The day following his 1999 State of the Union message, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore came to Bufalo, New York to expound on this message to the nation.
In the previous two weeks, the city and the surrounding areas were hit by nearly 60 inches of snow &endash; something which happens here once in a decade or so, and we knew that the inevitable jokes about winters in Buffalo would not be far behind.
The lines at the Marine Midland Arena started to form very early in the morning for the President's announced noon appearance. By 9 o'clock a long line wound its was all around the huge stadium. After patiently waiting in the brisk January air for two hours, the warmth of the already nearly full sports arena was appreciated by everyone who managed to get inside.
Several bands entertained the waiting crowd of 22,000 supporters and well-wishers; among these the most interesting was the performance by the Haudenosaunee, the People of the Log House, representing the six Indian peoples of this area with their native dances.
At high noon, to the sound of the "Hail to the Chief", President Clinton and his entourage entered the arena, and were greeted by standing applause from the friendly crowd of Western New Yorkers.
Anthony Masiello, the Mayor of Buffalo, welcomed the visitors. The President, Al Gore, and their wives Hillary and Tipper were touched by the reception they received on their second visit to Buffalo. "As we were approaching the stadium, we looked out of the car windows and gasped with surprise as we saw the long line of people waiting to get in," said Al Gore in his fiery and crowd-stirring opening address before President Clinton took the microphone.
After brief speeches by Hillary, Tipper Gore and the Vice President, President Clinton was greeted by standing applause and cheers from the crowd. "Let me ask you, have you ever seen the Vice President so fired up? I want you to know that just before we came in here, we went off to a little room and had a hit on the Buffalo chicken wings and Flutie Flakes," joked the President.
Then he continued: "I am quite confident that in the entire history of the United States no Vice President has had remotely the responsibilities and had the positive impact on the United States that Al Gore has had. We're here today in this magnificent arena and, I just have to say one thing about the Vice President: he compared me to the goalie for the Sabres, Dominik Hasek. I was flattered, but I thought--I just wish one day, they would give me a mask, and a few pads, when I dodge that stuff." And the whole arena resounded with laughter and applause.
This was the only vague reference the President has made to his continuing problems related to the ongoing "Monica Affair," which has become an obsession with some American politicians and the media. How do people in Europe look at this from their perspective?
Kurt Arentz, a prominent German sculptor, who has made portrait-busts of many top personalities such as Ronald Reagan, Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl, George Bush, Herbert von Karajan, Mstislav Rostropovich, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Sir Peter Ustinov and many others, had this to say in a recent interview: "Our television is constantly full of these reports from America about Bill Clinton and his past romances and indiscretions. It is painful to see how you people are dragging down the image of the most powerful president on the Earth, how you drag down the image and prestige of America by this sorry spectacle. Power and sexuality is nothing new. Look at the history and the lives of the great men: Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Henry VIII. Napoleon. Thomas Jefferson. John F. Kennedy. Even Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon's famous Secretary of State once said: 'Power is the greatest aphrodisiac,' and I don't think he was talking about Mrs. Kissinger. Power and sexuality is not so unusual in human history; it is part of life," concluded the artist.
Then the President turned to the purpose of his visit. "Today I only want to speak to you about one of the issues, and that is how we are going to meet the challenge of the aging, because it affects all of us, not just the old, but the young as well. And I want everyone to understand exactly what I was trying to say last night, and why. But let me make a bigger point. It was Al Gore has already said, six years ago at noon that I took the oath of office as President. And it seems impossible to me that those six years have flown by, they have been, to put it mildly, quite eventful. But I want you to focus on this: you know as well as I do, the world is changing rapidly.
You know this community, and there is not much resemblance to the way it looked 30 years ago, in terms of living, diversity of population, how we relate to each other. So, I don't believe we can just sit around and pat ourselves on the back and say, 'isn't is great that we have the longest peacetime expansion in history, we got the lowest welfare rolls in 29 years, and that all the social problems are getting better.
But the real issue is: what are we going to do with this?
So what I want to say to you is we ought to be focused on two big things.
Number one, bringing the opportunities that the last three decades have brought to most America, to the rest of America.
Second thing we need to do, is to address the long-term challenges of America. I want to speak about the aging of America. The aging of America affects everybody: the seniors today, but when we baby-boomers retire, there will be a "senior-boom." In 30 years the number of senior citizens, people over 65, is going to double. How will we manage this? This is an issue for all America. Now this is the problem: Social Security.
Now. We're going to have a big argument about this and a big debate, and we should, but I believe since we have a $ 70 billion surplus this year, we should use a big part of it to save Social Security."
Then the President continued with a related topic, the government-sponsored health insurance for senior citizens: "Medicare will run out of money by 2010. It is a "high age" problem. But I hope every child in this audience will live to be over 80. The kids in this audience will actually have life expectancy of 85 years, if the medical science keeps advancing.
But the older you get, the more you need the doctor, or the more you need drugs, or you need something, just to kind of get through the day I'm finding that out already! Everything kind of hurts when it's cold, you've gotta stretch your legs, etc. So that's going to happen by 2010.
So what I had to say last night is not as popular as what others can tell you; others will say 'we've got the surplus now, I just want a big tax cut, I'll give it back to you, you figure out what to do with it." I believe if we save 60 percent of this surplus for Social Security, this is what we can do: we can make the Trust Fund alright through 2055 -- we can save the Social Security for 55 years. Then we'll have a list of all the options. They're all a little controversial, but if we get the Republicans and Democrats to hold hands, we can do it, it wouldn't hurt anybody very much, they're really good things for the long run. And if we do that, then we can protect Social Security for 75 years, and we can reduce the poverty rate among the elderly women on Social Security (they're twice as likely to be poor), and we can remove the "earning test" which limits what seniors on Social Security can earn for themselves. So I think it is a good use of the surplus.
Now. Same thing with Medicare. If we just save 1/6 -- 1 in every 6 dollars of this surplus for 15 years, and set it aside for Medicare, then we save Medicare through 2020. Then, if we can get Republicans and Democrats together, in March we will have a bi-partisan commission that will start a debate, we can make a few other changes, save it till 2020 and begin to provide for prescription drugs, which is the single biggest need that seniors on Medicare have.
If we save three quarters of this surplus for 15 years, to solve Social Security and solve Medicare well into the 21st century, what else will happen? We will be holding this money; so what do you do with this money? You buy back the privately held debt, we will be reducing the debt of the country.We will take the debt of America in relationship to our economy to its lowest level since before World War I in 1917.
Now. Why should that matter to you? You say, 'fine, Mr. President, give me the money, I'd rather have a new car. I don't care about World War I; what does that matter?' It does matter to you.
If we keep driving the debt down, then we will keep the home mortgage rates low, we will keep the interest rates you pay on your credit cards low, we will keep the interest you pay on your car payments low, you'll have investments coming here to Buffalo, you will have more jobs here. And that's something that we have to do together, and it will protect us.
You see all this financial upheaval around the world, and the budgets of these countries are out of balance. If people run off with their money, they had to put their interest rates through the roof just to get the money to come back.
If we start paying off our debt a little then you will be somewhat more protected from these global economic events. Long after I'm gone from the White House you will have stable interest rates, affordable lives, and the knowledge that investments would come into Buffalo to build a better future. So I hope you will support what I had to say last night."
Then the President came to the end of his spirited and inspiring speech in front of the largest crowd of people since his second inauguration ceremony in Washington two years ago:
"This country is going to change in a breathtaking way. We are on the verge of finding cures or preventions for diseases from Alzheimers to Parkinsons, for arthritis, for all kinds of cancer. I think this will happen in my lifetime. There are children here in this audience&emdash;they or their contemporaries will be walking not on Moon, but on Mars.
This world is going to change! And we have to do our best to prepare. So I will say again: It may sound good if someone says, 'this is your surplus, we ought to give it back to you,' but you ought to ask yourself: What's America going to look like in 10, 20, 30 years from now? How are all the families going to deal with the retirement of the baby-boom generation? How we're going to deal with our responsibilities for medical care for our parents through Medicare, and can we keep interest rates low and the economy going?
If you like this improving economy, what I'm trying to do is to give you a way to maximize the chances that we will have a strong economy for the next 10 to 15, 20 years and prepare for the aging of the baby-boomers. I hope that you will support it, I thank you for one of the greatest days of my presidency. God bless you!"
Buffalo, New York
January 20, 1999
May we recommend some books?
A World Transformed, by George Bush
Ronald Reagan: An American Story
Primer for Those Who Would Govern, by Hermann Oberth
Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
Arno Breker: The Divine Beauty in Art, by B. John Zavrel
Alexander the Great, by Robin Lane Fox