Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 30, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT ELECTRONIC INDUSTRIES ALLIANCE DINNER
8:25 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. First of all, I want to thank you all
for giving me a chance to come tonight. I thank my longtime friend,
Dave McCurdy, for his introduction and for his leadership of EIA. You
made a good decision when you named him your President. And I know what
you're laughing about out there. (Laughter.) Two or three years from
now you'll think it's an even better decision. (Laughter.)
I want to also pay my respects to your Vice President, John Kelly,
who went to Georgetown with me, although he's a much younger man.
(Laughter.) John -- when I was a senior, John was actually President of
the freshmen class. And I've been trying to think out of respect for
the will of the people -- the only people we knew back then -- whether I
should still address him as "Mr. President." (Laughter.) But then
that would confuse the EIA, so I didn't do it.
Mr. Major, thank you for your invitation. Mr. McGinn, thank you
for your remarks. That was very impressive. I couldn't even keep up
with all the new things you announced tonight.
I'm glad that our FCC Chairman, Bill Kinard, is here, and I think
Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera is also here. And, General Jones, I
thought you gave a terrific invocation. Thank you very much. I
appreciate that. (Applause.)
You know, I was trying to think tonight whether there was any way
I could say what I originally wanted to come here and say, which is to
talk about some of the technology policies that we're trying to pursue
that I hope will help you, but in the process will strengthen our
democracy, and the sweep of opportunity and freedom around the world --
and at the same time, say a few words, as I feel I must, about our
important mission in Kosovo.
And before I came over here tonight I had a long meeting and I
went and had what has now become almost my daily phone call with Prime
Minister Blair. And I sat down and I thought about it. I thought about
how grateful I am to the members of this organization for the phenomenal
successes you have enjoyed in these last few years and the major
contributions you have made to the economy of the United States; the
opportunities you have given our people. And I thought about this
terrible brutality that is going on in Kosovo, replaying what happened
not so long ago in Bosnia, and in a way replaying what we see around the
world, the modern world that seems to be troubled with ancient hatreds
rooted in racial, ethnic and religious differences.
If you think about the major forces alive in the world today, the
move toward globalization and the explosion in technology, especially in
information and communications, they really not only, as all of you know
better than I, are dramatically changing the way we work and live and
relate to each other and to the rest of the world. They represent both
a pull toward integration and a dramatic force toward decentralization.
And I would argue to you that both forces have within them the potential
for enormous good and enormous trouble for the world of the 21st
If you think about the forces toward integration of the global
economy, for example, that's a wonderful thing. But it can be very
destabilizing if we leave whole countries and vast populations within
If you think about the explosion in technology and how wonderful it
is in empowering individuals and small firms and communities, and
enabling communities -- little schools I've seen in poor African and
Latin American villages to hook up to the Internet and have access to
learning that would have taken them a whole generation, at least, to
achieve through traditional economic development processes in their
countries. It is breathtaking.
But looked at another way, it also provides access to technology for
every terrorist in the world to have their own weapons site, and for
independent operators to figure out how to make bombs and set up
chemical and biological labs.
And when married together with the most primitive hatreds, like those
we see manifest in Kosovo today, the advent of technology and
decentralized decision-making and access to information can be a very
potent, but destructive force.
When I ran for President in 1992, what I was seeking to do was to
articulate a vision to the American people of the way I wanted America
to look in the 21st century in a world I hope we would be living in
then, and what I thought the President and the government of the United
States should do; to take advantage of the benefits of globalization and
the explosion of technology; and to provide those policies and bulwarks
necessary to guard against the deepest problems of the modern world.
There are so many things bringing us together and so many things
breaking apart. We have to decide a lot of new questions.
And if I could just say a word about what we tried to do -- and Dave
McCurdy and I have been working on this through the Democratic
Leadership Council for more than 15 years -- I believe that if we could
create a country in which there was genuine opportunity for every
responsible citizen, and in which we had a real sense of community, of
belonging, of mutual responsibility, one to another, so we all felt we
would be better off if everybody had a chance as well; and that if we
could maintain America's sense of responsibility for leading the rest of
the world toward peace and prosperity and harmony both with the
environment and with others across all the lines that divide us, that
the best days for our country and the best days for humanity were still
I still believe that. Every story you can tell about every company
represented in this room reflects that. But we cannot forget that there
will never be a time when life is free of difficulty and where the
organized forces of destruction did not seek to move into the breaches
of human conduct for their own advance.
And that is what we see in Kosovo. It is a sad commentary, indeed,
that on the edge of a new millennium there are still people who feel
they must define their own self-worth and merit in terms of who they are
not; and who believe that their lives only really count not when they
are lifting themselves up, but when they are holding someone else down;
and sometimes who believe that it is literally legitimate not only to
uproot totally innocent civilians from their homes and their villages,
but to kill them in large numbers.
This is, of course, not confined to the Balkans; it is still at the
root of the troubles in the Middle East; it is still at the root of the
problems we are, oh, so close to getting finally resolved in Northern
Ireland; it is at the root of an ancient tribal difference that led to
the deaths of somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 people in 100 days
in Rwanda just a few years ago.
We see it everywhere -- the fear of the other. It led a couple of
demented people in a little Texas town to dismember and drag an African
American to death; and a couple of other people in Wyoming to kill a
young man at the dawn of his life, apparently because he was gay.
We have to find a way to use all of this technology in a way that
celebrates our differences instead of uses them for destructive ends.
And the only way to do that, I am convinced, is to somehow reaffirm that
amidst all our differences, what it is we have in common as human beings
is more important.
And ultimately, that is the liberating logic of the
telecommunications revolution, so much that you have powered. The idea
that if we just gave everybody a chance, ordinary people would do
extraordinary things, and so they have.
And so I asked all of you tonight to support what the United States
and our 18 other NATO allies are trying to do in the Balkans -- first,
because of all the little people who may never even see most of the
things you invent and sell and market, but who could if they could live
in peace. Second, because the problems could spread, and you see them
beginning to spread with the outflow of refugees. And, third, because
the United States and our allies will always have to provide for some
order in a world where you want to maximize freedom and individual
initiative. There have to be some limits beyond which we collectively
do not wish to see our country go and our world go.
I know you had Congressman Davis and Governor Gilmore here today.
The White House, as all of you know, is quite close to the Potomac
River. Right across the river in Virginia -- I used to run down there
every day and just be amazed -- in the Fairfax County School District
there are children from 180 different racial, ethnic and national
groups. They speak about 100 different languages as their first
language. It is the most diverse of all American school districts; but
what they represent is happening everywhere.
I went home a couple of weeks ago to the little town in Arkansas
where I was born. There are about 9,700 people there now. It's a lot
bigger than it was when I was born there. And there is a little grade
school in this little town in southwest Arkansas named for me -- which I
appreciate; usually you have to die before they do that. (Laughter.)
And, anyway, in this little grade school in my little hometown there are
27 immigrant children, first generation immigrant children whose
parents, by and large, were migrant farm workers who settled there.
This is an incredible asset for America. But we have to say to
people, whatever your national background, whatever your racial
background, whatever your religious convictions, you can have a home
here in this country and you ought to be safe in the world if you are
willing to abide by the norms of civilized conduct everywhere. We must
not allow, if we have the ability to stop it, ethnic cleansing or
genocide anywhere we can stop it -- particularly at the edge of Europe.
So I ask you to support our men and women in uniform, but to support
the proposition that the 21st century world will be a case of, yes,
there will be a lot more decentralization, there will be a lot more
individual empowerment, but it will not be a time of chaos and madness.
We will not let it descend into the vision of the darkest of the science
fiction writers, because we believe our common humanity is better than
that. Thank you. (Applause.)
Now, I want to say what I came to say. (Laughter.) But it relates
to what I just said. I believe in the Information Age the role of
government is to empower people with the tools to make the most of their
own lives, to tear down the barriers to that objective, and to create
the conditions within which we can go forward together.
Now, the answers to all the questions will not always be easy. But
at least I want you to know that's how I think about this. I see myself
trying to help create the conditions of dynamic balance so we can get
the maximum benefit from market economics without giving up the idea of
community and without leaving anyone behind who's willing to try to do
the right thing.
And I see our environmental policy in the same way. I think we have
to take on the challenge of climate change because I'm convinced the
science is real; but I believe we can do it in a way that grows the
economy, not undermines it. And all the big questions we're facing this
year as a country require that sort of decision-making. You don't have
to agree with the decision I make, but you ought to ask yourself what is
the basis of your decision.
We're dealing with the challenge, for example, of the aging of
America. And the older I get, the better I like that challenge.
(Laughter.) I've never understood all this hand-wringing about Social
Security and Medicare, this is a high-class problem. (Laughter.) Some
of you have helped to bring it about. (Laughter.) We're living longer
and that's good, isn't it? And there's more medicine, and that's good,
isn't it? But as a consequence, you know, the average age in America is
Anybody in this room over 60 who still doesn't have any
life-threatening conditions has probably got a life expectancy well in
excess of 80 years already. Any child born in America that's under the
age of 15 that's healthy and stays healthy has probably got a life
expectancy of about 84. And with the baby boomers retiring, this is an
issue we have to deal with.
Now, I'll tell you how I think about this. I believe we should make
maximum use of technology, maximum use of modern business organizations
and competition. I think that we have to be willing to reform the
Medicare system. But I don't believe we should turn the Medicare system
into, in effect, a defined contribution, as opposed to a defined benefit
plan, because health care is not like retirement -- and it's a
life-saver for people.
And I'm willing to work with Congress to save it. And we'll have
some philosophical differences, but I'm trying to achieve a dynamic
balance of maximizing the change while maximizing the sense of community
and the fact that it's a life-saver for so many people.
Social Security we're going to have an interesting debate. By 2030
we'll only have two people working for every one person drawing Social
Security. Now, by 2034, 35 years from now, the Social Security system
is projected to run out of money, the trust fund, which means you only
have three choices: you can raise revenues, reduce benefits or increase
the rate of return on what we're investing.
And there are a lot of people who believe that we should, in effect,
take this surplus and give it back to the American people as mandatory
individual retirement accounts; let them invest it in the stock market
because the stock market always out-performs the government bonds over
any long period of time. And if you happen to be one of those
unfortunate people who retire in a period like we had between -- in the
1960s and early '70s, where the value of the stock market is going down,
then the government would make up the difference between what you would
have gotten under the old Social Security program and what you, in fact,
The other way to do it is to do what Canada does, which is set up an
independent board, like the Federal Reserve, and let the whole trust
fund earn money. And then you'll know you'll always be able to have
uniform, but higher, returns for people.
None of us want -- no Republican or Democrat I've talked to believes
we should raise payroll taxes, because the tax is regressive, more than
half the working people in the country already pay more in payroll taxes
than they do in income taxes; and small businesses just getting started
would have to pay that, whether they make money or not -- unlike the
income tax. So we don't believe that's an acceptable thing.
So when you hear this debate, think of the dynamic balance, think of
how you can maximize the market forces that are good and still preserve
a sense of community -- and maybe even improve it. For example, I want
to lift the earnings limitations because people are living longer, and I
think once you earn Social Security you ought to be able to work. I
want to do something about single women, because the poverty rate among
elderly single women, if they're living alone, is about twice the
poverty rate for other seniors in our country. That's the framework in
which I hope this debate will play itself out and get resolved this
The last issue I'll tell you is that I firmly believe we ought to
deal with Social Security and Medicare in a way that maximizes the
amount of the surplus we use over the next 15 years to buy down the
Now, that is much less popular than the alternative proposal by the
congressional majority, which is to give most of the surplus away right
now in a tax cut. It's your money anyway, they say, and of course, it
is. It is your money anyway. But keep in mind, our country quadrupled
the national debt between 1981 and 1993. And in an uncertain economic
climate in the rest of the world, with all the financial troubles you've
seen in Asia, it seems to me to be given a chance to pay down our debt
to the lowest level we had since before World War I is better for most
of you than a short-term impact of a tax cut.
Why? Because it will give us lower interest rates, lower inflation;
it will lower interest rates for countries that have to borrow money
that you want to sell your products to; it will maximize growth; it
will, therefore, maximize income and job-generating potential in
America. And to me, the benefits of having an America that could be out
of debt in 17 years is quite staggering. Because we might have to
borrow money ourselves someday, again, and we don't ever want to do --
ever get back to the way we were when we were having to borrow money
just to pay the bills.
Most of your companies have borrowed a lot of money, but presumably,
you didn't do it very often just to make payroll. And that is what we
-- that's the decision we've been given the opportunity to deal with.
So it seems to me that's the right decision to do.
And I think that -- when I look at our technology policy, I think
about that. I think about how can we have the dynamic balance, how can
we maximize this -- this is almost 100 percent positive good. And if
there is something that has to be done to limit it in any way, shape, or
form, how can we minimize the damage to the economy and to the rapid
spread of opportunity.
Now, that's what we've tried to do for six years, and it's worked
pretty well. So we cut the deficit and balanced the budget, but almost
doubled investment in education and training.
I believe very strongly that we have to continue to expand trade.
That's another issue. Most of you support that position. Most of you
believe the President should be given fast track authority.
(Applause.) And most of you believe if we can get an agreement with
China that is good for the American economy, we should extend the
opportunity to them to join the World Trade Organization. (Applause.)
But I ask you to think about how are we going to get this passed in a
Congress where there are some people who are afraid of trade and some
people who are basically -- they're afraid trade hurts more of the
people they represent than it helps -- and others just are afraid trade
gives power to countries that they feel will be adversaries of the
United States over the long run. Some people feel that about China now,
that they're inevitably our adversaries.
I say there has to be a dynamic balance here. We should be trading
more. We should be opening our markets more. We should be getting more
open markets, but we should make sure we're investing what is necessary
here to help people who are dislocated by trade through no fault of
their own, and we should support the same thing in other countries.
When we elevate trade, if we increase national income it should lift
the incomes of all working people. It should be a race to the top, not
a race to the bottom. And when we deal with China, we should recognize
that were advantaged when we open China more economically,
informationally, culturally; but if we have honest differences with them
over political and human rights, we ought to say it. And we ought to
encourage them to have their differences with us -- but not in a way
that isolates us one from another.
Keep in mind what I said to you about these ethnic wars. There are
people who cannot bear to live without somebody to be afraid of or look
down on. And there are -- sometimes I have the feeling that we're
looking for a new enemy in America. I'm not looking for a new enemy. I
didn't pick Mr. Milosevic, for example. His conduct made him the
adversary of the United States and people who believe in the inherent
dignity of every religious and ethnic group in the world. I did not
look for a new enemy. (Applause.)
So I say to you, if you want us to go forward with China, then remind
everybody the same debates we're having about China today are being held
about the United States in China. I promise you there are people inside
the high councils of government who say, those Americans don't want us
to amount to a hill of beans. Those Americans want us to be their enemy
so they will have a way to increase their defense budget. Those
Americans will do everything they can to promote discord in our country;
that's why they're all for political and human rights, they want us to
purely disintegrate, just like we did once before.
And by the time -- you know, you just keep on talking like that, and
there is enough mutual misunderstanding until finally you get the
political equivalent of a divorce.
So I say we should be careful. We should evaluate our partners, our
friends, our potential adversaries based on the facts at hand. But we
should always be working for the best future, even as we prepare for
something we might not like. And that's where I think you are.
So I ask you to work with us to help to fashion a fast track bill,
for example, that will reflect a new consensus on trade; that will be
able to say, we want more trade, but we want to lift people up, and we
don't want to tear the environment up. And there is a way to do that.
And, yes, we would like to have a good relationship with China that
includes a frank, sometimes even uncomfortable airing of our
differences, but we recognize that the Chinese people will be better
off, and we'll be less likely to have conflict in the 21st century if
there is more constructive relationships -- not just commerce, but also
culture, education, all kinds of information. And so let's try to build
that sort of relationship.
And that again I say, it seems to me you folks are in a unique
position to make these arguments because if you take -- while Rich was
giving his speech tonight and I was thinking about what his company does
in Newark, New Jersey. Now, most of the people there helping in Newark,
New Jersey, will never work for Lucent. But it will be a more
successful company if everybody is at least literate enough to make a
decent living, have a good job, and buy those products. And life will
be a lot better if every inner-city in this country has a set of
thriving businesses beyond the drug trade, and where the children feel
safe walking on the street, and where the schools are functioning at a
high level and people aren't dropping out of school. And so they invest
in that -- not because it immediately shows up on the bottom line, but
because they have a sense that life is of a whole texture and you have
to understand what these relationships are. That's what we have to do
as Americans. And that's how we have to look at this.
So let me just mention two or three specific things that I think we
should do in your area -- and I ask you for your help. First, we have
to work to keep America's lead in science and technology, which means
you have to do your part, but we have to do ours. Basic government
investment in research and development is important and fulfills a role
fundamentally different from that done by most companies.
Tonight I ask you to help us to increase our investments for the
seventh straight year in research and development. Our budget provides
those kinds of investments that will spur the next generation of
information technology, meet the challenge of climate change, find new
cures for medical difficulties, explore space, protect our
infrastructure against terrorist attacks.
The budget resolution passed by the congressional majority would
inevitably lead to big reductions in many of these investments. It is
not necessary for us to do this. We can find a way to be fiscally
responsible without cutting our R&D investments, and I ask your help in
Second, I ask you to work with me to maintain the right conditions
for entrepreneurship in electronics. Just a few years ago, E-commerce
did not exist. In four years, retail trade on the Internet could reach
$100 billion, business-to-business trade above $1 trillion. Two years
ago, the Vice President and I released a framework for seizing the
potential of global electronic commerce. We said the Internet should be
a free trade zone, with incentives for competition, protection for
consumers and children, supervised not by government, but by the people
who use the Internet every day. Most of you thought that was a pretty
Now, in the coming months we've got to fill in the blanks of that
nice sounding general statement. I want to work with you to find ways
to give consumers the same protection in the virtual mall they now have
at the shopping mall -- to enhance the security and privacy of financial
transactions on the Internet, an increasingly deep concern of citizens
everywhere; and to bring advanced, high-speed connections into homes and
I may not know as much about cable modems or T-1 lines as the Vice
President -- (laughter) -- "may" is a misleading word there.
(Laughter.) But I know what this can do for our children's future.
The third thing I'd like to ask you to do relates to something Dave
McCurdy talked about. I want you to help us continue to work to bridge
the digital divide. We have to have shared prosperity and leave no one
behind. Today, affluent schools still are more likely than
disadvantaged ones to have Internet access in the classrooms. And white
households are more than twice as likely to own a computer as black or
Hispanic ones. The digital divide has begun to narrow, but it won't
disappear on its own. We'll have to work at it.
Dave talked about the first NetDay in 1996. Listen to that -- before
that day only 8 percent of our classrooms were wired to the Internet.
Today, well over half of them are, and we are well on our way to
connecting every classroom to the Internet by the end of next year.
I'd like to ask you to do one other thing, as well. A lot of you
have had a hard time finding sufficiently trained workers in the United
States to do the work you need done. Last year I agreed to increase the
number of H-1b visas as an emergency measure. But over the long run,
the answer to this problem of the lack of skilled workers cannot simply
be to look beyond our borders -- surely a part of it has to be to better
train people within our borders to do this work. (Applause.)
For many years, your foundation has made this a top priority and many
individual firms have, as well. Cisco Systems is now working to
establish a networking academy, for example, in every empowerment zone
high school that wants one. These academies will provide students with
the skills they need to get certified for jobs and information
technology. It's like giving a student first-class ticket to a
high-skilled, high-wage future. We have to do more of that.
Because you have done so well, I would argue that you have larger
responsibilities as citizens than those who have not. And many of you
are fulfilling them remarkably.
The last thing I'd like to say is this: You were very kind when I
spoke about Kosovo earlier; kind to stand -- maybe just hoping I was
through with my speech -- (laughter). I believe there is a hunger for
substantive information on the part of our citizens greater than I have
ever seen before. And the more you give them ways to get information,
the more hungry they feel. But keep in mind, you can sit in front of
your television and channel-surf all night long. You can have 50
channels, or 70, or 80 or 90. You may pick up a lot of facts and you
may go to bed bleary-eyed at 3:00 a.m., and the next day your
understanding of what it is you have seen or heard might not be any
And so the last thing I would like to say is, with your employees,
with those in the community with whom you work, help people to
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