Transcript: Bill Clinton speech in Seattle, Jul 31 2006

Text of President Bill Clinton's speech at a fundraiser for Congressman Jim McDermott in Seattle on 31 July 2006. Thom emceed it and played clips from it on his shows.

Text of President Bill Clinton's speech at a fundraiser for Congressman Jim McDermott in Seattle on 31 July 2006

[Applause and Cheering]

Thank you [several times]. Thank you very much. You need to show more restraint here. I mean I'll forget I'm not in office if you behave this way. Thank you so much for the wonderful welcome and thank you for supporting my friend Jim McDermott. I'm very proud of him and proud of our friendship.

[Applause]

Jim helped me for 8 years in the White House and he was invaluable in supporting our economic reforms back in the days when we actually thought it was good to have a surplus instead of a deficit and to spend the money on people instead of whatever he's spending it on. And he was wonderful on health care and some day we're going to win that battle…

[Applause and Cheering]

Ah yes. I'm delighted to be back in Washington State. I'm glad to be here in Seattle. This city and this state have been very, very good to me and I am profoundly grateful. And I want to talk tonight just a few minutes about what this election means to all of us. And what we now know. When the Republicans took over both branches of government, and I say the word Republican actually with some of reluctance because it's really just a narrow sliver of the Republican Party that's run this whole country for the last 5 years. It's basically the most conservative, ideological wing of the Republican Party dominated by people who sound like me.

[Laughter]

You know, really, I mean, you know, white southern protestant guys, you know, and their ideological soul mates.

[Laughter and applause]

And they told us that they were going to be compassionate conservatives and when I was asked about it, I said, 'You know, it's a brilliant slogan'. But when I listen to what they say, their specifics, they say things like, 'Well, you know, I'd like to do more for education and health care and raise the minimum wage but I just can't, I'm sorry, and I feel terrible about it'.

[Laughter]

That's, that was, but it turned out, they didn't even feel bad about it. They actually enjoyed it. But I want to just, seriously, that Jim was kind enough to re-iterate that line from my inaugural, that there's nothing wrong with this country that can't be fixed by what's right with it, and it's still true.

[Applause]

I think, one thing that bothers me is I go around the country and I travel America a lot, and in election years I still try to do what I can for my friends and our side and what we believe in, but the thing is more crystal clear to people than ever before and yet still I have the feeling we're not connecting all the dots. And I get very frustrated when people out in America say, 'Well I don't really know what the Democrats stand for'. And it's not a fair criticism of our people in Washington because you have no idea if you don't have either house of Congress or the White House, how hard it is to break through. I'll just give you one example. You know, my senator and my wife is pretty good, she's, she normally can get press, you know. But 8 months ago she talked to a bunch of venture capitalists who were totally into investments in clean energy. And she laid out what is the most detailed, specific program for a clean independent energy future that any member of our caucus had laid out at that time. And the next day it got no press because it was the day Mr. Libby was indicted.

Now, that made a lot of democrats happy, I'm sure, and there was some sort of irony in it, but the truth is, what happens to him is not one tenth of one thousandth of a percent as important as whether we meet the challenge of climate change, find the economic benefits of a clean energy future, quit financing both ends of the war on terror and improve our national security.

[Applause]

So what I try to do is now to put the work that Jim and his colleagues do into some context that I hope you will share with other people, because there really is a huge sort of philosophical difference between the two parties, deeply held, that has policy and political implications and produces very different results for the American people.

They honestly believe the source of America's greatness is in its big companies and wealthy elite. And we believe the source of America's greatness is in its middle class and the promise that everybody who works can be rewarded for it.

[Applause]

And they, therefore their primary goal when they get political power is to literally, to concentrate wealth and power, and that's what they believe they should do. And so to them there's nothing at all wrong with running these kind of unbelievable crony capitalist operations they run. All these no bid contracts and missing money in Iraq and having by far, even more than in the Reagan years, the largest number of people in charge of health and environmental regulations coming right out of the industries they were supposed to regulate because it concentrates wealth and power.

There was nothing wrong in ballooning the cost of the Medicaid / Medicare drug program, and having it written so that only Albert Einstein had a big enough brain to understand it, because they had to cut in the drug companies and the insurance companies because that's what they do: transfer middle class people's tax money to them and make it the only program that we would, now, it's the only big purchasing program for pharmaceuticals anywhere in America where the purchaser is by law prohibited from bargaining for lower prices for big volume purchases. The VA hospital does it, General Motors does it, every large employer does it; only you as a taxpayer can't do it because that's not what the providers and the insurers wanted.

But that's what they believe they should do; to concentrate wealth and power. And because they believe that, they favor a government that is secretive, unaccountable, and constantly increasing executive authority, even if it requires the president to write - listen to this - 750 signing statements on federal legislation basically saying, 'I know what Congress said, but that's not the way I read it'.

We believe in government that is open, accountable and empowering to people.

[Applause]

And this is a different view. They believe in their ideology. Most of us have a philosophy. The country has been well served for a long, long time now by having two philosophically different parties: one philosophically more conservative, one philosophically more liberal. But if you have a philosophy, it means you're interested and it means you're inclined by your values in a certain direction, but you're also interested in hearing arguments and looking at facts, and you actually think you might be wrong every now and then.

But if you have an ideology, then the facts are irrelevant. The result is determined and then you just fix the facts to fit them. So, they favor ideology and we like evidence. And because they have already got their minds made up, they think argument is the province of weak minds and they prefer attack. So they attack to support their ideology, we argue to support our evidence, to bolster the philosophical direction we think the country should go in. So, if you favor ideology and attack, you need to be for them. If you favor evidence and argument, you need to be for us.

[Applause]

And they also, and they need a divided America to win. They need an enemy, they need a sort of tribal mentality and they need to sloganeer, or as Newt Gingrich once said to me in a remarkable moment of candor, "I hate it, the way we do you, but if we fought you fair, you'd beat us every time'.

[Laughter and applause]

And they have to convince people we're somehow unworthy because they can't win an argument. So it's gotta be a divisive, turn your brain off kind of a deal, whereas we favor an inclusive community. We'd like for people to get together and have a reasoned argument and figure out what's best for America and go forward.

When they are more reasonable, it's amazing what we do. I mean, Hillary's co-sponsored a bill with senator Frist in the Senate to give electronic medical records to every single American citizen and all providers. It would cut the administrative cost of health care a hundred billion dollars or more a year. The Rand Corporation says 160 billion dollars a year. And I hope it'll pass, but they've fooled around with it now for almost two years and haven't passed it.

When my wife went with John McCain to the northernmost village on Earth up in Norway where they, to study the effects of global warming they dragged a bunch of Republican recalcitrants up there to try to prove it wasn't a myth. I thought this was…

[Laughter]

No, no, I thought this was a good thing, but it's a rare thing, because most of Washington is dominated by this sort of ideology. And therefore we have very different policies.

On the economy, you know, they said we had to have tax cuts mostly for wealthy people. I love saying this because I never had any money until I got out of the White House. And now, I never thought the president would take such good care of me as he does.

[Laughter]

But, it's wrong, but he does it. But, you know, they cut taxes for the wealthy because they say we had to get rid of the surplus. And they did a good job of that, all right. And then they said, 'Oh, now we're in a recession. We've got to cut taxes for the wealthy again', and now they say, 'Oh, the economy's growing, the answer is to get rid of the estate tax'. I mean, every time you turn around, it doesn't matter what the facts are, it's the ideology. And now they've started bragging about how the deficit is only 300 billion dollars a year and they want somebody to give them a gold star. This is the thinking of ideologues. It's very important that you understand this. And it's the most important thing.

Mr. Rove said the other day he was going to run against us as the pre-9/11 party, and we live in a post 9/11 world. Let's look at that. The 9/11 commission made a lot of recommendations about security changes. And one of the most important to you in Seattle is that we do a much better job of inspecting the cargo containers at our ports and airports.

[Applause]

Now, I'm just gonna give you, I want to give you two examples, and Jim McDermott will back me up. Before the 2004 election, the house democrats attempted to pass a measure to double cargo container inspectors, because we only inspect 5% of them and they had a security report that said if you don't check 10 to 20% you have no deterrence at all; might as well not check any. So you've got check 10 to 20%. So, Congressman Obey from Wisconsin offered a bill that said, 'we'll go from 5 to 10%'. At least give the minimum threshold. But they had to pay for it. So, he said the fairest way to pay for this is to reduce the tax cut of the 200,000 people who pay taxes on over a million dollars; not to raise their taxes; to reduce their tax cut from an average of then $88,000 a year to 83,000; a horrible burden.

I promise you that 95% of all the millionaires in America without regard to their party would have said, 'For God's sakes do it; take my 5 grand and make America safer'. But it failed because the White House and the Republican leadership defeated it. Isn't that right? They would rather give me 5,000 more dollars than protect 300 million Americans. Don't talk to me about homeland security.

Now, then, just the other day, there was another proposal to spend $650,000,000 a year to put in sensors in all our big ports to at least do electronic sensor testing of all the cargo containers. It can be done for $650,000,000. The administration said we could not afford it because of the deficit. Go figure. The deficit that they made bigger because they said the drug problem was going to cost 400 billion and it cost 550 billion. So, we can't afford this.

And then they turned around and presented their number one priority, more than homeland security. To repeal estate tax for the less than 1% of the American people that are covered by it. You know what it costs? 250 billion dollars over a decade; $25 billion a year. In other words, it was more than twenty five times, whatever you think about the estate tax, you just think about this: it was more than twenty five times more important for them to give estate tax relief to less than 1% of us who already got more money than we know what to do with, than it was to provide homeland security for 300 million of us.

That is ideology not evidence. You need to stand against that, talk against it, and explain how we can do better than that.

[Applause and Cheering]

Now, look at the Energy Bill. The president did finally say we were addicted to oil in 2006, and I felt like, you know, it was like a guy selling something we were addicted to saying that the people who bought it were addicted. I mean, in the 2005 energy bill they gave, what, $15 billion more in tax subsidies to oil companies. Look, folks, that's $75 a barrel; they don't need that. They cut back on basic research. They lay people off at the Federal Alternative Energy Research Center until the president showed up and it was embarrassing that they had cut all these people out; he was going to brag on their programs so then they had to figure out how to at least hire back the people they had. That's their policy.

Our policy is to give America a clean independent energy future, to create millions of jobs by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, by reducing our contribution to climate change, by creating more biofuels, more hybrid vehicles, more rapid rail, more solar energy, more wind energy, more energy efficiency and don't tell me you can't do it. Look what Seattle has done, look what Portland has done, down below their 1990 levels and the economy is growing.

[Applause]

One of our major chemical companies is now producing fewer greenhouse gasses than it did in 1990 and using 30% more energy and saving $1 billion a year and taking the equivalent of almost 200,000 cars off the road and generating growth. Texas Instruments, I just got one of their brochures about the new plant they built in north Texas instead of China for the same price they built a plant in 1999 and they are going to save billions of dollars over the life of that plant in lower energy costs. They financed the whole thing through energy savings and they generated jobs in America.

I was at my library today, which is the first presidential library ever to receive an international LEEDS rating from, for leadership in environmental energy.

[Applause]

We cut, we cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 34% with better lighting, better glass, by building bamboo floors and having miles and miles and miles of tubing underneath it that runs cold water in the summer and hot water in the winter. And put up 308 solar reflectors. And every single one of those things created jobs for Americans and made us more independent of foreign oil sources which are unstable and cut back on our ability to finance both ends of the war on terror.

This is not rocket science. This is a bird's nest on the ground and they're not for it because it ideologically appropriate. And we just scratched the surface. Coal-fired plants in America are about 35% efficient. That means 2/3 of the greenhouse gas emissions don't give you any electricity. There is presently available technology that would raise the efficiency of existing plants to 57%, and if you build a new one to 60%, which means you wouldn't have to build very many new ones if you just retrofitted them all. Now that's something we ought to get tax breaks for. Something that would create jobs here, clean the environment and drive us forward.

[Applause]

The same thing is true in health care. Their answer to the health care problem is to further deconstruct the system; make it more inefficient, put more of the risk on people that can't do it, have the insurance pools be smaller and have people bear unbearable risk. Look, all you've got to, and we could talk about this 'til tomorrow morning, but I just, you need to go out and say to people who say there's no difference, remember these facts. If you don't remember anything else I say: we spend 16% of our income on health care. The next most expensive rich countries in the world are Switzerland and Canada; they spend 11%. The difference in America between 11 and 16 is over $700 billion a year. One of the reasons is that our administrative cost for both insurers and providers of health care is 34%. No other country's administrative cost is over 19. That 15% difference is $280 billion a year.

Now we insure 84%. Nobody else insures less than a hundred. And here's the last figure I want you to remember. General Motors has got $1,500 a car in health care costs; Toyota has 110. You tell me how we are going to preserve automobile manufacturing in America. And unbelievably enough, there was an article in the press yesterday. When Hillary and I sit around and read the papers in the morning we trade off articles and I found this one first, which tickles me. But I couldn't believe it. All these big companies with big health insurance plans are now paying their employees to go to Thailand and India to have surgery because they can save so much money. A lot of you are nodding your heads, you probably saw it yesterday.

Now, go figure. If you think that's a good system, by all means support the Republicans. But if you would like to redirect that money into covering the uninsured and out of the administrative system, and providing, you know, sort of modern management quality controls and having big insurance pools which lower administrative costs. The Medicare administrative cost is 3% by the way. Then you ought to be for us.

And this, I could go through issue after issue after issue where their ideology will not let them look at the evidence. But we live in an interdependent world and with a lot of complex problems to which no one has all the answers, but we should have, our values should be, shared opportunities, shared responsibilities and a shared sense of community and a shared responsibility for security.

[Applause]

And the problem with their deal is, it has not only given us an economic recovery that has the fewest jobs in history, that has stagnant wages and rising poverty, unlike our recovery which had 50% more jobs in my 8 years than in the previous twelve years when they tried it the first time, the first rising average wages in the late nineties that we'd had since 1973 and we moved 100 times as many people from poverty to the middle class in our eight years as in the previous twelve Republican years. Now, so, our deal works better.

[Applause]

But the most important thing is, if you look to the future, forget about the past, look to the future, look to the 21st century; an ideology that condemns you to permanent deficit spending without any correlating investment in the future, which is in total denial about what really works in health care. Total denial about what is necessary to work in energy. Total denial about what is necessary to create the next generation of high wage jobs. And basically puts a premium on the concentration of wealth and power and favors attack over argument. That's not very well suited to solve the kind of problems we've got.

What's the attack answer to climate change? What's the attack answer to avian influenza? What's the attack answer, just attacking somebody, to the complex miasma we've seen in the last few days in Israel and Lebanon with Hezbollah and the Lebanese government and all that complexity? We need thinking, folks - thinking, not ideology.

[Applause and cheering]

And I want you to read. Now that I have some more free time than I used to have I do a lot more reading and there's a very gifted author named Ron Suskind who co-wrote Paul O'Neill's book when he left the Treasury Department, which is in itself a great book. He basically said, 'compared to the guys Richard Nixon was virtually a pinko.

[Laughter]

But Suskind has written a new book called "The One Percent Solution". [The One Percent Doctrine - ed.], and some of you probably have read it. But the most interesting thing in the book to me is how the hardliners in this government - the vice president, Mr. Rumsfeld and others - derisively refer to people like me and some of their own, like Colin Powell, as trapped in the reality based world - poor us.

[Laughter]

I'm serious - read the book! They say you know if you're tough and you've got the juice, you can just change reality. You just do what you want and you change reality. These poor people are rendered impotent by their imprisonment in reality based world. Now, if any of you read my book, you know I grew up in a troubled home. I spent half my childhood trying to get in to the reality based world, and I like it here, thank you very much.

[Laughter and applause]

I know, you know, all my daughter's generation, who know more about everything than I do, and Chelsea and her friends never tire of telling her mother and me that, they're the first people ever I heard use that expression, 'Denial is not just a river in Egypt'. You know, it's a way of life in Washington. So they doubled, listen to this, they doubled the number of lobbyists in Washington since they day I left office; doubled in only five years. And they just decide what they want and then they make up facts as they go along. It may work for them but it doesn't work for you. And we're laughing and having a good time but I'm serious. You just think about any problem you want.

I just left my foundation this morning; I was down in Little Rock making another announcement in our efforts to turn the tide on childhood obesity. What's the ideological answer to childhood obesity? You've got to think. That's like turning, you know, changing the culture which is producing the first generation of children with adult onset diabetes who are going to go blind or lose their limbs or have their lives otherwise shortened as a result of it. There's no ideological answer to that. You've got to analyze the facts. What led us to this point? What are we going to do? How are we going to put one foot in front of the other?

Once you sell people on the reality of climate change, and the opportunity, it then becomes an engineering challenge. There's no ideological answer. To be trapped in the old energy economy, because that's where the money and influence is, is nuts. You have to figure out, practically, what are the best available alternatives, starting now.

[Applause and cheering]

There is no, so, so, somebody asks you when you leave here, and tomorrow or the next day or sometime between now and November, they say, 'I don't know what the Democrats stand for', you say, "Yes, I do'.

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