State of the Union Address
23 January 1996
Thank you very much.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of the 104th Congress, distinguished
guests, my fellow Americans all across our land: Let me begin tonight by
saying to our men and women in uniform around the world, and especially
those helping peace take root in Bosnia and to their families, I thank
you. America is very, very proud of you.
My duty tonight is to report on the state of the Union -- not the state
of our government, but of our American community; and to set forth our
responsibilities, in the words of our Founders, to form a more perfect
The state of the Union is strong. Our economy is the healthiest it has
been in three decades. We have the lowest combined rates of unemployment
and inflation in 27 years. We have completed -- created nearly 8 million
new jobs, over a million of them in basic industries, like construction
and automobiles. America is selling more cars than Japan for the first
time since the 1970s. And for three years in a row, we have had a record
number of new businesses started in our country.
Our leadership in the world is also strong, bringing hope for new peace.
And perhaps most important, we are gaining ground in restoring our fundamental
values. The crime rate, the welfare and food stamp rolls, the poverty rate
and the teen pregnancy rate are all down. And as they go down, prospects
for America's future go up.
We live in an age of possibility. A hundred years ago we moved from
farm to factory. Now we move to an age of technology, information, and
global competition. These changes have opened vast new opportunities for
our people, but they have also presented them with stiff challenges. While
more Americans are living better, too many of our fellow citizens are working
harder just to keep up, and they are rightly concerned about the security
of their families.
We must answer here three fundamental questions: First, how do we make
the American Dream of opportunity for all a reality for all Americans who
are willing to work for it? Second, how do we preserve our old and enduring
values as we move into the future? And, third, how do we meet these challenges
together, as one America?
We know big government does not have all the answers. We know there's
not a program for every problem. We know, and we have worked to give the
American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington.
And we have to give the American people one that lives within its means.
The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when
our citizens were left to fend for themselves.
Instead, we must go forward as one America, one nation working together
to meet the challenges we face together. Self-reliance and teamwork are
not opposing virtues; we must have both. (Applause.) I believe our new,
smaller government must work in an old-fashioned American way, together
with all of our citizens through state and local governments, in the workplace,
in religious, charitable and civic associations. Our goal must be to enable
all our people to make the most of their own lives -- with stronger families,
more educational opportunity, economic security, safer streets, a cleaner
environment in a safer world.
To improve the state of our Union, we must ask more of ourselves, we
must expect more of each other, and we must face our challenges together.
Here, in this place, our responsibility begins with balancing the budget
in a way that is fair to all Americans. There is now broad bipartisan agreement
that permanent deficit spending must come to an end.
I compliment the Republican leadership and the membership for the energy
and determination you have brought to this task of balancing the budget.
And I thank the Democrats for passing the largest deficit reduction plan
in history in 1993, which has already cut the deficit nearly in half in
Since 1993, we have all begun to see the benefits of deficit reduction.
Lower interest rates have made it easier for businesses to borrow and to
invest and to create new jobs. Lower interest rates have brought down the
cost of home mortgages, car payments and credit card rates to ordinary
citizens. Now, it is time to finish the job and balance the budget.
Though differences remain among us which are significant, the combined
total of the proposed savings that are common to both plans is more than
enough, using the numbers from your Congressional Budget Office to balance
the budget in seven years and to provide a modest tax cut.
These cuts are real. They will require sacrifice from everyone. But
these cuts do not undermine are fundamental obligations to our parents,
our children, and our future, by endangering Medicare, or Medicaid, or
education, or the environment, or by raising taxes on working families.
I have said before, and let me say again, many good ideas have come
out of our negotiations. I have learned a lot about the way both Republicans
and Democrats view the debate before us. I have learned a lot about the
good ideas have that we could all embrace.
We ought to resolve our remaining differences. I am willing to work
to resolve them. I am ready to meet tomorrow. But I ask you to consider
that we should at least enact these savings that both plans have in common
and give the American people their balanced budget, a tax cut, lower interest
rates, and a brighter future. We should do that now and make permanent
deficits yesterday's legacy.
Now it is time for us to look also to the challenges of today and tomorrow,
beyond the burdens of yesterday. The challenges are significant. But our
nation was built on challenges. America was built on challenges, not promises.
And when we work together to meet them, we never fail. That is the key
to a more perfect Union. Our individual dreams must be realized by our
Tonight I want to speak to you about the challenges we all face as a
people. Our first challenge is to cherish our children and strengthen America's
families. Family is the foundation of American life. If we have stronger
families, we will have a stronger
Before I go on, I'd like to take just a moment to thank my own family,
and to thank the person who has taught me more than anyone else over 25
years about the importance of families and children -- a wonderful wife,
a magnificent mother and a great First Lady. Thank you, Hillary.
All strong families begin with taking more responsibility for our children.
I've heard Mrs. Gore say that it's hard to be a parent today, but it's
even harder to be a child. So all of us, not just as parents, but all of
us in our other roles -- our media, our schools, our teachers, our communities,
our churches and synagogues, our businesses, our governments -- all of
us have a responsibility to help our children to make it and to make the
most of their lives and their God-given capacities.
To the media, I say you should create movies and CDs and television
shows you'd want your own children and grandchildren to enjoy.
I call on Congress to pass the requirement for a V chip in TV sets so
that parents can screen out programs they believe are inappropriate for
their children. When parents control what their young children see, that
is not censorship; that is enabling parents to assume more personal responsibility
for their children's upbringing. And I urge them to do it. The V chip requirement
is part of the important telecommunications bill now pending in this Congress.
It has bipartisan support, and I urge you to pass it now.
To make the V chip work, I challenge the broadcast industry to do what
movies have done -- to identify your program in ways that help parents
to protect their children. And I invite the leaders of major media corporations
in the entertainment industry to come to the White House next month to
work with us in a positive way on concrete ways to improve what our children
see on television. I am ready to work with you.
I say to those who make and market cigarettes, every year a million
children take up smoking, even though it's against the law. Three hundred
thousand of them will have their lives shortened as a result. Our administration
has taken steps to stop the massive marketing campaigns that appeal to
our children. We are simply saying: Market your products to adults, if
you wish, but draw the line on children.
I say to those who are on welfare, and especially to those who have
been trapped on welfare for a long time: For too long our welfare system
has undermined the values of family and work, instead of supporting them.
The Congress and I are near agreement on sweeping welfare reform. We agree
on time limits, tough work requirements, and the toughest possible child
support enforcement. But I believe we must also provide child care so that
mothers who are required to go to work can do so without worrying about
what is happening to their children.
I challenge this Congress to send me a bipartisan welfare reform bill
that will really move people from welfare to work and do the right thing
by our children. I will sign it immediately.
Let us be candid about this difficult problem. Passing a law, even the
best possible law, is only a first step. The next step is to make it work.
I challenge people on welfare to make the most of this opportunity for
independence. I challenge American businesses to give people on welfare
the chance to move into the work force. I applaud the work of religious
groups and other who care for the poor. More than anyone else in our society,
they know the true difficulty of the task before us, and they are in a
position to help.
Everyone of us should join them. That is the only way we can make real
welfare reform a reality in the lives of the American people.
To strengthen the family we must do everything we can to keep the teen
pregnancy rate going down. I am gratified, as I'm sure all Americans are,
that it has dropped for two years in a row. But we all know it is still
far too high.
Tonight I am pleased to announce that a group of prominent Americans
is responding to that challenge by forming an organization that will support
grass-roots community efforts all across our country in a national campaign
against teen pregnancy. And I challenge all of us and every American to
join their efforts.
I call on American men and women in families to give greater respect
to one another. We must end the deadly scourge of domestic violence in
our country. And I challenge America's families to work harder to stay
together. For families who stay together not only do better economically,
their children do better as well.
In particular, I challenge the fathers of this country to love and care
for their children. If your family has separated, you must pay your child
support. We're doing more than ever to make sure you do, and we're going
to do more, but let's all admit something about that, too: A check will
substitute for a parent's love and guidance. And only you -- only you can
make the decision to help raise your children. No matter who you are, how
low or high your station in life, it is the most basic human duty of every
American to do that job to the best of his or her ability.
Our second challenge is to provide Americans with the educational opportunities
we'll all need for this new century. In our schools, every classroom in
America must be connected to the information superhighway, with computers
and good software, and well-trained teachers. We are working with the telecommunications
industry, educators and parents to connect 20 percent of California's classrooms
by this spring, and every classroom and every library in the entire United
States by the year 2000. I ask Congress to support this education
technology initiative so that we can make sure this national partnership
Every diploma ought to mean something. I challenge every community,
every school and every state to adopt national standards of excellence;
to measure whether schools are meeting those standards; to cut bureaucratic
red tape so that schools and teachers have more flexibility for grass-roots
reform; and to hold them accountable for results. That's what our Goals
2000 initiative is all about.
I challenge every state to give all parents the right to choose which
public school their children will attend; and to let teachers form new
schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job.
I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good
values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing
each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able
to require their students to wear school uniforms.
I challenge our parents to become their children's first teachers. Turn
off the TV. See that the homework is done. And visit your children's classroom.
No program, no teacher, no one else can do that for you.
My fellow Americans, higher education is more important today than ever
before. We've created a new student loan program that's made it easier
to borrow and repay those loans, and we have dramatically cut the student
loan default rate. That's something we should all be proud of because it
was unconscionably high just a few years ago.
Through AmeriCorps, our national service program, this year 25,000 young
people will earn college money by serving their local communities to improve
the lives of their friends and neighbors.
These initiatives are right for America and we should keep them going.
And we should also work hard to open the doors of college even wider. I
challenge Congress to expand work-study and help one million young Americans
work their way through college by the year 2000; to provide a $1000 merit
scholarship for the top five percent of graduates in every high school
in the United States; -- to expand Pell Grant scholarships for deserving
and needy students; and to make up to $10,000 a year of college tuition
tax deductible. It's a good idea for America.
Our third challenge is to help every American who is willing to work
for it, achieve economic security in this new age. People who work hard
still need support to get ahead in the new economy. They need education
and training for a lifetime. They need more support for families raising
children. They need retirement security. They need access to health care.
More and more Americans are finding that the education of their childhood
simply doesn't last a lifetime.
So I challenge Congress to consolidate 70 overlapping, antiquated job-training
programs into a simple voucher worth $2,600 for unemployed or underemployed
workers to use as they please for community college tuition or other training.
This is a G.I. Bill for America's workers we should all be able to agree
More and more Americans are working hard without a raise. Congress sets
the minimum wage. Within a year, the minimum wage will fall to a 40-year
low in purchasing power. Four dollars and 25 cents an hour is no longer
a minimum wage, but millions of Americans and their children are trying
to live on it. I challenge you to raise their minimum wage.
In 1993, Congress cut the taxes of 15 million hard-pressed working families
to make sure that no parents who work full-time would have to raise their
children in poverty, and to encourage people to move from welfare to work.
This expanded earned income tax credit is now worth about $1,800 a year
to a family of four living on $20,000. The budget bill I vetoed would have
reversed this achievement and raised taxes on nearly 8 million of these
people. We should not do that. We should not do that.
I also agree that the people who are helped under this initiative are
not all those in our country who are working hard to do a good job raising
their children and at work. I agree that we need a tax credit for working
families with children. That's one of the things most of us in this Chamber,
I hope, can agree on. I know it is strongly supported by the Republican
majority. And it should be part of any final budget agreement.
I want to challenge every business that can possibly afford it to provide
pensions for your employees. And I challenge Congress to pass a proposal
recommended by the White House Conference on Small Business that would
make it easier for small businesses and farmers to establish their own
pension plans. That is something we should all agree on.
We should also protect existing pension plans. Two years ago, with bipartisan
support that was almost unanimous on both sides of the aisle, we moved
to protect the pensions of 8 million working people and to stabilize the
pensions of 32 million more. Congress should not now let companies endanger
those workers's pension funds.
I know the proposal to liberalize the ability of employers to take money
out of pension funds for other purposes would raise money for the treasury.
But I believe it is false economy. I vetoed that proposal last year, and
I would have to do so again.
Finally, if our working families are going to succeed in the new economy,
they must be able to buy health insurance policies that they do not lose
when they change jobs or when someone in their family gets sick. Over the
past two years, over one million Americans in working families have lost
their health insurance. We have to do more to make health care available
to every American. And Congress should start by passing the bipartisan
bill sponsored by Senator Kennedy and Senator Kassebaum that would require
insurance companies to stop dropping people when they switch jobs, and
stop denying coverage for preexisting conditions. Let's all do that.
And even as we enact savings in these programs, we must have a common
commitment to preserve the basic protections of Medicare and Medicaid --
not just to the poor, but to people in working families, including children,
people with disabilities,
people with AIDS, senior citizens in nursing homes.
In the past three years, we've saved $15 billion just by fighting health
care fraud and abuse. We have all agreed to save much more. We have all
agreed to stabilize the Medicare Trust Fund. But we must not abandon our
fundamental obligations to the people who need Medicare and Medicaid. America
cannot become stronger if they become weaker.
The G.I. Bill for workers, tax relief for education and child rearing,
pension availability and protection, access to health care, preservation
of Medicare and Medicaid -- these things, along with the Family and Medical
Leave Act passed in 1993 -- these things will help responsible, hard-working
American families to make the most of their own lives.
But employers and employees must do their part, as well, as they are
doing in so many of our finest companies -- working together, putting the
long-term prosperity ahead of the short-term gain. As workers increase
their hours and their productivity, employers should make sure they get
the skills they need and share the benefits of the good years, as well
as the burdens of the bad ones. When companies and workers work as a team
they do better, and so does America.
Our fourth great challenge is to take our streets back from crime and
gangs and drugs. At last we have begun to find a way to reduce crime, forming
community partnerships with local police forces to catch criminals and
prevent crime. This strategy, called community policing, is clearly working.
Violent crime is coming down all across America. In New York City murders
are down 25 percent; in St. Louis, 18 percent; in Seattle, 32 percent.
But we still have a long way to go before our streets are safe and our
people are free from fear.
The Crime Bill of 1994 is critical to the success of community policing.
It provides funds for 100,000 new police in communities of all sizes. We're
already a third of the way there. And I challenge the Congress to finish
the job. Let us stick with a strategy that's working and keep the crime
rate coming down.
Community policing also requires bonds of trust between citizens and
police. I ask all Americans to respect and support our law enforcement
officers. And to our police, I say, our children need you as role models
and heroes. Don't let them down.
The Brady Bill has already stopped 44,000 people with criminal records
from buying guns. The assault weapons ban is keeping 19 kinds of assault
weapons out of the hands of violent gangs. I challenge the Congress to
keep those laws on the books.
Our next step in the fight against crime is to take on gangs the way
we once took on the mob. I'm directing the FBI and other investigative
agencies to target gangs that involve juveniles and violent crime, and
to seek authority to prosecute as adults teenagers who maim and kill like
And I challenge local housing authorities and tenant associations: Criminal
gang members and drug dealers are destroying the lives of decent tenants.
From now on, the rule for residents who commit crime and pedal drugs should
be one strike and you're out.
I challenge every state to match federal policy to assure that serious
violent criminals serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.
More police and punishment are important, but they're not enough. We
have got to keep more of our young people out of trouble, with prevention
strategies not dictated by Washington, but developed in communities. I
challenge all of our communities, all of our adults, to give our children
futures to say yes to. And I challenge Congress not to abandon the Crime
Bill's support of these grass-roots prevention efforts.
Finally, to reduce crime and violence we have to reduce the drug problem.
The challenge begins in our homes, with parents talking to their children
openly and firmly. It embraces our churches and synagogues, our youth groups
and our schools.
I challenge Congress not to cut our support for drug-free schools. People
like the DARE officers are making a real impression on grade schoolchildren
that will give them the strength to say no when the time comes.
Meanwhile, we continue our efforts to cut the flow of drugs into America.
For the last two years, one man in particular has been on the front lines
of that effort. Tonight I am nominating him -- a hero of the Persian Gulf
War and the Commander in Chief of the United States Military Southern Command
-- General Barry McCaffrey, as America's new Drug Czar.
General McCaffrey has earned three Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars
fighting for this country. Tonight I ask that he lead our nation's battle
against drugs at home and abroad. To succeed, he needs a force far larger
than he has ever commanded before. He needs all of us. Every one of us
has a role to play on this team.
Thank you, General McCaffrey, for agreeing to serve your country one
Our fifth challenge: to leave our environment safe and clean for the
next generation. Because of a generation of bipartisan effort we do have
cleaner water and air, lead levels in children's blood has been cut by
70 percent, toxic emissions from factories cut in half. Lake Erie was dead,
and now it's a thriving resource. But 10 million children under 12 still
live within four miles of a toxic waste dump. A third of us breathe air
that endangers our health. And in too many communities the water is not
safe to drink. We still have much to do.
Yet Congress has voted to cut environmental enforcement by 25 percent.
That means more toxic chemicals in our water, more smog in our air, more
pesticides in our food. Lobbyists for polluters have been allowed to write
their own loopholes into bills to weaken laws that protect the health and
safety of our children. Some say that the taxpayer should pick up the tab
for toxic waste and let polluters who can afford to fix it off the hook.
I challenge Congress to reexamine those policies and to reverse them.
This issue has not been a partisan issue. The most significant environmental
gains in the last 30 years were made under a Democratic Congress and President
Richard Nixon. We can work together. We have to believe some basic things.
Do you believe we can expand the economy without hurting the environment?
I do. Do you believe we can create more jobs over the long run by cleaning
the environment up? I know we can. That should be our commitment.
We must challenge businesses and communities to take more initiative
in protecting the environment, and we have to make it easier for them to
do it. To businesses this administration is saying: If you can find a cheaper,
more efficient way than government regulations require to meet tough pollution
standards, do it -- as long as you do it right. To communities we say:
We must strengthen community right-to-know laws requiring polluters to
disclose their emissions, but you have to use the information to work with
business to cut pollution. People do have a right to know that their air
and their water are safe.
Our sixth challenge is to maintain America's leadership in the fight
for freedom and peace throughout the world. Because of American leadership,
more people than ever before live free and at peace. And Americans have
known 50 years of prosperity and security.
We owe thanks especially to our veterans of World War II. I would
like to say to Senator Bob Dole and to all others in this Chamber who fought
in World War II, and to all others on both sides of the aisle who have
fought bravely in all our conflicts since: I salute your service and so
do the American people.
All over the world, even after the Cold War, people still look to us
and trust us to help them seek the blessings of peace and freedom. But
as the Cold War fades into memory, voices of isolation say America should
retreat from its responsibilities. I say they are wrong.
The threats we face today as Americans respect no nation's borders.
Think of them: terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, organized
crime, drug trafficking, ethnic and religious hatred, aggression by rogue
states, environmental degradation. If we fail to address these threats
today, we will suffer the consequences in all our tomorrows.
Of course, we can't be everywhere. Of course, we can't do everything.
But where our interests and our values are at stake, and where we can make
a difference, America must lead. We must not be isolationist. We must not
be the world's policeman. But we can and should be the world's very best
By keeping our military strong, by using diplomacy where we can and
force where we must, by working with others to share the risk and the cost
of our efforts, America is making a difference for people here and around
the world. For the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age -- for
the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age -- there is not a single
Russian missile pointed at America's children.
North Korea has now frozen its dangerous nuclear weapons program. In
Haiti, the dictators are gone, democracy has a new day, the flow of desperate
refugees to our shores has subsided. Through tougher trade deals for America
-- over 80 of them -- we have opened markets abroad, and now exports are
at an all-time high, growing faster than imports and creating good American
We stood with those taking risks for peace: In Northern Ireland, where
Catholic and Protestant children now tell their parents, violence must
never return. In the Middle East, where Arabs and Jews who once seemed
destined to fight forever now share knowledge and resources, and even dreams.
And we stood up for peace in Bosnia. Remember the skeletal prisoners,
the mass graves, the campaign to rape and torture, the endless lines of
refugees, the threat of a spreading war. All these threats, all these horrors
have now begun to give way to the promise of peace. Now, our troops and
a strong NATO, together with our new partners from Central Europe and elsewhere,
are helping that peace to take hold.
As all of you know, I was just there with a bipartisan congressional
group, and I was so proud not only of what our troops were doing, but of
the pride they evidenced in what they were doing. They knew what America's
mission in this world is, and they were proud to be carrying it out.
Through these efforts, we have enhanced the security of the American
people. But make no mistake about it: important challenges remain.
The START II Treaty with Russia will cut our nuclear stockpiles by another
25 percent. I urge the Senate to ratify it now. We must end the race to
create new nuclear weapons by signing a truly comprehensive nuclear test
ban treaty this year.
As we remember what happened in the Japanese subway, we can outlaw poison
gas forever if the Senate ratifies the Chemical Weapons Convention this
year. We can intensify the fight against terrorists and organized criminals
at home and abroad if Congress passes the anti-terrorism legislation I
proposed after the Oklahoma City bombing now. We can help more people
move from hatred to hope all across the world in our own interest if Congress
gives us the means to remain the world's leader for peace.
My fellow Americans, the six challenges I have just discussed are for
all of us. Our seventh challenge is really America's challenge to those
of us in this hallowed hall tonight: to reinvent our government and make
our democracy work for them.
Last year this Congress applied to itself the laws it applies to everyone
else. This Congress banned gifts and meals from lobbyists. This Congress
forced lobbyists to disclose who pays them and what legislation they are
trying to pass or kill. This Congress did that, and I applaud you for it.
Now I challenge Congress to go further -- to curb special interest influence
in politics by passing the first truly bipartisan campaign reform bill
in a generation. You, Republicans and Democrats alike, can show the American
people that we can limit spending and we can open the airwaves to all candidates.
I also appeal to Congress to pass the line-item veto you promised the
Our administration is working hard to give the American people a government
that works better and costs less. Thanks to the work of Vice President
Gore, we are eliminating 16,000 pages of unnecessary rules and regulations,
shifting more decision-making out of Washington, back to states and local
As we move into the era of balanced budgets and smaller government,
we must work in new ways to enable people to make the most of their own
lives. We are helping America's communities, not with more bureaucracy,
but with more opportunities. Through our successful empowerment zones and
community development banks, we're helping people to find jobs, to start
businesses. And with tax incentives for companies that clean up abandoned
industrial property, we can bring jobs back to places that desperately,
desperately need them.
But there are some areas that the federal government should not leave
and should address and address strongly. One of these areas is the problem
of illegal immigration. After years of neglect, this administration has
taken a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders. We are increasing
border controls by 50 percent. We are increasing inspections to prevent
the hiring of illegal immigrants. And tonight, I announce I will sign an
executive order to deny federal contracts to businesses that hire illegal
Let me be very clear about this: We are still a nation of immigrants;
we should be proud of it. We should honor every legal immigrant here, working
hard to be a good citizen, working hard to become a new citizen. But we
are also a nation of laws.
I want to say a special word now to those who work for our federal government.
Today our federal is 200,000 employees smaller than it was the day I took
office as President. Our federal government today is the smallest it has
been in 30 years, and it's getting smaller every day. Most of our fellow
Americans probably don't know that. And there's a good reason -- a good
reason: The remaining federal work force is composed of hard-working Americans
who are now working harder and working smarter than ever before to make
sure the quality of our services does not decline.
I'd like to give you one example. His name is Richard Dean. He's a 49
year-old Vietnam veteran who's worked for the Social Security Administration
for 22 years now. Last year he was hard at work in the Federal Building
in Oklahoma City when the blast killed 169 people and brought the rubble
down all around him. He reentered that building four times. He saved the
lives of three women. He's here with us this evening, and I want to recognize
Richard and applaud both his public service and his extraordinary personal
But Richard Dean's story doesn't end there. This last November, he was
forced out of his office when the government shut down. And the second
time the government shut down he continued helping Social Security recipients,
but he was working without pay.
On behalf of Richard Dean and his family, and all the other people who
are out there working every day doing a good job for the American people,
I challenge all of you in this Chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government
On behalf of all Americans, especially those who need their Social Security
payments at the beginning of March, I also challenge the Congress to preserve
the full faith and credit of the United States -- to honor the obligations
of this great nation as we have for 220 years; to rise above partisanship
and pass a straightforward extension of the debt limit and show people
America keeps its word.
I know that this evening I have asked a lot of Congress, and even more
from America. But I am confident: When Americans work together in their
homes, their schools, their churches, their synagogues, their civic groups,
their workplace, they can meet any challenge.
I say again, the era of big government is over. But we can't go back
to the era of fending for yourself. We have to go forward to the era of
working together as a community, as a team, as one America, with all of
us reaching across these lines that divide us -- the division, the discrimination,
the rancor -- we have to reach across it to find common ground. We have
got to work together if we want America to work.
I want you to meet two more people tonight who do just that. Lucius
Wright is a teacher in the Jackson, Mississippi, public school system.
A Vietnam veteran, he has created groups to help inner-city children turn
away from gangs and build futures they can believe in. Sergeant Jennifer
Rodgers is a police officer in Oklahoma City. Like Richard Dean, she helped
to pull her fellow citizens out of the rubble and deal with that awful
tragedy. She reminds us that in their response to that atrocity the people
of Oklahoma City lifted all of us with their basic sense of decency and
Lucius Wright and Jennifer Rodgers are special Americans. And I have
the honor to announce tonight that they are the very first of several thousand
Americans who will be chosen to carry the Olympic torch on its long journey
from Los Angeles to the centennial of the modern Olympics in Atlanta this
summer -- not because they are star athletes, but because they are star
citizens, community heroes meeting America's challenges. They are our real
Please stand up.
Now, each of us must hold high the torch of citizenship in our own lives.
None of us can finish the race alone. We can only achieve our destiny together
-- one hand, one generation, one American connecting to another.
There have always been things we could to together, dreams we could
make real which we could never have done on our own. We Americans have
forged our identity, our very union, from the very point of view that we
can accommodate every point on the planet, every different opinion. But
we must be bound together by a faith more powerful than any doctrine that
divides us -- by our believe in progress, our love of liberty, and our
relentless search for common ground.
America has always sought and always risen to every challenge. Who would
say that having come so far together, we will not go forward from here?
Who would say that this age of possibility is not for all Americans?
Our country is and always has been a great and good nation. But the
best is yet to come if we all do our parts.
Thank you, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.