Transcript: Bill Clinton’s remarks at the Democratic National Convention
Edited by Jenny Jiang
Transcript of remarks by President Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, September 5, 2012:
Mr. Mayor, fellow Democrats. We are here to nominate a President, and I’ve got one in mind.
I want to nominate a man whose own life has known its fair share of adversity and uncertainty. I want to nominate a man who ran for President to change the course of an already weak economy and then just six weeks before his election, saw it suffer the biggest collapse since the Great Depression. A man who stopped the slide into depression and put us on the long road to recovery, knowing all the while that no matter how many jobs that he saved or created, there were still millions more waiting, worried about feeding their own kids, trying to keep their hopes alive.
I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside. I want a man who believes with no doubt that we can build a new American Dream economy driven by innovation and creativity, by education and, yes, by cooperation.
And by the way, after last night, I want the man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.
Now, I want Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States and I proudly nominate him to be the standard bearer of the Democratic Party.
Now folks, in Tampa a few days ago, we heard a lot of talk about how the President and the Democrats don’t believe in free enterprise and individual initiative, how we want everyone to be dependent on the government, how bad we are for the economy.
This Republican narrative – its alternative universe – says that every one of us in this room who amounts to anything – we’re all completely self-made. One of our greatest chairmen the Democratic Party ever had – Bob Strauss – used to say that every politician wants every voter to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself, but, as Strauss then admitted, it ain’t so.
We Democrats – we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor people to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that “we’re all in this together” is a better philosophy than “you’re on your own.”
Now, so who’s right? Well since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy produced 66 million private sector jobs. So what’s the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 million!
There’s a reason for this. It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because poverty, discrimination, and ignorance restrict growth. When you stifle human potential, when you don’t invest in new ideas, it doesn’t just cut off the people who are affected, it hurts us all. We know that investments in education and infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase growth. They create good jobs, and they create new wealth for all the rest of us.
Now, there’s something I noticed lately. You probably have too. And it’s this. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a different time but though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our President and a lot of other Democrats. That would be impossible for me because President Eisenhower sent federal troops to my home state to integrate Little Rock Central High. President Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. When I was a governor, I worked with President Reagan and his White House on the first round of welfare reforms and with President George H.W. Bush on national education goals. I am actually very grateful – if you saw in the film what I do today, I have to be grateful and you should be too – that President George W. Bush supported PEPFAR. It saved the lives of millions of people in poor countries. And I have been honored to work with both Presidents Bush on natural disasters in the aftermaths the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the horrible earthquake in Haiti.
Through my foundation, in America and around the world, I’m working all the time with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Sometimes I couldn’t tell you for the life of me who I’m working with because we focus on solving problems and seizing opportunities, and not fighting all the time.
So here’s what I want to say to you and here’s what I want people at home to think about: When times are tough and people are frustrated, angry, and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good. But what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation. What works in the real world is cooperation. Business and government, foundations and universities – ask the mayors who are here. Los Angeles is getting green and Chicago’s getting infrastructure because Republicans and Democrats are working together to get it. They didn’t check their brains at the door; they didn’t stop disagreeing. But their purpose was to get something done.
Now, why is this true? Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict? Because nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. Every one of us – and every one of them – we’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes. No, we’re never going to be right all the time, and hopefully we’re right more than twice a day.
Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is always the enemy, they’re always right, and compromise is weakness. Just in the last couple of elections, they defeated two distinguished Republican senators because they dared to cooperate with Democrats on issues important to the country, even national security. They beat a Republican congressman with almost 100% voting record on every conservative score because he said he realized he did not have to hate the President to disagree with him. Boy, that was a non-starter and they threw him out.
One of the main reasons we ought to re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation. Look at his record. Look at his record. Look at his record. He appointed Republican Secretaries of Defense, the Army and Transportation. He appointed a Vice President who ran against him in 2008, and he trusted that Vice President to oversee the successful end of the war in Iraq and the implementation of the recovery act. And Joe Biden did a great job with both.
President appointed several members of his Cabinet even though they supported Hillary in the primaries. Heck, he even appointed Hillary! I am very proud of her. I am proud of the job she and the national security team have done for America. I am grateful that they have worked together to make us safer and stronger and to build a world with more partners and fewer enemies. I’m grateful for the relationship of respect and partnership she and the President have enjoyed and the signal that sends to the rest of the world – that democracy does not have to be a blood sport; it can be an honorable enterprise that advances the public interest.
Now, besides the national security team, I am very grateful to the men and women who serve our country in uniform through these perilous times and I am especially grateful to Michelle Obama and to Jill Biden for supporting military families while their loved ones are overseas and for supporting our veterans, when they come home bearing the wounds of war, or needing help with education, or jobs or housing.
President Obama’s record on national security is a tribute to his strength, to his judgment, and to his preference for inclusion and partnership over partisanship. We need more of it in Washington, D.C.
Now, we all know that he also tried to work with Congressional Republicans on health care, debt reduction, and new jobs, but that didn’t work out so well. And it could have been because, as the Senate Republican leader said, in a remarkable moment of candor, two full years before the election, their number one priority was not to put America back to work, it was to put President Obama out of work.
Well…wait a minute…Senator, I hate to break it to you, but we’re going to keep President Obama on the job! Are you ready for that? Are you willing to work for it?
In Tampa, y’all watch their convention? I did. In Tampa, the Republican argument against the President’s re-election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: we left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.
But they did it well. They looked good. They sounded good. They convinced me that they all love their families, their children, were grateful they’ve been born in America. Really, I’m not being – they did. And this is important, they convinced me they were honorable people who believed what they’ve said and they’re going to keep every commitment they made. We’ve just got to make sure that the American people know what those commitments are.
Because in order to look like an acceptable, reasonable, modern alternative to President Obama, they just didn’t say very much about the ideas they have offered over the last two years. They couldn’t because they want to go back to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place. They want to cut taxes for high income Americans even more than President Bush did. They want to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts. They want to actually increase defense spending over a decade $2 trillion more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they’ll spend it on. And they want to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor children. As another President once said – there they go again.
Now, I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better. Here it is: He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He’d put a floor under the crash. He began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.
Now, are we where we want to be today? No. Is the President satisfied? Of course not. Are we better off than we were when he took office – listen to this, listen to this everybody’s forgotten. When President Barack Obama took office, the economy was in free fall, it had just shrunk 9% of GDP, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. Are we doing better today? The answer is YES.
Now, look, here’s the challenge he faces and the challenge all of you who support him face. I get it, I know it, I’ve been there. A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated about this economy. If you look at the numbers, you know employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend again and in a lot of places even housing prices are beginning to pick up. But too many people do not feel it yet.
I had the same thing happen in 1994 and early 1995. We could see that the policies were working and the economy was growing but most people didn’t feel it yet. Thankfully, by 1996, the economy was roaring, everybody felt it, and we were halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in the history of the United States.
But the difference this time is purely in the circumstances. President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now. No President – not me – not any of my predecessors – no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years. But he has laid the foundations for a new modern successful economy – a shared prosperity. And if you will renew the President’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.
Folks, whether the American believe what I just said or not may be the whole election. I just want you to know that I believe it. With all my heart, I believe it.
Now why do I believe it? I believe it because President Obama’s approach embodies the values, the ideas, and the direction America has to take to build a 21st century version of the American Dream in a nation of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, share prosperity – a shared sense of community.
So let’s get back to the story. In 2010, as the President’s recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around.
The Recovery Act saved and created millions of jobs and cut taxes for 95% of the American people. In the last 29 months, our economy has produced about 4.5 million private sector jobs.
We could have done better but last year, the Republicans blocked the President’s jobs plan, costing the economy more than one million new jobs. So here’s another jobs score: President Obama plus 4.5 million, Congressional Republicans zero.
During this period, more than more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been created under President Obama. That’s the first time manufacturing jobs have increased since the 1990s.
And I’ll tell you something else. The auto industry restructuring worked. It saved more than a million jobs, not just at GM, Chrysler and their dealerships, but in auto parts manufacturing all over the country. That’s why even the auto-makers that weren’t part of the deal supported it. They needed to save those parts suppliers too. Like I said, we’re all in this together.
So what’s happened? There are now 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than on the day the companies were restructured. Now, we all know that Governor Romney opposed the plan to save GM and Chrysler. So here’s another jobs score. Are you listening in Michigan and Ohio and all across the country? Here’s another job score: Obama 250,000, Romney, zero.
The agreement the administration made with the management, labor and environmental groups to double car mileage – that as a good deal too. It will cut your gas prices in half – your gas bill. No matter what the price is, if you don’t double the mileage of your car, your bill would’ve been half of what it would’ve been. It will make us more energy independent. It will cut greenhouse gas emissions. And according to several analyses, over the next 20 years, it will bring us another 500,000 good new jobs in the American economy.
The President’s energy strategy, which he calls “all of the above”, is helping too. The boom in oil and gas production combined with greater energy efficiency has driven oil imports to a near 20 year low and natural gas production to an all time high. And renewable energy production has doubled.
Of course, we need more new jobs, lots of them, but there are already more than 3 million jobs open and unfilled in America today, mostly because the people who apply for them don’t yet have the required skills to do them. So even as we get Americans more jobs, we have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are actually going to be created. The old economy is not coming back. We’ve got to build a new one and educate people to do those jobs.
The President and his education secretary have supported the community colleges and employers in working together to train people for jobs that are actually open in their communities. And even more important, after a decade in which exploding college costs have increased the drop-out rate so much that the percentage of our young adults with four-year college degrees has gone down so much that we have dropped to 16th in the world in the percentage of young people with college degrees. So the President’s student loan reform is more important than ever. Here’s what it does. It lowers the cost of federal student loans and even more important, it gives students the right to repay the loans as a clear fixed low percentage of their incomes for up to 20 years. Now what does this mean? Think of it. It means no one will have to drop-out of college again for fear they can’t repay their debt. And it means that if someone wants to take a job with a modest income – a teacher, a police officer, if they want to be a small town doctor in a little rural area – they won’t have to turn those jobs down because they don’t pay enough to repay their debts. Their debt obligations will be determined by their salary. This will change the future for young Americans.
I don’t know about you but on these issues, I know we’re better off because President Obama made the decisions he did.
Now, that brings me to health care.
The Republicans call it derisively Obamacare. They say it’s a government takeover, a disaster. And that if we’ll just elect them, they’ll repeal it.
Well, are they right? Let’s take a look at what’s actually happened so far.
First, individuals and businesses have secured more than $1 billion in refunds from their insurance premiums because the new law requires 80% to 85% of your premiums to be spent on health care, not profits or promotion. And the gains are even greater than that because a bunch of insurance companies have applied to lower their rates to comply with the requirement.
Second, more than 3 million young people between 19 and 25 are insured for the first time because their parents’ policies can cover them.
Third, millions of seniors are receiving preventive care including breast cancer screenings and tests for heart problems and scores of other things. And younger people are getting them too.
Fourth, soon the insurance companies, not the government, will have millions of new customers many of them middle class people with pre-existing conditions who never could get insurance before.
Now, finally, for the last two years, after going up 3 times the rate of inflation for a decade, for the last two years, health care costs have been under 4% for the first time in 50 years.
So, let me ask you something: Are we all better off because President Obama fought for health care reform? You bet we are.
There were two other attacks on the President in Tampa, I think, deserve an answer. Both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan attacked the President for allegedly “robbing” Medicare of $716 billion. That’s the same attack they leveled at Congress in 2010, and they got a lot of votes on it. But it’s not true. Here’s what really happened. You be the judge. There were no cuts to benefits at all. None. What the President did was to save money by taking the recommendations of a commission of professionals to cut unwarranted subsidies to providers and insurance companies that were not making people any healthier and were not necessary to get the providers to provide service. And instead of raiding Medicare, he used the savings to close the donut hole in the Medicare drug program, and to add 8 years to the life of the Medicare Trust Fund so it is solvent until 2024. So President Obama and the Democrats didn’t weaken Medicare, they strengthened Medicare.
When Congressman Ryan looked into the TV camera and attacked President Obama’s Medicare savings as the “biggest coldest power play”, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Because that $716 billion is exactly to the dollar the same amount of Medicare savings that he has in his own budget. You gotta give him one thing. It takes brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.
At least on this one issue, Governor Romney’s been consistent. He attacked President Obama too. But he actually wants to repeal those savings and give the money back to the insurance companies. He wants to go back to the old system which means we’ll re-open the donut hole and force seniors to pay more for drugs, and we’ll reduce the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 8 full years. So now if he’s elected and if he does what he promised to do, Medicare will now go broke in 2016. Think about that. That means after all we won’t have to wait until their voucher program kicks in 2023 to see the end of Medicare as we know it. They’re going to do it to us sooner than we thought.
It gets worse. They also want to block grant Medicaid and cut it by a third over the coming 10 years. Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids, but that’s not all. A lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors who are eligible for Medicaid. And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including a lot of middle class families whose kids have Downs syndrome or Autism or other severe conditions. And honestly, just think about it, if that happens, I don’t know what those families are going to do. So I know what I’m going to do – I’m going to do everything I can to see that it doesn’t happen. We can’t let it happen. We can’t.
Now let’s look at the other big charge that the Republicans made. It’s a real doozy. They actually have charged and run ads saying that President Obama wants to weaken the work requirements in the welfare reform bill I signed that moved millions of people from welfare to work.
Here’s what happened. When some Republican governors asked if they can have waivers to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama Administration listened because we all know that it’s hard for even people with good work history to get jobs today so moving folks from welfare to work is a real challenge. And the administration agreed to give waivers to those governors and others only if they have a credible plan to increase employment by 20% and they can keep the waivers only if they did increase employment. Now, did I make myself clear? The requirement was for more work, not less. So this is personal to me. We’ve moved millions of people off welfare. It was one of the reasons in the 8 years I was president we had 100 times as many people move out of poverty and into the middle class than happened under the previous 12 years. 100 times as many. It’s a big deal. But I am telling you the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform’s work requirement is just not true. But they keep on running ads claiming it. You want to know why? Their campaign pollster said “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.” Now, finally I can say, that is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself – I just hope you and every American within the sound of my voice remembers it every time they see one of those ads and it turns into an ad to re-elect Barack Obama and keep the fundamental principles of personal empowerment and moving everybody who can get a job into work as soon as we can.
Let’s talk about the debt. Today interest rates are low – lower than inflation. People are practically paying us to borrow money, hold their money for them. But it will become a big problem when the economy grows and interest rates start to rise. We’ve got to deal with this big long-term debt problem or it will deal with us. It will gobble up the percentage of the federal budget we’d rather spend on education and health care and science and technology. We’ve got to deal with it. Now what has the President done? He has offered a reasonable plan of $4 trillion in debt reductions over a decade, with $2.5 trillion coming from – for every $2.50 in spending cuts, he raises $1 in new revenues. $2.5 to $1, and he has tight controls on future spending. That’s the kind of balanced approach proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission, a bipartisan commission.
I think the President’s plan is way better than the Romney plan.
First, the Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers just don’t add up. I mean, consider this – what would you do if somebody says, ‘We’ve got a big debt problem. We’ve got to reduce the debt.’ So what’s the first thing he says we’re going to do? Well, to reduce the debt, we’re going to have another $5 trillion in tax cuts heavily weighted to upper-income people. So we’ll make the debt hole bigger before we start to get out of it.
Now, when you say, ‘What are you going to do about these $5 trillion you’ve just added on?’ They say, ‘Oh, we’ll make it up by eliminating loopholes in the tax code.’ So then you ask “which loopholes and how much?” You know what they say, “See me about that after the election.” I’m not making it up. That’s their position – ‘See me about that after the election.’
Now, people ask me all the time how we got four surplus budgets in a row. What new ideas did we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.
If they stay with this $5 trillion tax cut plan in a debt reduction plan – the arithmetic tells us, no matter what they say, one of three things is about to happen: 1) assuming they try to do what they say they’ll do – pay cover it by cutting deductions – they’ll have to eliminate so many deductions like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving that middle class families will see their tax bill go up an average of $2,000 while anybody who makes $3 million or more will see their tax bill go down $250,000; or 2) they’ll have to cut so much spending that they’ll obliterate the budget for the national parks, for ensuring clean air, clean water, safe food, safe air travel; or they’ll cut way back on Pell Grants, college loans, early childhood education, child nutrition programs – all the programs that help to empower middle class families and help poor kids. Or they’ll cut back on investments in roads, bridges, science, technology and bio-medical research. That’s what they’ll do. They’ll hurt the middle class and the poor and put the future on hold to give tax cuts to upper-income people who have been getting it all along; or 3) despite all the rhetoric, they’ll just do what they’ve been doing for more than 30 years – they’ll go and cut taxes way more than they cut spending, especially with that big defense increase, and they’ll just explode the debt and weaken the economy. And they’ll destroy the federal government’s ability to help you by letting interests gobble up all your tax payments.
Don’t you ever forget, when you hear them talking about this – that Republican economic policies quadrupled the national debt before I took office – in the 12 years before I took office – and doubled the debt in the 8 years after I left because it defied arithmetic. It was a highly inconvenient thing for them in our debates that I was just a country boy from Arkansas and I came from a place where people still thought 2 and 2 was 4. It’s arithmetic. We simply cannot afford to give the reigns of government to someone who will double-down on trickle-down.
Now, think about this. President Obama’s plan cuts the debt, honors our values, and brightens the future of our children, of our families and of our nation. It’s a heck of a lot better. It passes the arithmetic test, and far more important, it passes the values test.
My fellow Americans, all of us in this grand hall and everybody watching at home, when we vote in this election, we’ll be deciding what kind of country we want to live in.
If you want a winner take all society, you’re on your own society you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities – a “we’re all in it together” society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
If you want every American to vote and you think its wrong to change voting procedures just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority and disabled voters, you should support Barack Obama.
And if you think the President was right to open the doors of American opportunity to all those young immigrants brought here when they were young so they can serve in the military or go to college, you must vote for Barack Obama.
If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American Dream is really alive and well, and where the United States maintains its leadership as a force for peace and justice and prosperity in this highly competitive world, you have to vote for Barack Obama.
Look, I love our country so much – and I know we’re coming back. For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we’ve always come back. People have predicted our demise ever since George Washington was criticized for being a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden false teeth. And so far every single person that’s bet against America has lost money because we always come back. We come through every fire a little stronger and a little better. And we do it because in the end we decide to champion the cause of which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor – the cause of forming a more perfect union.
My fellow Americans, if that is what you want, if that is what you believe, you must vote and you must re-elect President Barack Obama.
God Bless you, and God Bless America.