hillary and I look forward to this day every year with much anticipation. It always gives me new energy and new peace of mind. But today has been a special day for me.
It’s always wonderful to see our friend Billy Graham back here. This is the 40th of 43 prayer breakfasts he has attended. I’d say he’s been faithful to this as he has to everything else in his life, and we are all the richer for it.
It was wonderful to be with Andy Young again. He stayed with us last evening at the White House, and we relived some old times and talked about the future. None of us could fail to be moved today by the power of his message, the depth of his love for his wonderful wife, who blessed so many of us with her friendship. And I’m sure he inspired us all.
I also want to say a special word of thanks to my friend Janice Sjostrand for coming here all the way from Arkansas. You know, one of the greatest things about being Governor of my State is I got to hear her sing about once a month instead of once in a blue moon. And I miss you, and I’m glad to hear you today. Thank you.
We have heard a lot of words today of great power. There is very little I can add to them. But let me say that, in this age, which the Speaker of the House is always reminding us is the information age—an exciting time; a time of personal computers, not mainframes; a time when we are going to be judged by how smart we work, not just how hard we work—the power of words is greater than ever before. So by any objective standard the problems we face today, while profound, are certainly not greater than they were in the Great Depression, or in the Second World War, or when Mr. Lincoln made those statements when he left his home in Illinois to become President that Governor Engler quoted, or when George Washington suffered defeat after defeat until, finally, we were able to win by persistence our freedom. No, they are not, these times, as difficult as they are, more difficult than those.
What makes them more difficult is the power of words, the very source of our liberation, of all of our possibility and all of our potential for growth. The communications revolution gives words not only the power to lift up and liberate, the power to divide and destroy as never before—just words—to darken our spirits and weaken our resolve, divide our hearts. So I say, perhaps the most important thing we should take out of Andy Young’s wonderful message about what we share in common is the resolve to clear our heads and our hearts and to use our words more to build up and unify and less to tear down and divide.
We are here because we are all the children of God, because we know we have all fallen short of God’s glory, because we know that no matter how much power we have, we have it but for a moment. And in the end, we can only exercise it well if we see ourselves as servants, not sovereigns.
We see sometimes the glimmer of this great possibility: When, after hundreds of years, the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland decide that it may be time to stop killing each other; when after 27 years, Nelson Mandela walks out of his jail cell and a couple of years later is the President of a free country from a free election; when we see the miraculous reaching out across all the obstacles in the Middle East. God must have been telling us something when he created the three great monotheistic religions of the world in one little patch and then had people fight with each other for every century after that. Maybe we have seen the beginning of the end of that, in spite of all the difficulty. But it never happened unless the power of words become instruments of elevation and liberation.
So we must work together to tear down barriers, as Andy Young has worked his whole life. We must do it with greater civility. In Romans, St. Paul said, “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all; do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.” There’s not a person in this room that hasn’t failed in that admonition, including me. But I’m going to leave here today determined to live more by it.
And we must finally be humble, all of us, in whatever position we have not only because, as Andy reminded us, we’re just here for a little while, not only in our positions but on this Earth, but because we know, as St. Paul said in Corinthians, that we see through a glass darkly and we will never see clearly until our life is over. We will never have the full truth, the whole truth. Even the facts, as Andy said—I thought that was a brilliant thing—the flesh and blood of our lives, the facts we think we know, even they do not tell us the whole truth. The mystery of life.
So, my fellow Americans and my fellow citizens of the world, let us leave this place renewed, in a spirit of civility and humility, and a determination not to use the power of our words to tear down.
I was honored to say in the State of the Union last week that none of us can change our yesterdays, but all of us can change our tomorrows. That, surely, is the wisdom of the message we have heard on this day.
Lastly, let me ask you to pray for the President that he will have the wisdom to change when he is wrong, the courage to stay the course when he is right, and somehow, somehow, the grace of God not to use the power of words at a time in human history when words are more omnipresent and more powerful than ever before to divide and to destroy but instead to pierce to the truth, to the heart, to the best that is in us all.
Thank you all, and God bless you.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 1, 1996 (President’s remarks at 1:26:00 minute mark)
Thank you very much. Senator Bennett, Vice President and Mrs. Gore, Mr. Speaker, Senator Nunn, and Members of Congress who are here, and members of the Supreme Court, Joint Chiefs, other public officials, to our guests from around the world and my fellow Americans: Let me begin by saying that most of what I would like to have said on my best day was said better today by Sam Nunn. All during his speech I kept saying to myself, I’m gladder today that I prayed for him not to leave the Congress than I was the day I prayed for it. But I also know with a heart and a mind and a spirit like that, there is a great, powerful service still awaiting Senator Nunn in whatever he should decide to do.
I thank Sam Nunn and Alan Simpson and my neighbor Sonny Montgomery and all those who are here who are retiring from the United States Congress this year for the service that they have rendered to their constituents and to the American people.
I never hear it done here, but I think we all ought to give a warm round of applause to all these people who work their hearts out every year so that we can have this prayer breakfast, Doug Coe and all of his associates. I am grateful to them. [Applause]
And Hillary and I join all of you in praying for Billy Graham and for his wonderful wife, Ruth, and for their family.
I’m still glad to be here, even though I don’t think I need to say much now. I know one thing: We’ve got a lot to pray about here in Washington. We’ve got a lot of conflict. We’ve got an abundance of cynicism. We have to worry about a loss of trust in our public institutions all across the country.
I disagree with Pete Geren. I think it was Harry Truman who said, “If you want a friend in Washington, you need to buy a dog.” I think of what Benjamin Franklin said; he said, “Our enemies are our friends, for they show us our faults.” Well, as someone who has had more of his faults shown, real and imagined, than anyone else, I think we all have a lot of friends here in Washington. [Laughter]
I was thinking last night about what we really want out of this prayer breakfast. And I was up late reading, and I came across something King David said in the Fourth Psalm. You know, David knew something about leadership and courage and human failing. He said in his psalm to God, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.” “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.” So I pray that when we leave here today, by the words of Senator Nunn, the readings of the Scripture, the remarks of others, we shall all be enlarged in spirit, not only for our public work but for our private trials. I look out here, and I see friends of mine in both parties whom I know today have trials in their own families, in challenges of the heart they must face. And we leave here in the prayer that we will be enlarged.
Sam Nunn talked about the family and what Government cannot do. I ask that when we leave here we say a prayer for our families, to lift up those who are working hard to stay together and overcome the problems they face, to lift up those who are helping others to make and to build families. It is a rewarding thing to see the divorce rate leveling off and the teen pregnancy rate going down and the first indications that America may be coming back together around the values that made this a great nation. But we need to support those efforts. There may not be much we can do here as lawmakers. Hillary said in her book that “til death do us part” has often become “til the going gets tough.” It may be that it ought to be a little harder to get a divorce where children are involved.
But whatever we do with the law, we know that ultimately this is an affair of the heart, an affair of the heart that has enormous economic and political and social implications for America but, most importantly, has moral implications because families are ordained by God as a way of giving children and their parents the chance to live up to the fullest of their God-given capacities. And when we save them and strengthen them, we overcome the notion that self-gratification is more important than our obligations to others, we overcome the notion that is so prevalent in our culture that life is just a series of responses to impulses and, instead, is a whole pattern with a fabric that should be pleasing to our God.
I applaud what Senator Nunn said about our children, for with them it is more true than in any other area of our life that it is in giving that we receive. I ask that we pray for those who are trying to make strong our communities and our Nation and our Nation’s connection to people of like minds and real needs around the world. For that, too, is a part of family life. We would be a better country if our communities and our country acted more like the best family, where we all played our part, including the Government, where we all did for ourselves and tried to help each other. Humanity’s impulse is to reach outward to the poor and homeless in need; to the striving who seek a hand up, not a handout; to the stricken from here to the Middle East, to Haiti, to Bosnia; to the Earth, which needs our help in preserving the temple God gave us.
Sometimes I think we forget in America how privileged we are to be looked to, to extend the bonds of family beyond our border. When Hillary and I were served breakfast here today, the gentleman who was serving us leaned over and he said, “Mr. President, I am so grateful for what the United States did in Haiti. I came here 30 years ago from Haiti, but it is still my country, and now it’s free.”
When I met the foreign dignitaries, I was going through the line and there standing was the mayor of Tuzla. For every American in uniform, he is now our mayor, and we are a part of his family efforts to bring peace and freedom to all the people of Bosnia.
Galatians says, “Let everyone bear his own burden,” and then just a couple of verses later says, “Bear one another’s burdens.” Would God, through Saint Paul, have given us such contradictory advice? No, I don’t think so. I think being personally responsible and reaching out to others are the two sides of humanity’s coin. And we cannot live full lives, we cannot be enlarged, unless we do both.
So I ask all of you, beyond praying for our families, to pray for us here in Washington to make the right decisions about how we should enlarge and strengthen the family of our communities, our Nation, and our ties to the world.
Finally, I ask you to pray for us to have a more charitable attitude toward one another, leaders and citizens alike. I was aghast and deeply saddened yesterday when I read in one of the newspapers all of us read around here— probably when we shouldn’t some days—that a citizen of a State of this country had described one of his Representatives in Congress as a heathen, a Representative who is a genuine, true national hero. But I must say that the citizen would get a lot of ammunition for that just by watching the fights here.
What I want to say to all of you is that the disagreements we have had here in this last year have been very important and not just political and not just partisan. They have been part of the debate America must have as we move into a new era. But we need to conduct them with a great sense of humility. We need to show the right attitude toward those with whom we disagree, even when we feel wronged.
I received a letter a few days ago from a very devout Jew who is a good friend of the Vice President’s and mine, and he was talking about injustice. He said, in the matter of injustice, as awful as it is, it is always—always— better to endure it than to inflict it. We have to reach across these divisions.
In these 50 hours of budget discussions the Speaker and I had with the Vice President and Senator Dole and Senator Daschle and Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Armey, in some ways I wish all of you could have seen it, because they were remarkably free of cant and politics, and I learned a lot. I owe them a lot.
Believe it or not, we’re not supposed to talk about what happened, but two things that happened—there were two different occasions where I found myself in the minority but in agreement with Mr. Armey, on two issues. And I thought to myself, I can’t let this get out; he’ll lose his leadership position. [Laughter]
Our friend Sonny Montgomery read that wonderful passage from Corinthians in his first reading. I would ask you to remember, all of you, how that passage is worded in the King James Bible: “Now we see through a glass darkly. Now I know in part.” Every one of us is subject to error in judgment as a part of the human condition. And that is why the last chapter of that magnificent verse says, “Now abideth these three, faith, hope, and charity, and the greatest of these is charity.” We need a charitable outlook in our feelings and our dealings toward those with whom we disagree, because we do not know as we are known by God.
So let us pray that our families will be stronger. Let us pray that the impulse of our families and those values will help us as leaders to make our communities, our Nation, and our work in the world stronger. Let us pray for a stronger sense of humility in our own efforts and a much stronger sense of charity toward the efforts of others. Let us know always that the spirit of God is among us when we permit it to be.
When Hillary and I went to Ireland a few weeks ago and saw the yearning for peace there in the eyes of the Catholics and the Protestants, we had the honor to meet the Irish Nobel Prizewinning poet, Seamus Heaney, and I had the honor of quoting one of his wonderful lines, in hoping that I really was there at a time when, to use his words, “hope and history rhyme.”
This can be such a time, I am convinced, only—only—if we are charitable, if we are family, and if we act according to the spirit of God. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Remarks at the Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast
January 6, 1997
Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President and Tipper and ladies and gentlemen. Hillary and I are delighted to welcome you to the White House. We look forward to these breakfasts. As Al said, we have been doing them on a regular basis now, normally around—just after Labor Day as we sort of rededicate ourselves to the labor of the new year. But this year, we are doing it now for two reasons: One is, obviously, this is on the brink of the Inauguration and a new 4-year term for the President and for our country; the other is, we were otherwise occupied last Labor Day. [Laughter]
This is a wonderful day to be here. We asked Father Stephanopoulos to pray today because, as all of you know, this is the celebration of Epiphany in the Christian faith, a time of recognizing Christmas in the Orthodox tradition. I also wanted you to pray so that I could say that we were all very impressed with the size of the book contract that—[laughter]—that your son got, and we know we can depend upon you to make sure the church gets its 10 percent of that contract. We are very proud of him and very grateful to have him here.
This is the day in the Christian tradition when the wise men came bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. And we have much to be thankful for and much to pray for, but I think what I would say today is that I asked you to come here to share with me your thoughts and to share with you some of ours in the hope that we might all become wiser.
I am very grateful for the progress that our country has made in the last 4 years, grateful that we have been given a chance to play a role in that progress, and mindful that whatever has been done which is good has been done by us together.
One of my college roommates, who I think is a really smart guy, said to me the other day when we were together and joking about our lost youth, he said, “Oh, and one other thing,” as he was leaving. He said, “Don’t ever forget that great Presidents do not do great things. Great Presidents get a lot of other people to do great things. And there is over 250 million of us now, so that’s a lot of greatness if you can get us all to do the right thing,” which I thought was an interesting way of saying in part what the magic and genius of democracy is all about.
So we’re thinking a lot now about how we’re going to build our bridge to the 21st century, what we’re going to do in this next term. I’ve listened to all of these experts talk about how hard it is for Presidents to be effective in the second term because, after all, they just got reelected because things went well in their first term, not because they had actually thought through what they were going to do in their second term. But we’ve tried to overcome that disability.
There are a lot of particulars that we could discuss today, but what I’d like for you to think about a little bit, from your perspective and what you can do—two things: What are we going to do; and secondly, and more importantly I think, how are we going to do it? In what spirit shall we proceed?
In any great democracy there are always differences about what are we going to do. There always have been, there always will be, and these are altogether healthy. It would be— America wouldn’t last very long, I think, if 100 percent of the people agreed 100 percent of the time on 100 percent of the issues. What keeps us going—we all know that none of us has perfect and infinite understanding of these complex matters facing our country and facing the world. But we have devised a system—we have nurtured and maintained it now for over 200 years—in which people can reconcile their differences and come to a consensus and an agreement which will push the country forward. So we are enlarged when we come to agreement after honest debate in the right way; we are diminished if, in the way we treat each other, we preclude the possibility of resolution and going forward. And at times like this, when things are changing so much, we need the right spirit more because we have more to decide, more to deal with. And yet, at times like this, we are in some ways put at risk by the absence of that spirit of reconciliation and respect.
There are several specific things I hope we can talk about later that I think we could reach broad agreement on. For example, some of you think I made a mistake when I signed the welfare reform bill, and I don’t. But one thing that we all ought to be able to agree on is, the bill will not succeed—the bill does nothing, it just changes the rules. It doesn’t put anybody to work. In 4 years we have reduced by 2.1 million the number of people on welfare, the biggest reduction in history, by doing the kinds of things that now this bill requires every State to do. We just went out and worked with the States and came up with innovative ways to get around old rules and regulations and do them anyway. Now every State has got to try to do that for every person.
My objective here is, once and for all, to take the politics out of poverty and to treat all able-bodied people the same at the community level. What I long for is a system of community-based support for people who are out of work through no fault of their own but a system of community-based norms that require people who can work to work when there is work. Now, if you say that everybody who is able-bodied can only stay on welfare 2 years continuously unless the State decides to continue to support them for some other reason— and we did give a fund so that hardship cases could be treated in that way—then every community has to have a system for putting those people to work.
Now, let me pause at this; you can all think about this. This new law gives every State the right to give the welfare check to any employer, including a church, as an employment and training subsidy, who will hire someone from welfare. If every church in America just hired one family, the welfare problem would go way down. If every church in America challenged every member of that church who had 25 or more employees to hire another family, the problem would go away, and we would really have a system in which in times of recession we’d have more people unemployed at the community level. In good times we’d have fewer people, but we would always have a community-based commitment that crossed party lines and religious lines and every other line to give ablebodied people the dignity of work and support them in the most important work they do, which is raising their children.
The second thing I wanted to talk about a little bit is this whole business of immigration. The things I don’t like about the welfare law have nothing to do with welfare and everything to do with the way we tried to save money, I thought unfairly, on legal immigrants. Our administration has done a lot to cut down on illegal immigration, but we believe that legal immigration has served our country well. It has, however, made us more diverse. And so immigration is really the touchstone where we deal with not only what are we going to do but how are we going to do it.
I believe that we have learned a lot in 220 years—really more than 300 years—about how hard it is for people of different races to get along. We know that that is difficult in all societies and all times, and it’s something you just have to keep working at. But now America is not a white and black America. America is a country with scores, hundreds of different racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Our biggest county, Los Angeles County, now has over 160 different racial and ethnic groups within one county. But it’s all over America. Wayne County, where Detroit, Michigan, is, has now over 140 different racial and ethnic groups. Detroit was a place where we used to think of where you basically had white ethnics who immigrated from Central and Eastern Europe and African-Americans and white Southerners who immigrated out of the South because they couldn’t make a living in places like my home State in the Depression and later—now, 140 different racial and ethnic groups.
How are we going to deal with that? Against the background of what you see in Bosnia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, all of these things, these destructive impulses people have, how can we prove in America that we can all get along, not without giving up our basic beliefs but in finding a ground of mutual respect? It seems to me that that may be the single most significant decision facing the United States. We have a lot of other things we have to deal with in the next 4 years, the whole question of the entitlements burden when the baby boomers retire and education initiatives that I intend to push and finishing the work of balancing the budget and all that. That’s fine, but if we can all find a way to hold up to the world not only the example of our freedom but the example of our freedom in the 21st century global interdependent world in which anybody from anywhere can live here, and if you show up for work or you show up for school and you do what you’re supposed to do and you’re a good citizen, you can be part of our country, and we’ll respect your faith, we’ll respect your differences, and we’ll find a way to work together, then I believe the preeminence of the United States will be assured throughout the next century. And I think you have to think about it in long terms like that.
What causes a society to rise and fall? We clearly are proving that we’re getting back to our basic values. The crime rate is going down. You saw the—has gone down now for several years in a row for the first time in 25 years. We have inequality among working people going down—and I’m very proud of that—for the first time in 20 years. We have a lot of our other social problems being ameliorated, the teen pregnancy rate dropping substantially for the first time in a good while. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco are still a problem for very young people. Drug use is going down in society as a whole but still going up among young people.
So we’re on the cusp here, maybe, of turning a lot of our social problems around. We know what we ought to do. Can we do it in the right way, in a spirit of reconciliation? And can we recognize that in this exciting new world there’s no way in the world for us to know the answer to all these questions that are out there before us?
And that’s the last point I’d like to make. If we do things in the right way, we’ll get enough of the right answers to keep moving our country forward and to keep doing the right thing for the rest of the world. And we won’t be right all the time, but that’s just because we’re human. So that’s the last thought I would like to leave with you.
The beginning of wisdom, I think, is humility and respect for what you may not know. Now, we were talking around the table here about the last speech Cardinal Bernardin gave in which he said that the precious gift of time should not be wasted on acrimony and division. And he said that knowing he just had a little bit of time left. The truth is, all of us just have a little bit of time left. He just knew it, and we don’t. And 3 weeks or 30 years, it’s a little bit of time in the life of a country, the life of the world.
So I say to you—I ask for your guidance, for your prayers for our country, for the efforts that all of us are making. I ask for your specific involvement, particularly in the two issues I’ve mentioned, on the welfare and immigration issues. But most important of all, I ask for your help in creating a sense of reconciliation, the right sort of spirit in which we can deal with these issues. As people of faith on this Epiphany, I think we should all ask that that be made evident to us.
Thank you, and God bless you.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 6, 1997 (President’s remarks at 1:04:00 minute mark)
Thank you very much, Congressman Barrett. I want to thank you for making it possible for me to follow Dr. Carson. [Laughter] And that business about worrying about whether the Secret Service would take you away if you talked too long, if that were true I wouldn’t be here today. I’d be long gone. [Laughter] That biochemical description of—I got a real problem; I can’t remember my home phone number anymore. [Laughter]
Senator Akaka, Mr. Speaker, Congressman Gephardt, to all the Members of Congress and the Governors who are here and our leaders and visitors from other lands and ministers and citizens from the United States. I’ve had a wonderful day today. I would like not to pour cold water on the day, but just as you go through the day I would like to ask all of you to remember the heartbreaking loss that our friends in Israel have sustained in the last couple of days with 73 of their finest young soldiers dying in that horrible accident in the air.
I would like to also say that, like all of you, I was very elevated by this experience, as I always am. I thought Dr. Carson was wonderful. I thought the Scriptures were well chosen. I appreciate Doug Coe and all the people who work on the prayer breakfast so much.
I would like to just say a couple of things very briefly. In my Inaugural Address and again in my State of the Union, I quoted Isaiah 58:12, which Reverend Robert Schuller sent to me a few days before I started my second term, to remind us that we should all be repairers of the breach. And it’s a very moving thing. And basically the political press here read it in the proper way; they said Clinton wants the Republicans and Democrats to make nice to each other and do constructive things.
But then I got to thinking about who is it that’s in the breach. Who has fallen between the cracks? If we repaired the breach, who would we be lifting out of the hole? And very briefly, I’d like to just mention three things and to ask you not only to pray for these three groups of people but also to do something about it. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear somebody like Dr. Carson speak, I can clap better than anybody in the audience. Then the next day, when I get up and try to live by what he said I was supposed to do, it turned out to be harder than it was to clap. So I would like to ask you to think about who is in the breach, if we’re supposed to be repairers of the breach.
The first group of people that are in the breach are the poor in America, and they’re different then they used to be. When I was a boy, most poor people were old. In 1995, we learned last year, we had the lowest rate of poverty among older Americans in the history of the country. We have succeeded in taking them out of poverty, virtually all of them. We should be proud of that and grateful. Today, almost all the poor are young, very young people without much education, a lot of mothers like Dr. Carson’s mother, struggling, doing the best they can to raise their kids.
We just passed this welfare reform bill which I signed and voted for because I believed it. And we did it because we believed that the welfare system had gone from being a system that helped the poor to help themselves to move off welfare, to a system that trapped people because the family unit has changed and there are so many single parents out there having children, and there isn’t the stigma on it there used to be. And a lot of people now seem to be stuck on that system from generation to generation. So we changed it—we didn’t change it; we tore it down. We threw it away. We said, “There’s no longer a national guarantee that you can always get a check from the Government just because you’re poor and you’ve got little babies in your home. Now the kids can have health care and we’ll give them food, but you don’t get an income check every month. And you’ve got to go to work if you’re able to.”
So the people that are in the breach are the people that we say have to go to work, who want to go to work, who can’t go to work. And you have to help us repair the breach. Two and a quarter million people moved off the welfare rolls in the last 4 years. A million of them, more or less, were adults who went to work; the others were their children—a million out of 11 million new jobs created.
In the next 4 years, there’s about, more or less, 10 million more people left on welfare, about 3 1/2 million adults, maybe 4, most of them able-bodied. And all of them are supposed to lose their benefits if they’re able-bodied after 2 years unless they go to work. Where are they going to get the jobs? You’re going to have to give them—private employers, churches, community nonprofits. I see the Governor of Michigan, the Governor of North Dakota here. They can actually take the welfare check and give it to you now as an employment or a training subsidy or to help you deal with transportation or child care or whatever.
But you better hire them. And if you don’t, this whole thing will be a fraud, and we will not have repaired the breach. And all that we dreamed of doing, which is to create more Dr. Carsons out of those children of welfare recipients, will go down the drain because we come to places like this and clap for people like him and then we get up tomorrow morning and we don’t repair the breach and do what we’re supposed to do. And I need you to help.
The second people who have fallen between the cracks are people around the world who are in trouble that we could help without troubling ourselves very much. I’m proud of what our country has done in Bosnia and the Balkans—you should be too—in the Middle East, in Haiti, to help our neighbors in Mexico. Impulses—the American people are generous. I want to thank the Speaker for supporting me when only 15 percent of the American people thought we were right when we tried to help our friends in Mexico. Thank goodness they proved us right, Mr. Speaker, otherwise we might be out in the south 40 somewhere today.
But still our country has this idea that somehow it demeans us to pay our dues to the United Nations or to participate in the World Bank or—there’s lots of things more important than that—or just to give Secretary Albright, who’s here, the basic tools of diplomacy. This is an interdependent world. We can get a long way with having the finest defense in the world, but we also have to help people become what they can be.
So I ask you to think about that. We’re not talking about spending a lot of money here. It’s only one percent of our budget. But we can’t walk away from our obligations to the rest of the world. We can be a model for the rest of the world, but we also know that we have to model the behavior we advocate, which is to give a helping hand when we can.
The third people who are in the breach and are in a deep hole and need to be lifted up are the politicians. And we need your help. We need your help. And some members of the press, they’re in that breach with us, too, and they need your help. [Laughter]
This is funny, but I’m serious now. And tomorrow, I want you to wake—I want you to laugh today and wake up and be serious tomorrow. This town is gripped with people who are self-righteous, sanctimonious, and hypocritical; all of us are that way sometimes. I plead guilty, from time to time. We also tend to get—we spend an enormous amount of time here in Washington trying to get even. And it doesn’t matter who started it.
I remember when I came here one time, I got so mad at our friends in the Congress and the Republican Party because they were real mean to me over something. I went back to the White House, and I asked somebody who had been there a while in Washington, and I said, “Now, why in the world did they do that?” They said, “It’s payback time.” I said, “What do you mean?” They said, “Well, they think the Democrats in Congress did this to Republican Presidents.” I said, “I didn’t even live here then. Why are they paying me back?” They said, “Oh, you don’t understand. You’ve just got to pay back.”
So then, pretty soon I was behaving that way. I’d wake up in the morning, and my heart was getting a little harder. “Now, who can I get even with?” You think—this happens to you, doesn’t it? “Who can I get even with?” And sometimes you can’t get even with the person that really did it to you, so you just go find somebody else, because you’ve got to get even with somebody. Pretty soon, everybody’s involved in this great act.
You know how cynical the press is about the politicians, you know. They think we’re all whatever they think. What you should know is that the politicians have now become just as cynical about the press, because cynicism breeds cynicism.
We’re in a world of hurt. We need help. We are in the breach. We are in the hole here. This country has the most astonishing opportunity we have ever had. We happen to be faced with this time of great change and challenge. We’re going into this enormous new world. And instead of going into it hobbled with economic distress or foreign pressures, we are free of any threat to our existence and our economy is booming. And it’s like somebody said, “Here’s this brave new world, and I’m going to let you prepare for it and walk into it in the best shape you’ve ever been in.” And instead of doing that, half of us want to sit down, and the other half of us want to get in a fight with each other. We are in the breach. And we need you to help us get out of it.
The United States is better than that. We owe more than that to our people, to our future, and to the world. We owe more than that to our heritage, to everybody from George Washington on, that made us what we are today. And cynicism and all this negative stuff is just sort of a cheap excuse for not doing your best with your life. And it’s not a very pleasant way to live, frankly—not even any fun.
I try to tell everybody around the White House all the time, I have concluded a few things in my life, and one of them is that you don’t ever get even. The harder you try, the more frustrated you’re going to be, because nobody ever gets even. And when you do, you’re not really happy. You don’t feel fulfilled.
So I ask you to pray for us. I went to church last Sunday where Hillary and I always go, at the Foundry Methodist Church, and the pastor gave a sermon on Romans 12:16 through 21 and a few other verses. But I’m going to quote the relevant chapters. “Do not be wise in your own estimation.” It’s hard to find anybody here that can fit that. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men.” “Never take your own vengeance.” “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink.” “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Pray for the people in public office that we can rid ourselves of this toxic atmosphere of cynicism and embrace with joy and gratitude this phenomenal opportunity and responsibility before us. Do not forget people in the rest of the world who depend upon the United States for more than exhortation. And most of all, remember that in every Scripture of every faith, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of admonitions not to forget those among us who are poor. They are no longer entitled to a handout, but they surely deserve, and we are ordered to give them, a hand up.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
Remarks at the Ecumenical Breakfast
November 20, 1997
Thank you very much, and welcome to the White House. I am delighted to see you all. Let me say that we do want to talk about the obligation imposed on all of us to secure a future in which all of us are a part.
But in light of developments in the last day in Iraq, I would like to say just a word about that. The meeting of the foreign ministers last night in Geneva strongly reaffirmed our unanimous position: Saddam Hussein must comply unconditionally with the will of the international community and allow all the weapons inspectors back to Iraq so they can get on with doing their jobs without interference. After that meeting, he said he would do that. In the coming days we will wait and see whether he does, in fact, comply with the will of the international community.
I just want to reiterate that the United States must remain and will remain resolute in our determination to prevent him from threatening his neighbors or the world with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. This is an issue that I hope will become even more important to all Americans and a greater subject of discussion. We must do that. That is the duty we have to our children.
Now, let me say I look forward to these meetings every year. I have done, I think, one or two breakfasts like this every year I’ve been President. And even though we’re discussing a kind of public issue today, I get a lot of personal solace out of this, and it always helps me sort of to put things back in perspective. And to give you an idea of how badly we in Washington need things put in perspective here, I got a cartoon out of The New Yorker magazine that is a doctor talking to a patient. You might imagine that the patient is anyone who spends 60 hours a week or more working in this city. The doctor is talking to the patient and he said, “Before we try assisted suicide, Mrs. Rose, let’s give the aspirin a chance.” [Laughter] I wouldn’t say that you’re the aspirin—[laughter]—you will alleviate even that, I think.
I’d also like to thank so many of you for the work you’ve done with us on public issues: on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and after the Supreme Court struck it down, on the Federal Executive order I issued, going as far as I could with my executive authority to apply the principles of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to Federal employees. I thank those of you who worked with Secretary Riley and the Justice Department on the very important work we did to try to clarify the lines of religious expression for students and teachers in our public schools. That, I think, did a great deal of good, and I know that Secretary Riley recently had a summit of religious and education leaders in St. Petersburg to talk about what can be done within the schools to promote racial harmony and to raise performance.
I thank you for the work that many of you have done with us to support the cause of religious freedom around the world. That has become, I think, a very significant issue for many of you in this room and many Americans. And of course, it’s still a very important issue—regrettably, it’s an important issue in many nations around the world and one that we have to keep working away at.
I also would like to thank you for some of your—some of you have been involved in the America Reads program. I know that the church Hillary and I attend here in Washington regularly has 45 volunteers. I got the newsletter just the other day and the pastor noted that I was not yet one of them. [Laughter]
Many of our religious groups are working on the Welfare to Work Partnership. We have 2,500 private companies now in that effort who have pledged to hire people from welfare to work, and they’re doing a marvelous job. But very often the houses of worship provide incredibly important services for families and children in transition efforts. This is working. We have 3.8 million fewer people on welfare than we did the day I became President, about almost 2 million fewer people since I signed the welfare reform bill a couple of years ago. And because of the way the system works, our States have even more money now to spend on education and child care and job placement and other supports, which makes the opportunity for people who care about the poor in our society who today are disabled from entering the mainstream of American life that much greater, to make sure that even the people that we thought hardest to place could succeed.
Today I do want to talk about our racial initiatives. When I started this, a lot of people said, “Why are you doing this? There’s not any riot in the cities.” There are some examples of racial discord; we know a fair number of the church bombings—or burnings appear to have been racially motivated. But people said, “Well, why are you doing this?” I think that it is a sign of strength if a society can examine its problems before they become a festering sore that people who are otherwise uninvolved have to face. I also believe that one of our obligations in this administration, as we bring this century to a close and begin a whole new millennium, is to think about those things which we will be dealing with for the next generation, those things which, if we respond properly, can change the whole texture of life in America for the better.
And also, just because there’s not any civil discord that’s apparent doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of serious problems. If you look at the fact that juvenile crime has not gone down nearly as much as crime among adults, if you look at what’s happening to the exploding prison population in America and the racial implications of that, if you look at the fact that we still have disparities among our various racial groups in the credit practices of banks and the access to higher education and the earnings in the workplace and the increasing relationship of that to success as young people in education, it is clear that our attempt to keep making progress toward the American dream requires us to make progress on the issues of race and all those that are related.
And if you look back over the entire history of America, we started with a Constitution that we couldn’t live up to—just like none of us live up perfectly to the Holy Scriptures that we profess to believe in. And our whole life as a nation has been an effort punctuated by crisis after crisis after crisis, to move our collective life closer to what we said we believed in over 200 years ago. And that kind of change always requires spiritual depth, spiritual resources, spiritual conviction. After all, we said all men are created equal, but you can’t vote unless you’re a white male landowner. I mean, that’s where we started. We’re a long way from that today. And we saw all the efforts to move beyond all those barriers very often in spiritual terms.
So where are we today? Well, first of all, America has become markedly more diverse racially. And that means we’re becoming markedly more diverse culturally and in religious terms, as well. Today, Hawaii is the only State in which no racial group is in a majority. But within a few years, our largest State, California, with 13 percent of our population, will not have—even Americans of European descent will not be in the majority there. Within probably 50 years, but perhaps sooner, there will be no single racial group in a majority in the entire United States.
Now, the scholars have said for 200 years that America was not about a race or a place, it was about an idea. We’re about to find out. [Laughter] And we had best be ready. Across the river here in Fairfax County, Virginia, is one of the 5 school districts in America with children from over 100 different racial or ethnic or national groups—180 different national and ethnic groups in the Fairfax County School District. Their native languages number 100. We want them all to learn to speak and to read and to function in English and to be able to do very well in school and to be able to make a contribution to our American way of life.
And as I said, it has religious implications. I attended—right before I was inaugurated this last time, I went to a Southern Baptist church service, early service on Sunday, where the minister was a man from Arkansas who had been a friend of mine there. And he said, “This is a little different from the church I had in Arkansas.” He said, “I’ve got a Korean ministry here. I have so many Korean members. And I have to run an English as a second language course in the church every night.” And of course, most of the people who come here from Asia are not Southern Baptists. [Laughter] I mean, some may think that’s—Reverend Dunn said, thank God. [Laughter] I’m sure he’s the only one of you not seeking to increase his flock. [Laughter]
But this changes things—this changes things. Things that are deeply embedded in the culture, for example, of the African-American church, elemental aspects of American culture that in some ways made African-Americans, even in the midst of their oppression, the most socially cohesive of Americans, thanks to the African-American church, will be foreign to a lot of the new Americans that are coming in here not part of that tradition, not being caught up in it.
How will they react if they’re subject to systematic discrimination? How will they react if they can’t get a loan at a bank, even though they’re honest and have a record of honesty and success? How will we deal with all these things, and how we can avoid it? And most of all—and a lot of you are involved in these things—how we can get our children, early, to know that they can live in a different way, and in so doing, to teach their parents—which we see over and over and over again can have a very valuable impact.
Well, these are just some of the things that I wanted to mention, and we’ll talk about it after breakfast. But the fundamental issue is, we know what we’re going to look like; the demographers can tell us that. But they can’t tell us what we’re going to be like. That’s a decision we have to make. And I am persuaded that we will be an infinitely better, stronger nation if that decision is informed by, driven by, embraced by, and advanced by people of faith in our country. And so that’s why I asked you here today, and I thank you very much.
Now I would like to invite Dr. Thomas White Wolf Fassett to give the invocation. Then I would like for you to enjoy breakfast, and we’ll have a discussion after breakfast.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 5, 1998 (President’s remarks at 54:58 minute mark)
Thank you very much. Thank you very much to my good friend and sometimes golfing partner, Senator Akaka, to all the Members of Congress here, Reverend Graham, other head table guests, ladies and gentlemen, especially to the organizers of this wonderful event.
For 5 years now, Hillary and I have looked forward to this day. For me it’s a day in which I can be with other people of faith and pray and ask for your prayers, both as President and as just another child of God. I have done it for 5 years, and I do so again today.
At each of these breakfasts, from our shared experiences and our prayers, God’s grace always seems to come, bringing strength and wisdom and peace. Today I come more than anything else to say thank you. First, thank you, Connie Mack, for your wonderful message and the power of your example. I also thank all of you here for many things in the last 5 years and ask your help in helping us to work together to make our Nation better and the work that God has sent me to do and you to do.
I thank you for helping me to strike blows for religious liberty—with the work so many of you in this room have done to help us to protect the rights of Federal employees to follow their faith at work—our students in school. In particular, I want to thank Reverend Don Argue, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Rabbi Arthur Schneier and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Newark, Theodore McCarrick, who next week will go to China to look into religious practices there and to begin a dialog there in the hopes that a part of our relationship with China will be about our concern for the kind of religious liberty we have practiced here this morning.
I thank so many of you in the community of faith who have worked with the Government in partnership to help move poor families from welfare to work, to honor the scripture that our friend Dorothy Height read today. And I ask more of you to join in. I thank those of you who have been responsible for working with me—and I see Senator Grassley out there and Harris Wofford is here—to bring communities of faith into the circle of national service.
We now have 5,000 young Americans working with religious organizations earning the AmeriCorps scholarship to go to college with after they serve with their community of faith wherever they live in America. And the Congress has provided for many more positions, and I ask you to help us to enlist more young Americans to give meaning to their lives, to live out their faith, and to help make our country a better place.
I thank you for the prayers, the letters, the scriptural instruction that I have gotten from so many of you and many others around this country in recent weeks and, indeed, in the last 5 years. And I ask that they continue.
Finally, I couldn’t help thinking when Connie Mack was talking that what we all need very much is to take what we feel when we’re here every year and keep it close with us when we leave here every year, day-in and day-out, weekin and week-out, in good times and bad. And I ask for your help in that.
We have a difficult decision that we are facing now, as a country and our administration, because of the concern all Americans have that we not expose our children, if we can help it, to the dangers of chemical and biological warfare. And last night I came across a scripture verse that a friend of mine sent me in the last 72 hours that I had not had the chance to read, a prayer of King Solomon that I ask you to keep in mind as we face this decision. Solomon said in 1 Kings, “I am only a little child, and I do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong, for who is able to govern this great people of yours.”
I also ask for your prayers as we work together to continue to take our country to higher ground and to remember the admonition of Micah, which I try to repeat to myself on a very regular basis. I ask your prayers that I, and we, might act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
Thank you very much.
Remarks at a Breakfast With Religious Leaders
September 11, 1998
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House and to this day to which Hillary and the Vice President and I look forward so much every year.
This is always an important day for our country, for the reasons that the Vice President said. It is an unusual and, I think, unusually important day today. I may not be quite as easy with my words today as I have been in years past, and I was up rather late last night thinking about and praying about what I ought to say today. And rather unusually for me, I actually tried to write it down. So if you will forgive me, I will do my best to say what it is I want to say to you, and I may have to take my glasses out to read my own writing.
First, I want to say to all of you that, as you might imagine, I have been on quite a journey these last few weeks to get to the end of this, to the rockbottom truth of where I am and where we all are. I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified, I was not contrite enough. I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.
It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, my family; also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.
But I believe that to be forgiven, more than sorrow is required—at least two more things: first, genuine repentance, a determination to change and to repair breaches of my own making—I have repented; second, what my Bible calls a “broken spirit,” an understanding that I must have God’s help to be the person that I want to be, a willingness to give the very forgiveness I seek, a renunciation of the pride and the anger which cloud judgment, lead people to excuse and compare and to blame and complain.
Now, what does all this mean for me and for us? First, I will instruct my lawyers to mount a vigorous defense, using all available appropriate arguments. But legal language must not obscure the fact that I have done wrong.
Second, I will continue on the path of repentance, seeking pastoral support and that of other caring people so that they can hold me accountable for my own commitment.
Third, I will intensify my efforts to lead our country and the world toward peace and freedom, prosperity and harmony, in the hope that with a broken spirit and a still strong heart I can be used for greater good, for we have many blessings and many challenges and so much work to do.
In this, I ask for your prayers and for your help in healing our Nation. And though I cannot move beyond or forget this—indeed, I must always keep it as a caution light in my life— it is very important that our Nation move forward.
I am very grateful for the many, many people, clergy and ordinary citizens alike, who have written me with wise counsel. I am profoundly grateful for the support of so many Americans who somehow, through it all, seem to still know that I care about them a great deal, that I care about their problems and their dreams. I am grateful for those who have stood by me and who say that in this case and many others, the bounds of privacy have been excessively and unwisely invaded. That may be. Nevertheless, in this case, it may be a blessing, because I still sinned. And if my repentance is genuine and sustained, and if I can maintain both a broken spirit and a strong heart, then good can come of this for our country as well as for me and my family.
The children of this country can learn in a profound way that integrity is important and selfishness is wrong, but God can change us and make us strong at the broken places. I want to embody those lessons for the children of this country, for that little boy in Florida who came up to me and said that he wanted to grow up and be President and to be just like me. I want the parents of all the children in America to be able to say that to their children.
A couple of days ago when I was in Florida, a Jewish friend of mine gave me this liturgy book called “Gates of Repentance.” And there was this incredible passage from the Yom Kippur liturgy. I would like to read it to you: “Now is the time for turning. The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red to orange.
The birds are beginning to turn and are heading once more toward the south. The animals are beginning to turn to storing their food for the winter. For leaves, birds, and animals, turning comes instinctively. But for us, turning does not come so easily. It takes an act of will for us to make a turn. It means breaking old habits. It means admitting that we have been wrong, and this is never easy. It means losing face. It means starting all over again. And this is always painful. It means saying I am sorry. It means recognizing that we have the ability to change. These things are terribly hard to do. But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever in yesterday’s ways. Lord, help us to turn, from callousness to sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness to purpose, from envy to contentment, from carelessness to discipline, from fear to faith. Turn us around, O Lord, and bring us back toward you. Revive our lives as at the beginning, and turn us toward each other, Lord, for in isolation there is no life.”
I thank my friend for that. I thank you for being here. I ask you to share my prayer that God will search me and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any hurtfulness in me, and lead me toward the life everlasting. I ask that God give me a clean heart, let me walk by faith and not sight.
I ask once again to be able to love my neighbor—all my neighbors—as myself; to be an instrument of God’s peace; to let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and, in the end, the work of my hands, be pleasing. This is what I wanted to say to you today.
Thank you. God bless you.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 4, 1999 (President’s remarks at 1:00:00 minute mark)
Thank you very much, Steve. Distinguished head table guests; to the leaders from around the world who are here; the Members of Congress, Mr. Speaker and others; ladies and gentlemen.
You know, I feel exactly the way I did the first time I ever gave a speech as a public official to the Pine Bluff Rotary Club officers installation banquet in January of 1977. The dinner started at 6:30. There were 500 people there. All but three were introduced; they went home mad. [Laughter] We’d been there since 6:30; I was introduced at a quarter ’til 10. The guy that introduced me was so nervous he didn’t know what to do and, so help me, the first words out of his mouth were, “You know, we could stop here and have had a very nice evening.” [Laughter] He didn’t mean it the way it sounded, but I do mean it. We could stop here and have had a very wonderful breakfast. You were magnificent, Max. Thank you very much.
I did want to assure you that one of the things that has been said here today, repeatedly, is absolutely true. Senator Hutchison was talking about when we come here, we set party aside, and there is absolutely no politics in this. I can tell you that is absolutely so. I have had a terrific relationship with Steve Largent, and he has yet to vote with me the first time. [Laughter] So I know there is no politics in the prayer breakfast. [Laughter]
We come here every year—Hillary and I were staying up kind of late last night talking about what we should say today, who would be here. I think, especially in light of what Max Lucado has just said, I would like to ask you to think about what he said in terms of the world we live in, for it is easier to talk about than to do, this idea of making peace with those who are different from us.
We have certain signs of hope, of course. Last Good Friday, in Northern Ireland, the Irish Protestants and the Irish Catholics set aside literally centuries of distrust and chose peace for their children. Last October, at the Wye Plantation in Maryland, Chairman Arafat, Abu Mazen, and the Palestinian delegation, and Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli delegation went through literally sleepless nights to try to save the peace process in the Middle East and put it back on track. Throughout this year, our allies and we have worked to deepen the peace of Bosnia—and we’re delighted to have the leader of the Republika Srpska here today—and we’re working today to avoid a new catastrophe in Kosovo, with some hopeful signs.
We also have worked to guarantee religious freedom to those who disagree with all of us in this room, recognizing that so much of the trouble in the world is rooted in what we believe are the instructions we get from God to do things to people who are different from us. And we think the only answer is to promote religious freedom at home and around the world. I want to thank all of you who helped us to pass the Religious Freedom Act of 1998. I’d like to say a special word of appreciation to Dr. Robert Seiple, the former head of World Vision, who is here with us today, who is now America’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Later this month I have to appoint three members to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; the Congress has already nominated its members. We know that’s a part of it. But respectfully, I would suggest it’s not enough.
As we pray for peace, as we listen to what Max said, we say, “Well, of course, it is God’s will.” But the truth is, throughout history people have prayed to God to aid them in war. People have claimed repeatedly that it was God’s will that they prevail in conflict. Christians have done it at least since the time of the Crusades. Jews have done it since the times of the Old Testament. Muslims have done it from the time of the Essene down to the present day. No faith is blameless in saying that they have taken up arms against others of other faiths, other races, because it was God’s will that they do so. And nearly everybody would agree that from time to time that happens, over the long course of history. I do believe that even though Adolf Hitler preached a perverted form of Christianity, God did not want him to prevail. But I also know that when we take up arms or words against one another, we must be very careful in invoking the name of our Lord.
Abraham Lincoln once said that in the great Civil War, neither side wanted war, and both sides prayed to the same God. But one side would make war, rather than stay in the Union, and the other side would accept war, rather than let it be rent asunder. So the war came. In other words, our great President understood that the Almighty has His own designs, and all we can do is pray to know God’s will.
What’s that got to do with us? Martin Luther King once said we had to be careful taking vengeance in the name of God, because the old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.
And so, today, in the spirit in which we have truly been ministered to today, I ask you to pray for peace in the Middle East; in Bosnia and Kosovo; in Northern Ireland, where there are new difficulties. I ask you to pray that the young leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea will find a way to avoid war. I ask you to pray for a resolution of the conflicts between India and Pakistan. I ask you to pray for the success of the peace process in Colombia, for the agreement made by the leaders of Ecuador and Peru, for the ongoing struggles to make the peace process work in Guatemala. I ask you to pray for peace.
I ask you to pray for the peacemakers: for the Prime Minister of Albania, who is here, for the Prime Minister of Macedonia. Their region is deeply troubled. I ask you to pray for Chairman Arafat and the Palestinians; for the Government of Israel; for Mrs. Leah Rabin and her children, who are here, for the awful price they have paid in the loss of Prime Minister Rabin for the cause of peace. I ask you to pray for our King Hussein, a wonderful human being, a champion of peace who, I promise you today, is fighting for his life mostly—mostly—so he can continue to fight for peace.
And finally, I ask you to pray for all of us, including yourself, to pray that our purpose truly will reflect God’s will, to pray that we can all be purged of the temptation to pretend that our willfulness is somehow equal to God’s will, to remember that all the great peacemakers in the world, in the end, have to let go and walk away, like Christ, not from apparent but from genuine grievances.
If Nelson Mandela can walk away from 28 years of oppression in a little prison cell, we can walk away from whatever is bothering us. If Leah Rabin and her family can continue their struggle for peace after the Prime Minister’s assassination, then we can continue to believe in our better selves.
I remember on September 19th, 1993, when the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority gathered in Washington to sign the peace accord, the great question arose about whether, in front of a billion people on international television, for the very first time, Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin would shake hands. Now, this may seem like a little thing to you, but Yitzhak Rabin and I were sitting in my office talking, and he said, “You know, Mr. President, I have been fighting this man for 30 years. I have buried a lot of people. This is difficult.” And I started to make an argument, and before I could say anything, he said, “But you do not make peace with your friends.” And so the handshake occurred that was seen around the world.
Then, a little while afterward—some time passed—they came back to Washington, and they were going to sign these agreements about what the details were of handing over Gaza and parts of the West Bank. And the two of them had to sign, on this second signing, three copies of these huge maps, books of maps. There were 27 maps—you remember—27 maps. There were literally thousands of markings on these maps, on each page—what would happen at every little crossroad, who would be in charge, who would do this, who would do that, who would do the other thing. And right before the ceremony there was a hitch, and some jurisdictional issue was not resolved. And everybody was going around in a tizzy. And I opened the door to the little back room where the Vice President and I have lunch once a week, and I said to these two people, who shook hands for the first time not so long ago, “Why don’t you guys go in this room and work this out. This is not a big deal.” Thirty minutes later they came out. No one else was in there. They worked it out. They signed the copies 3 times, 27 pieces each, each page they were signing. And it was over.
You do not make peace with your friends, but friendship can come with time and trust and humility when we do not pretend that our willfulness is an expression of God’s will.
I do not know how to put this into words. A friend of mine last week sent me a little story out of Mother Teresa’s life, when she said she was asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?” And she said, “I don’t say anything. I listen.” And then she was asked, “Well when you listen, what does God say to you?” And she said, “He doesn’t say anything, either. He listens.” [Laughter]
In another way, St. Paul said the same thing: “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit, Himself, intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
So I ask you to reflect on all we have seen and heard and felt today. I ask you to pray for peace, for the peacemakers, and for peace within each of our hearts—in silence.
Remarks at a Breakfast With Religious Leaders
September 28, 1999
Thank you very much, and good morning. I, first of all, would like to thank you for the invocation and let you know that, as with many other Americans, we have been thinking about you and your people in your church.
Hillary and I welcome you here today. As you know, the Vice President and Mrs. Gore are normally here, but he is often otherwise occupied these days. [Laughter] And I hope you will forgive their absence. They really wanted to be here.
I would like to thank Secretary Shalala, Secretary Riley, Jack Lew for being here. I would also like to thank Barry McCaffrey, the Director of our Office of National Drug Control Policy. And to those of you who come nearly every year, welcome back. To those of you who are here for the first time, welcome. We are delighted that you are all here.
I have looked forward to this day every year for as long as I have been President and we have been doing this. All of you know that, if you’ve come to some of the others, that each one of these days has been special. And, as in the 1990’s, as America has grown more involved with the rest of the world and more diverse, because of our history of religious liberty and the way our Constitution has worked, more and more religious convictions and affiliations have flowered in our country. And you can look around this room today—see, it would be very unusual if you could have this kind of gathering in any other country in the world. And for that I am profoundly grateful.
Last year was one of the most difficult years in my life, and this occasion, because it has come to mean so much to me, was a very difficult one. For those of you who were part of that, I want to express my particular appreciation. I’d like to say a special word of thanks to my good friend Reverend Wogaman and to Gordon MacDonald—I think he is here back there—and to Tony Campolo, who is not here, who have kept their word to meet with me over the last year, both to help me and to hold me accountable. And I have kept my word to meet with them and to work with them.
I would like to say only this about that: I have been profoundly moved, as few people have, by the pure power of grace, unmerited forgiveness through grace—most of all to my wife and daughter, but to the people I work with, to the legions of American people, and to the God in whom I believe. And I am very grateful to all of you who have had any role in that, and I thank you.
I also want you to know that we are continuing our work. It is interesting and not always comfortable, but always rewarding. And I hope you will pray for us as we do.
What I would like to talk about today, following up on what Hillary said when she welcomed you here, is what we can do together to deal with the question of violence, particularly against our children. And I would like to talk about it first of all to say we’ve been trying to work out what the proper relationship is between religious individuals and religious groups, and government activity, since we got started as a country.
We’ve been working on this for a long time now. It probably will always be a work in progress. We don’t want to discourage people who are in public office from pursuing their own religious convictions and from stating them, but we must beware, as those of us who are Christians are warned, of practicing piety before others in order to be seen by them. We must be humble in this endeavor and work together.
We also must recognize that there will always be differences of opinion, honestly held and earnestly pursued, about what is the proper role for the government, what is the proper relationship between church and state, in the well-timed and well-used American phrase. But it seems to me that there is kind of an emerging consensus about the ways in which faith organizations and our government can work together, both at the national level and at the State and local levels, in a way that reinforce values that are universally held, and increase the leverage of the good things that the government is funding.
I could just mention one or two. Some of you are involved in faith-based organizations that have received funding for AmeriCorps slots. We now have thousands of young volunteers who have worked in AmeriCorps through various faith-based organizations rendering community service. I don’t think that’s a violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause, and we sure have helped a lot of people out there. And I feel good about that.
Some of you have worked in organizations which have helped poor families move from welfare to work, in a way that reinforces not only the value of work but the value of family, which is even more important. And that’s a continuing challenge for us, but I’m encouraged by the progress that has been made there.
Many of you have been involved with us in our efforts to advance the cause of religious freedom at home and around the world. I don’t know if Bob Seiple is here today, but I’m very pleased about what we’re doing in that, and I’m grateful for the work that you have—those of you who have helped us with that. And that continues to be a concern of mine in many places throughout the world, and I think it will continue to be something the United States will have to work and work and work on.
If you have followed—and I’m sure almost all of you have—the recent troubling events in East Timor, you know that there is a religious as well as an ethnic element to what is going on there and to the difficulties.
And finally, let me say that as we move toward the millennium, I have been very moved by the way many faith-based organizations have engaged and challenged those of us in public life to reawaken our responsibilities to poor people, both within and beyond our borders.
A couple of people on the way in today mentioned the global initiative to reduce dramatically the debt of the poorest nations in the world. And I was very pleased by the recent moves that the IMF and the World Bank have made in that direction. The United States has pushed very hard for it. It is an entirely appropriate thing to do. But I have to tell you, I don’t want this to wind up being like our dues to the United Nations. Now that we have advocated this and gotten everybody else to agree to it, we have to pay our fair share. So I hope all of you will help us pass the legislation through Congress to do that.
There is also much, much more we need to do here at home, especially for our children. And I think one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had as President was taking my socalled new markets tour around the country, to Appalachia, to the Mississippi Delta, to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, to many of our inner-city areas. And I intend to continue to do these for the remainder of my term, to highlight what we can do, what more we can do to try to get investment and opportunity and alleviate poverty among people who have not felt the warm glow of this economic prosperity of ours. And there are still altogether too many of them.
But today I want to just focus just for a few minutes, and then we’ll have breakfast, and then we’ll have a talk about it. But I wanted to ask you to think about this. And that’s why I’m so grateful to our pastor, for his invocation, and for, after what he’s been through, for coming here and sharing with us today.
All the rage in Washington today is we finally succeeded in getting, I think, the general public interested in the so-called Y2K problem. You know, we live in a world that is dominated by computers, and now we’re trying to make sure we’re Y2K ready, and everybody just has all these horrible scenarios of what might happen when the computers turn to 2000 and all the old computers revert back to 1900 and what might happen. We’ve been working on this steadily. The United States has worked very hard here, and we’ve worked very hard to help other countries throughout the world, and especially to avoid any disasters in military operations, in airline operations, things that could really have a profound impact on us.
But I think at this prayer breakfast today I would like to say that there is more to getting ready for Y2K than fixing the computers. And when this kind of seminal event occurs it gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves what it would take to be really ready for the year 2000.
I don’t think it’s good enough for us to enter the new century as the most prosperous and powerful country in the world, with the lowest unemployment rate in 29 years and the lowest welfare rolls in 32 years and the first backto-back budget surpluses in 42 years and the longest peacetime expansion ever. That’s all very impressive, but I think it’s worth noting, as I have on occasion before, that when Alexis de Tocqueville came here over 150 years ago and traveled around America and he noticed how profoundly religious our people were—even though we had no government religion, and in fact, government could not interfere with it— he thought we were the most religious people on Earth. And after he had done a good deal of his tour, de Tocqueville wrote a powerful sentence. He said, “America is great because America is good.” Not rich, not powerful, certainly not perfect, but good.
And the question I think we ought to focus on today is, are we good enough? And if we wanted to be better, what’s the most important place to start? I think this is especially important when it comes to children. There’s too much trouble in too many of their lives. Even here, the trend lines all look good. You have teen pregnancy, divorce, drug abuse, poverty, all going down in America. That’s the good news. The bad news is that by comparative standards, all these problems are still far too rampant, and there are too many children with troubled lives.
We could spend all day talking about those things. But today I would like to ask you to focus on this problem of violence, which has dominated so many of our headlines in the last 2 years. Now, even here, you could say it’s a mixed picture. It’s true we have the lowest crime rate in 26 years, the lowest murder rate in 30 years. But it’s also true that the crime rate in this country is way too high, much higher than virtually any place else.
It is true that we have seen over the last 2 years a rash of high-profile shootings, often with children as both the victims and the perpetrators. The mass killing of innocent people I think has been the most painful thing that Hillary and I and Al and Tipper Gore have had to deal with in the discharge of our public responsibilities, the bombing in Oklahoma City; the school violence at Littleton and so many other places; the dragging death of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas; the torture death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming; the murder of Won-Joon Yoon outside his church in Bloomington, Indiana, on the Fourth of July, and the other killings in that spree by a deranged young man who had been a member of a so-called church of white supremacy. There were the office killings in Atlanta and the family killings associated with it; the shootings at the Jewish community center in Los Angeles; the killing of a Filipino postalworker in that spree; of course, the recent murderous rampage at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth.
Now, some of these crimes were motivated by hatred of the victims, because of their race, their religion, their homosexuality. I think we must do more to prosecute such crimes. I hope Congress will soon send me the hate crimes legislation. But some of these crimes do not fit into the category of hate crimes. The murderers were in the grip of some evil force or mental illness.
And, in addition to these high-profile crimes where children were involved, we should never forget a couple of other things. Thirteen children die in this country every day from gun violence. And because they die in ones and twos, in tough neighborhoods and difficult streets, sometimes they’re not the lead story; sometimes they’re not any story on the evening news. But their numbers add up. And some of you minister to the families of those children.
Beyond that, children die with truly alarming frequency in this country from accidental gun deaths. Yesterday I was in New Orleans, and this whole big neighborhood was just almost groaning with grief over the death of a muchbeloved 4-year-old child who shot himself to death playing with a loaded gun he found in his own home.
Now, can we say America is good enough if we still have the highest murder rate in the world and—listen to this—and the rate of accidental shooting deaths for children under 15 in the United States is 9 times higher than the rate for the other 25 industrialized nations in the world combined?
Now, if you go back to what de Tocqueville said, that America is great because America is good, and then you realize somehow we’ve managed to make the most of this incredibly complex, modern economy, it seems strange, if the murder rate is higher here and the accidental death rate is exponentially higher, why is that? Is that because we’re not good, but we’re evil? Is it because we’re not smart, but we’re stupid?
We kind of laugh uncomfortably, but it’s worth thinking about. I say the answer to those questions is, of course not. Some people say, well, the reason this happens is we’re just not tough enough on offenders, whether they commit crimes with guns or let kids get guns or don’t take good enough care of their guns, that we just ought to punish people more. But the truth is we have longer sentences and we keep people in jail longer and we’ve got a higher percentage of our people behind bars than I think all the countries in the world but one.
So that’s not a very good explanation. And I have concluded long since that the truth is we’re in the fix we’re in because we don’t do enough to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children; because we don’t do enough to lead our children away from violent paths into positive paths; and because we don’t do enough to intervene in the lives of people who are disturbed, angry, unstable, and mentally ill before it’s too late.
In all of these areas, I believe that people of faith could do more to help those of us in public life, to give our children back their childhoods. And I will be very brief about that, and we’ll have breakfast, and we’ll go on with our discussions. I say that because to those who say, well, this is about evil, of course, that’s right; but most of you believe that evil is a darkness within us all that just metastasizes and explodes in a few. If America is to be good, at least according to my faith, we must do more to prevent and overcome evil with good.
And so it’s not enough to say that shootings in Los Angeles and Atlanta were evil, or the rampage in Fort Worth was evil. Praying and working for peace is good. Starting grassroots campaigns against youth violence, as we’re now trying to do all across the Nation, that’s good. Putting more uniform community police officers in our most dangerous neighborhoods is good. These gun buy-back programs that are springing up across the country that we’re trying to help finance here, they’re good. And I believe passing commonsense gun legislation to keep guns out of the wrong hands is a good thing to do.
I am convinced that the faith community can play a major role in protecting our children from violence, in supporting commonsense gun legislation, in participating in our campaign against youth violence, in forming community partnerships to identify and intervene in the lives of people before it is too late.
On this last point, I had a very good talk with the pastor of the Wedgewood Baptist Church just a few days ago. You know, so many of your places of worship and your organizations have good counseling and outreach programs. But they’re not necessarily connected to the mental health networks and the social service networks and the law enforcement networks in your community. And I’m convinced a lot of these people are known to be profoundly disturbed by others well before they go out and kill people. And somehow—and also a lot of these people—especially this is true of men, I think—are still really hung up about asking for help. I know about that. That’s a hard thing for men to do. I know about that.
And I think there are a lot of people who would maybe be less reluctant to ask for help from someone like you than to show up at the social service office of the government, or walk right through the front door of a psychiatrist’s or a psychologist’s office. And we need to think about this. There is no big magic national solution for this, but I have examined this.
There are many of you here from New York City. There was a profoundly disturbing article on the cover of the New York Times Sunday magazine a few months ago about the breakdown of the mental health network. It was talking about New York, but it could have been a story about any State in America. It just happened to be about New York. And I think that this is something we need to give serious attention to and something I think we could get strong bipartisan support in Congress to work with you on.
The other day I was talking to Mrs. Gore about this. You all know how interested she is. And I had Senator Domenici from New Mexico in the White House on a totally other, different issue, and I talked to him about it. And I said, you know, we’ve got to do something about this. And he looked at me and said, “You know, a lot of these people are mentally ill, but we’re not reaching them in time, and people know that they’re troubled before these things happen.”
So I ask you to think about this. I think that we have to do more. We’ve got to do everything we can and much more than we have to protect our children and to give them back their childhoods. If you think about it, we can hardly do more to make America’s spirit Y2K ready.
Thank you, and God bless you.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 3, 2000
Thank you, and good morning. Senator Mack, Senator Lieberman, Mr. Speaker, Congressman Doyle, other distinguished head table guests, and the Members of Congress and the Cabinet, my fellow Americans, and our visitors who have come from all across the world. Let me thank you again for this prayer breakfast and for giving Hillary and me the opportunity to come.
I ask that we remember in our prayers today a people who are particularly grieved, the men, women, and children who lost their loved ones on Alaska Airlines flight 261.
And let me say to all of you, I look forward to this day so much every year, a little time to get away from public service and politics into the realm of the spirit and to accept your prayers. This is a special year for me because, like Senator Mack, I’m not coming back, at least in my present position. And I have given a lot of thought to what I might say today, much of it voiced by my friend of 30 years now, Senator Joe Lieberman, who did a wonderful job for all of us.
The question I would hope that all of my fellow citizens would ask themselves today is: What responsibilities are now imposed on us because we live at perhaps the greatest moment of prosperity and promise in the history of our Nation, at a time when the world is growing ever more interdependent? What special responsibilities do we have?
Joe talked about some of them. We—I sometimes think in my wry way, when Senator Mack referred to his cousin, Judge Arnold, a longtime friend of Hillary’s and mine, as being on his far right and that making it uncomfortable, I laughed to myself. That’s why Connie wanted him on the bench, so he would get one more Democrat out of the public debate. [Laughter] But I wonder how long we’ll be all right after this prayer breakfast. I wonder if we’ll make it 15 minutes or 30 or an hour. Maybe we’ll make it 48 hours before we’ll just be back to normal.
So I want to ask you to think about that today: What is underneath the fundamental points that Senator Lieberman made today? For us Christians, Jesus said, the two most important Commandments of all were to love the Lord with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Torah says that anyone who turns aside the stranger acts as if he turns aside the most high God. The Koran contains its own powerful version of the Golden Rule, telling us never to do unto others what we would not like done to ourselves.
So what I would like to ask you in this, my last opportunity to be the President at this wonderful prayer breakfast: Who are our neighbors, and what does it mean to love them?
His Holiness John Paul II wrote us a letter about how he answered that question, and we are grateful for that.
For me, we must start with the fact that “neighbors” means something different today in common language than it did when I was a boy. It really means something different in common language than it did when I became President, when there were 50 websites on the World Wide Web. Today, there are over 50 million, in only 7 years. So that we see that within our borders we are not only growing more diverse every day in terms of race and ethnic groups and religion, but we can talk to people all across the world in an instant, in ever more interesting ways that go far beyond business and commerce and politics.
I have a cousin who is from the same little town in Arkansas I am, who plays chess a couple of times a week with a man in Australia, 8,000 miles away. The world is growing smaller and more interdependent. And I guess the point I would like to make to you today is, as time and space contract, the wisdom of the human heart must expand. We must be able to love our neighbors and accept our essential oneness.
Now, globalization is forcing us to that conclusion, so is science. I’ve had many opportunities to say in the last few months that the most enlightening evening I had last year was one that Hillary sponsored at the White House where a distinguished scientist and expert in human genome research informed us that we are all genetically 99.9 percent the same and, furthermore, said that the differences among people in the same racial group genetically are different, are greater—the individual differences among people in the same racial and ethnic groups are greater than the differences from group to group.
For some that is reassuring; for some that is disturbing. When I said that in the State of the Union, the Republicans and Democrats both laughed uncomfortably. [Laughter] It seemed inconceivable. But the truth is that modern science has taught us what we always learned from ancient faiths, the most important fact of life on this Earth is our common humanity. Our faith—I love what Representative Doyle said—our faith is the conviction of things unseen. But more and more, our faith is confirmed by what we know and see.
So, with all the blessings we now enjoy, what shall we do with it? If we say, “Okay, we accept it, God, even though we don’t like it every day, we are one with our brothers and sisters, whether we like them or not all the time. We have to be bigger. Our hearts have to grow deeper. Time and space contract; help us to expand our spirits,” what does that mean?
We know we can’t build our own future without helping others to build theirs. But many of us live on the cutting edge of a new economy, while over a billion people live on the bare edge of survival. And here in our own country, there are still too many poor children and too many communities that have not participated in our prosperity.
The Christian Bible says that Jesus warned us that even as we do it unto the least of these, we have done it unto our God. When times are tough and all of our fellow citizens are having a hard time pulling together, we can be forgiven if we look at the welfare of the whole. Now the welfare of the whole is the strongest it has ever been, but people within our country and beyond our borders are still in trouble, people with good values, people with the values you have held up here today, people who would gladly work. We dare not turn away from them if we believe in our common humanity.
We see all over the world the chorus of denial about our common responsibility for the welfare of this planet, even though all the scientists say that it is changing and warming at an unsustainable rate, and all great faiths have reminded us of our solemn obligation to our earthly home.
Even more troubling to me, our dazzling modern world is witness to a resurgence of society’s oldest demon, the inability to love our closest neighbors as ourselves if they look or worship differently from the rest of us. Today, the Irish peace process is strained by a lack of trust between Republican Catholics and Protestant Unionists. In the Middle East, with all its hope, we are still having to work very hard to overcome the profoundest of suspicions between Israeli Jews and Palestinian and Syrian Arabs.
We have people here today from the Indian subcontinent, perhaps the most dangerous place in the world today because of the tensions over Kashmir and the possession of nuclear weapons. And yet, when people from the Indian subcontinent come to America, they do better than nearly anybody because of their family values, their work ethics, and their remarkable capacity, innate capacity, for absorbing all the lessons of modern science and technology.
In Bosnia and Kosovo, Christians thought they were being patriotic to cleanse their lands of Muslims. In other places, Islamic terrorists claim their faith commands them to kill infidels, though the Koran teaches that God created nations and tribes that we might know one another, not that we might despise one another.
Here at home, we still see Asians, blacks, gays, even in one instance last year, children at a Jewish school, subject to attacks just because of who they are. And here in Washington, we are not blameless, for we often, too, forget in the heat of political battle our common humanity. We slip from honest difference, which is healthy, into dishonest demonization. We ignore, when we’re all hyped and in a fight, all those Biblical admonitions we profess to believe: that “we all see through a glass darkly”; that, with Saint Paul, we all do what we would not, and we do not do what we would; that “faith, hope, and charity abide, but the greatest of these is charity”; that God says to all of us, not just some, “I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are Mine,” all of you.
Once Abraham Lincoln responded to some friends of his who were complaining really bitterly about politicians who would not support him. And he said to them, and I quote, “You have more of a feeling of personal resentment than I have. Perhaps I have too little of it. But I never thought it paid.” Well, we know it doesn’t pay. And the truth is, we’re all here today because, in God’s timetable, we’re all just like Senator Mack and me. We’re all term-limited.
In my lifetime, our Nation has never had the chance we now have to build the future of our dreams for our children, to be good neighbors to the rest of the world, to live out the admonition of all our faiths. To do it, we will have to first conquer our own demons and embrace our common humanity with humility and gratitude.
I leave you with the words of a great prayer by Chief Seattle. “This we know: All things are connected. We did not weave the web of life. We are merely a strand in it. And whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
May God bless you all.
Remarks at a Breakfast With Religious Leaders
September 14, 2000
Good morning, everyone. I’m delighted to welcome you to the White House. This is the eighth, and final—[laughter]—for me, White House prayer breakfast that we have at this time every year.
Good morning, everyone. I’m delighted to welcome you to the White House. This is the eighth, and final—[laughter]—for me, White House prayer breakfast that we have at this time every year.
I want to thank Secretary Glickman for joining us. He’s sort of a symbol of our broadbased and ecumenical approach in this administration. He’s the first Jewish Secretary of Agriculture. [Laughter] And he’s helping people to understand that “Jewish farmer” is not an oxymoron. So that’s good. [Laughter]
I want to say I bring you greetings on behalf of Hillary, who called me early this morning to ask what I was going to say—[laughter]— and the Vice President and Mrs. Gore. As you know, the three of them are otherwise occupied, but they need your prayers, maybe even more than I do. [Laughter]
I want to thank you, particularly those of you who have been here in past years. Each one of these breakfasts has been quite meaningful to me, often for different reasons. We’ve talked about personal journeys and the journey of our Nation and often talked about particular challenges within our borders, very often due to problems of the spirit in our efforts to create one America. We’ve talked about that a lot.
Today, because of the enormous good fortune that we as Americans have enjoyed, I would like to talk just for a few moments about what our responsibilities are to the rest of the world. There is a huge debate going on today all over the world about whether the two central revolutions of our time, the globalization of human societies and the explosion of information technology, which are quite related—whether these things are, on balance, positive or, on balance, negative.
When we had the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the streets were full of thousands of people who were saying in a very loud voice, this whole deal is, on balance, negative. Interestingly enough, they were marching in solidarity, although often they had positions that directly contradicted one another. There were those who said this is, on balance, negative because it will make the rich countries richer and the poor countries poorer. And then there were those who said that this is, on balance, negative because it will weaken the middle class in the developed countries, because we don’t require poor countries to lift their labor and environmental standards. And there were other various conflicts among them.
But the point is, there’s a lot of ferment here and a lot of people who are, at the very least, highly ambivalent about whether the coming together of the world in the new century is going to be a good or a bad thing.
Then there’s the whole question of how the coming together of the world and the way we make a living and, particularly, the way we produce energy to make a living, is contributing to changing the climate, which it is. There’s more and more evidence that the world is warming at an unsustainable rate, and the polar ice cap—if you’ve seen the latest stories there about how much it’s melting, it’s incontestable that sometime in the next 50 years, we’re going to begin to sustain severe, adverse common consequences to the warming of the climate if we don’t do something to turn that around.
And some people believe that there’s no way to fix this, if we keep trying to get richer and more global with our economy. I don’t happen to agree with that, and I’m not going to talk about it today. But there’s a big issue. And very few people are in denial on climate change any more. Virtually all the major oil companies now concede, for example, that it is a serious problem and that they have a responsibility to deal with it, and if they don’t, it could shape the way we are all—or our grandchildren are living, in ways that are quite different and, on balance, negative.
Then there is the whole question of whether technology will offer more benefits to the organized forces of destruction than it does to the forces of good over the next 30 years.
I just came back from a remarkable trip to Colombia. I went to Cartagena with the Speaker of the House. We only get publicity around here for the partisan fights we have, but in an astonishing display of bipartisanship, we passed something called Plan Colombia, which is designed to help primarily the Colombians but also all the nations on the borders reduce drug—narcotics production, coca production primarily, steer farmers into alternative ways of making a living, and develop an increase in the capacity of the Colombian Government to fight the narcotraffickers, and to keep drugs from coming into this country, which are directly responsible for the deaths of about 14,000 kids a year in America. And it was this really beautiful effort.
And then we got criticized, the Republicans and Democrats together, those of us that supported this, because people said, “Oh, Clinton is going down there to make another Vietnam,” or we’re trying to interfere in Colombia’s politics or be an imperialist country. And I told everybody there that I didn’t want anything out of Colombia except a decent life for the people there, with a way to make a living on honorable circumstances that didn’t put drugs into the bodies of American children and children in Europe and Asia and throughout the world.
But the point I want to make is, there are a lot of people who believe that with more open borders, greater access, smaller and smaller technology—you know, you now get a little hand-held computer with a keyboard that’s plastic, that fits inside of your hand, that has a screen that hooks you up to the Internet—and we know that, for example, terrorist networks in the world very often have some of the most sophisticated uses of the Internet. We know that as we get more and more open, we may become more vulnerable to people who develop smallscale means of delivering chemical and biological weapons. And all these scenarios are real, by the way. We’ve spent a lot of money in the Defense Department trying to prepare for the adverse consequences of terrorism, using chemical and biological weapons.
So you’ve got that on one side. You’ve got the people that say that globalization of the economy is going to lead to increasing inequality and oppression, and whatever happens is going to destroy the environment. And if it doesn’t, the organized forces of destruction will cross national borders and wreck everything, anyway. That’s sort of what you might call the modest dark side.
And then you’ve got people like me that don’t buy it, that basically—I think if you look at over the last 50 years, that over a 50-year period the countries that were poor, that organized themselves properly and rewarded work and had lawful systems and related well to the rest of the world and traded more, grew much more rapidly.
If you just look at the last 10 years, with the explosion of the Internet, countries that are highly wired, even though they’re poor, had growth rates that were 6, 7 percent a year higher than they otherwise would have been. And so finally, there is no alternative. It’s not like we’re all going to go back to huts and quit talking to each other.
So if we believe that every person is a child of God, that everyone counts, that everyone should have a certain level of decency in their lives and a certain fair chance to make something, what are our obligations? And I just want to mention three things that are before us today that I think are quite important. And a lot of you in this room have been involved in one or all three.
The most important thing I’d like to talk about is debt relief. There are many countries that, either because of internal problems or abject misgovernment, piled up a lot of debt that can’t be repaid. And now every year they have to spend huge amounts of their national treasure just making interest payments on the debt, money they can’t spend on the education of their children, on the development of public health systems—which, by the way, are under huge stress around the world—and on other things that will give them a chance to take advantage of the new global economy in society.
Now, there are people who don’t favor this sweeping debt relief. They say that it rewards misconduct, that it creates what is known, not in your business but in the economics business, as a moral hazard. [Laughter] In economic terms, moral hazard is created—the idea is, if you don’t hold people liable for every penny of the mistakes they made or their predecessors made, then somehow you’ve created a mess in which everybody will go around until the end of time borrowing money they have no intention of paying back.
And there’s something to that, by the way. It’s not a trivial concern to be dismissed. The problem you have is that a lot of these countries were grievously misgoverned, often by people who looted the national treasury. And when they get a good government, a new government, a clean government, when they agree to new rules, when they hook themselves into the International Monetary Fund, to the World Bank on the condition that they’ll change everything they’ve done, they still can never get out of debt and can never educate their kids and make their people healthy and create a country that is attractive to investors to give people opportunity, which is why the Pope and so many other people urge that we use the year 2000 as Jubilee Year to have a sweeping debt relief initiative. And there’s a whole thing in the Judeo-Christian religion about how the Jubilee is supposed to be used every 50 years to forgive debts, to aid the poor, to proclaim liberty to all; and there are trends—there are similar traditions in other faiths of the world, represented in this room.
So for those of you who have been working on this, I want to thank you. What I would like to tell you is, I think that it is very much in the interest of America to have big, largescale debt relief if the countries that get the relief are committed to and held accountable to good governance and using the money not to build up military power but to invest in the human needs of their people.
We worked very hard to develop a plan. And a lot of you are involved in other—in developing countries throughout the world. There are a lot of people here, I know, that are involved in Africa, for example, where many of the countries most in need are, but you also see this in Asia and Latin America, which is a very important thing.
We developed a plan with other creditor nations to triple the debt relief available to the world’s poorest nations, provided they agreed to take the savings from the debt payments and put it into health and education. The United States—I announced last year that we would completely write off the bilateral debt owed to us by countries that qualify for this plan. That is, they’ve got to be too poor to pay the money back and well enough governed to be able to assure that they’ll take the savings and put it into health and education. That’s as many as 33 nations right now.
I’ll just tell you, in the last year, Bolivia— an amazing story, by the way—the poorest country in the Andes, has done the most to get rid of drug production. The poorest country has done the most to get rid of drug production. Astonishing story. That ought to be worth it to us to give them debt relief, complete debt relief. But they saved $77 million that they spent entirely on health, education, and other social needs. Uganda, one of the two countries in Africa that has dramatically reduced the AIDS rate, has used its savings to double primary school enrollment. Honduras has qualified but not received their money yet. They intend to offer every one of the children in the country 9 years of education instead of 6. Mozambique, a country which last year, until the floods, had the first or second highest growth rate in the world, after having been devastated by internal conflict just a few years ago, because of the flood is going to use a lot of their money to buy medicine for government clinics, because they’ve got a lot of serious health problems that are attendant on the fact that the country was practically washed away.
Ten nations so far have qualified for the debt relief. Ten more, I think, will do so by the end of this year. We’ve got to make sure the money is there for them. Last year I got—the Congress was supported on a bipartisan basis the money for America to forgive our bilateral debt relief. And we have to come up with money that—for example, if somebody owes a billion dollars, even though we know they won’t pay, because they can’t, it gets budgeted at some figure. And we actually have to put that money in the budget before we can forgive it.
But the Congress did not appropriate the funds for the highly indebted poor countries initiative to forgive their multilateral debt relief. Most countries owe more money to the International Monetary Fund than they do to America or France or Germany or Britain or Japan or anybody else.
So if we want this to work, we have got to pass legislation this year to pay our fair share of this international debt relief initiative. Now, we have members of both parties from dramatically different backgrounds supporting this. It’s really quite moving to see, because a lot of times this is the only thing these people have ever agreed on. It’s really touching.
You know, we have a lot of Democrats who represent inner-city districts with people who have roots in these countries, allied for the first time in their entire career with conservative Republican evangelical Christians who believe they have a moral responsibility to do this, because it’s ordained, and then all kinds of other people in the Congress. But it’s given us a coalition that I would give anything to see formed around other issues and issues here at home—anything. And it could really—if we can actually pull it off, it can change the nature of the whole political debate in America because of something they did together that they all believe so deeply in.
What’s the problem? The problem is, there is competition for this money, and some people would rather spend it on something else where there are more immediate political benefits. None of these people have any votes, we’re helping. And some people do buy the moral hazard argument.
But I’m just telling you, I’ve been in these countries, and I know what many of their governments were like 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and I just don’t think it washes. If you want people to organize themselves well, run themselves well, and build a future, we’ve got to do this. And I think it is a moral issue.
How can we sit here on the biggest mountain of wealth we have ever accumulated, that any nation in all of human history has ever accumulated—and we’re not just throwing money away. We’re only giving this money to people who not only promise to, but prove they are able to take all the savings and invest it in the human needs of their people.
So I would just say, anything that any of you can do—Bolivia is waiting for more money that they haven’t gotten. Honduras is waiting for money that they haven’t gotten. They’re going to spend this money to send kids to school for 9 years instead of 6. This is not a complicated thing.
And I would just implore you, anything you can do to urge members of both parties to make this a high priority. Let me remind you, we’ve got a budget worth nearly $2 trillion, and this money is for 2 years. So we’re talking about $210 million in one year and $225 million in the second year to lift the burden off poor people around the world only if they earn it, in effect. So I just ask you all, please help us with that.
And let me just mention two other things very briefly. The public health crisis in a lot of these countries is threatening to take out all the gains of good government and even debt relief. There are African countries with AIDS infection rates in the military of 30 percent or more. A quarter of all the world’s people every year who die, die from AIDS, malaria, and TB, those three things. A phenomenal number of people die from malaria, in part, because there are no public health infrastructures in a lot of these places.
So the second thing I want to ask for your help on is, we want to double or increase by $100 million—it’s about a 50 percent increase— our efforts to help countries fight AIDS. We want to increase, dramatically, our contributions to the global alliance for vaccines that helps countries who are poor afford the medicine that is there.
I just got back from Nigeria, and the President of Nigeria, who was a military leader in prison because he stood up for democracy and against a corrupt government that was there before, dealt with all these taboos that have gripped Africa and kept Africa from dealing with AIDS in an astonishing way. We went into an auditorium, and he and I stood on a stage with a 16-year-old girl who was an AIDS peer educator and a young man in his mid-twenties—this is an amazing story—or maybe he’s in his early thirties now. He and his wife are both HIVpositive. He fell in love with a young woman who is HIV-positive. Her parents didn’t want them to get married; his parents didn’t want them to get married. They were devout Christians. Their minister didn’t want them to get married. And he finally convinced the pastor that he would never love anyone else, and the pastor gave his assent to their getting married. Within 4 months of their getting married, he was HIV-positive. She got pregnant. He had to quit his job to go around and scrounge up, because his job didn’t give him enough money to buy the drugs that would free their child of being HIV-positive. So he finally was let go of his job, excuse me, because he was HIVpositive, and they were still afraid and prejudiced. So with no money he found a way to get the drugs to his wife, and they had a child who was born free of the virus.
So we were sitting there with hundreds of people in Nigeria, and the President is talking about this. So this guy comes up, and he tells this story and about what a blessing God has been in his life and how much he appreciates his pastor for marrying them and how much he appreciates their families for sticking with them. And then the President of the country called his wife up out of the stands, and he embraced her in front of hundreds of people. Now, this is a big deal on a continent where most people have acted like, you know, you might as well have smallpox, and you were giving it out by talking to people. This is a huge deal. And the President got up and said, “We have to fight the disease, not the people who have it. Our enemy are not the people with it. We have to fight the disease.” It was an amazing thing.
Now, I think these people ought to be helped, so we—but it’s $100 million I want to come up with for that, and I forget how much we’re giving to the Vaccine Alliance. And in addition to that, I have asked the Congress, after meeting with a lot of our big drug research companies, not just the big pharmaceutical companies but a lot of them that do biomedical research, to give us a billion dollar tax credit to encourage companies to develop vaccines for AIDS, malaria, and TB, because we have to do that, because they don’t see any front-end benefit in it. And they have to—they can’t justify the massive amounts of money that are needed to develop these vaccines, because they know that most of the people that need them can’t afford to buy them.
So if they develop them, we’ll figure out how to get the money to get them out there. But first we’ve got to have them developed. So I’ve proposed a tax credit, more money to help buy the medicines that are out there now, and a hundred million more dollars directly to help these countries fight AIDS. I want to ask you to help me get that money. It ought to be an American obligation. This is a serious global problem.
The last thing I want to say is that there was a remarkable meeting in Senegal not very long ago, where essentially an alliance of the world’s developing and developed countries made a commitment to try to make basic education available to every child in the world within 15 years. And one of the reasons that kids don’t go is, they’re not sure it makes sense, or their parents—there are even countries—in the poorest countries where the parents, no matter how poor they are, have to pay some money for their kids to go to school—lots of problems.
So Senator George McGovern, who is our Ambassador to the World Food Organization in Rome, and Senator Bob Dole came to me with Congressman Jim McGovern—no relation— from Massachusetts. And these three people from different worlds asked me to support an initiative to try to get to the point where the wealthier countries in the world could offer every poor child in the world a nutritious meal in school if they’d show up to school.
And they reasoned that—even though there are lots of other issues; and by the way, I won’t go into all that; we’ve got to do a lot more to help these schools in these developing countries—but they reasoned that if we could do that, there would be a dramatic enrollment, especially among young girls, who are often kept at home because their parents see no economic benefit, and in fact a burden, to having their daughters go to school. But there are a lot of young boys that aren’t in school in countries, too.
So we, thanks to Dan Glickman, got $300 million up, and we are doing a test run. And we’re going around to countries that want to do this. And with $300 million—listen to this— we can feed 9 million schoolchildren for a year in school. But you don’t get fed unless you come to school.
Now, for somewhere between $3 billion and $4 billion, we could give a—if we can get the rest of the world to help us do this, we could give a nutritious meal, either breakfast or lunch, to every school-aged child in every really poor country in the entire world for a year.
Now, you don’t have to do anything about that now. I just want you to know about it, because we have to go figure out how to do this. And let me tell you why. Dan has got to figure out, how is this stuff going to be delivered to remote areas, or is it going to be in dried packages then hydrated and heated? How are we going to do this without messing up the local farm economies? The last thing we want to do is destabilize already fragile farmers. There are practical things. But we have many countries that are interested in this.
When I was in Colombia on the drug thing, the President’s wife asked me about this program. She said, “Can we be part of that, or are we too well off?” You know, she said, “We’re not really all that rich, with all these narcotraffickers taking the money.” We were talking about it.
But the point I want to say is, we have reaped great benefits from the information revolution and the globalization of the economy. We, therefore, have great responsibilities. We have responsibilities to put a human face on the global economy. That’s why I think we’re right to advocate higher environmental and labor standards, try to make sure everybody benefits.
We have a responsibility to lead the way on climate change, not be stuck in denial, because we’re still the number one producer of greenhouse gases. Although shortly, unless we help them find a different way to get rich, China and India will be, just because they’ve got more folks.
And in the short run, we have a very heavy responsibility, I believe, to broaden and simplify this debt relief initiative; to lead the assault on the global diseases of AIDS, TB, and malaria that take out a quarter of the people who die, most of them very prematurely before their time every year; and to do more to universalize education so that everybody, everywhere, will be able to take advantage of what we’re coming to take for granted.
Now, we’ve had a lot of wonderful talks over the last 8 years, but I think that I do not believe that a nation, any more than a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a particular religious faith, can confine its compassion and concern and commitment only within its borders, especially if you happen to be in the most fortunate country in the world. And I can’t figure out for you what you think about whether these sweeping historical trends are, on balance, good or bad. But it seems to me if you believe that people are, on balance, good or bad or capable of good, we can make these trends work for good.
And I’ll just close with this. There is a fascinating book out that I just read by a man named Robert Wright, called “Non Zero.” He wrote an earlier book called “The Moral Animal,” which some of you may have read. This whole book is about, is all this stuff that is happening in science and technology, on balance, good or bad, and are the dark scenarios going to prevail, or is there some other way?
The argument of the book, from which it gets its title, is basically an attempt to historically validate something Martin Luther King once said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s pretty hard to make that case, arguably, when you look at what happened with World War I, with Nazi Germany and World War II, with the highly sophisticated oppressive systems of communism. But that’s the argument of this book, that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.
The argument is that the more complex societies grow and the more interconnected we all get, the more interdependent we become, the more we have to look for non-zero sum solutions. That is, solutions in which we all win, instead of solutions in which I win at your expense.
It’s not a naive book. He says, “Hey look, there’s still going to be an election for President.
One person wins; one person loses. There’s still going to be choices for who runs the company or who gets the pulpit.” [Laughter] There will be choices. It’s not a naive book. But he says that, on balance, great organizations and great societies will have to increasingly look for ways for everyone to win, in an atmosphere of principled compromise, based on shared values, maximizing the tools at hand. Otherwise, you can’t continue—societies cannot continue to grow both more complex and more interdependent.
So I leave you with that thought and whatever it might mean for you in trying to reconcile your faith with the realities of modern life. And again I say, as Americans, we have, I think, a truly unique opportunity and a very profound responsibility to do something now on debt relief, disease, and education beyond our borders.
Thank you very much.