William Jefferson Clinton
State of the Union 1995 (prepared version) - 24 January 1995
Mr. Speaker. Members of the 104th Congress. My fellow Americans:
Again we are here in the sanctuary of democracy, and once again our democracy has spoken. To all of you in the 104th Congress, to you, Mr. Speaker: Congratulations.
If we agree on nothing else, we must agree that the American people voted for change in 1992 and 1994. We didn't hear America singing - - we heard America shouting. Now, we must say: We hear you. We will work together to earn your trust.
For we are the keepers of a sacred trust, and we must be faithful to it in this new era. Over two hundred years ago, our Founders changed the course of history by joining together to create a new country based on a powerful idea: We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
It has fallen to every generation since to preserve that idea -- the American idea -- and to expand its meaning in new and different times. To Lincoln and his Congress: To preserve the Union and end slavery. To Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson: To restrain the abuses and excesses of the Industrial Revolution, and to assert America's leadership in the world. To Franklin Roosevelt: To fight the failure of the Great Depression and our century's great struggle against fascism. To all our Presidents since: To fight the Cold War. Especially to two, who struggled in partnership with Congresses of the opposite party. To Harry Truman, who summoned us to unparalleled prosperity at home and constructed the architecture of the Cold War world. And to Ronald Reagan, who exhorted us to carry on until the twilight struggle against Communism was won.
In another time of change and challenge, I became the first President to be elected in the post-Cold War era, an era marked by the global economy, the information revolution, unparalleled change and opportunity and insecurity for ordinary Americans. I came to this hallowed chamber two years ago on a mission: To restore the American Dream for all our people and to ensure that we move into the 21st Century still the world's strongest force for freedom and democracy.
I was determined to tackle tough problems, too long ignored. In these efforts I have made my mistakes and learned again the importance of humility in all human endeavor. But I am proud to say that, tonight, our country is stronger than it was two years ago.
Record numbers of Americans are succeeding in the new global economy. We are at peace and a force for peace and freedom throughout the world. We have almost six million new jobs since I became President. We have the lowest combined rate of unemployment and inflation in over 25 years. We have expanded trade, put more police on our streets, given our citizens more tools to get an education and rebuild their communities. But the rising tide is not lifting all boats.
While our nation is enjoying peace and prosperity, too many of our people are still working harder and harder for less and less. While our businesses are restructuring and growing more competitive, too many of our people can't be sure of even having a job next year or even next month. And far more than our material riches are threatened: Things far more precious -- our children, our families, our values.
Our civil life is suffering. Citizens are working together less, shouting at each other more. The common bonds of community which have been the great strength of this country from its beginning are badly frayed.
What are we to do about it? More than 60 years ago, at the dawn of another new era, Franklin Roosevelt told the nation:"New conditions impose new requirements on government and those who conduct government." From that simple proposition, he shaped the New Deal, which helped restore our nation to prosperity and defined the relationship between Americans and their government for half a century.
That approach worked in its time. But we today, we face a new time and different conditions. We are moving from an Industrial Age built on gears and sweat, to an Information Age that will demand more skills and learning. Our government, once a champion of national purpose, is now seen as a captive of narrow interests, putting more burdens on our citizens, instead of equipping them to get ahead. The values that used to hold us together are coming apart.
So, tonight, we must forge a new social compact, to meet the challenges of our time. As we enter a new era, we need a new set of understandings, not just with our government, but more important, with one another.
That is what I want to talk to you about tonight. I call it a New Covenant, but it is grounded in a very old idea: That all Americans have not just a right, but a responsibility to rise as far as their God-given talents and determination can take them, and to give something back to their communities and their country in return.
Opportunity and responsibility go hand-in-hand. We can't have one without the other. And our national community can't hold together without both.
Our New Covenant is a new set of understandings for how we can equip our people to meet the challenges of the new economy, how we can change the way our government works to fit a different time and, above all, how we can repair the damaged bonds in our society and come together behind our common purpose. We must have dramatic change in our economy, in our government and in ourselves.
Let us rise to the occasion. Let us put aside partisanship, pettiness, and pride. As we embark on a new course, let us put our country first, remembering that regardless of our party labels, we are all Americans. Let the final test of any action we take be a simple one: is it good for the American people?
We cannot ask Americans to be better citizens if we are not better servants. We've made a start this week by enacting a law applying to Congress the laws you apply to the private sector. But we have a lot more to do.
Three times as many lobbyists roam the streets and corridors of Washington as did 20 years ago. The American people look at their nation's capital, and they see a city where the well-connected and the well-protected milk the system, and the interests of ordinary citizens are too often left out.
As this new Congress opened its doors, lobbyists were still at work. Free travel, expensive gifts . . . business as usual. Twice this month, you have voted not to stop these gifts. Well, there doesn't have to be a law for everything. Tonight, I challenge you to just stop taking them -- now, without waiting for legislation to pass. Then, send me the strongest possible lobby reform bill, and I'll sign it.
Require the lobbyists to tell the people who they work for, what they're spending and what they want. And let's curb the role of big money in our elections, by capping the cost of campaigns and limiting the influence of PACs, and opening the people's airwaves to be an instrument of democracy, by giving free TV time to candidates.
When Congress killed political reform last year, the lobbyists actually stood in the halls of this sacred building and cheered. This year, let's give the folks at home something to cheer about.
More important, let's change the government -- let's make it smaller, less costly and smarter -- leaner, not meaner.
The New Covenant is an approach to governing that is as different from the old bureaucratic way as the computer is from the manual typewriter. The old way protected the organized interests. The New Covenant looks our for the interests of ordinary people. The old way divided us by interests, constituency or class. The New Covenant unites us behind a common vision of what's best for our country. The old way dispensed services through large, hierarchical, inflexible bureaucracies. The New Covenant shifts resources and decision-making from bureaucrats to citizens, injecting choice, competition and individual responsibility into national policy.
The old way seemed to reward failure. The New Covenant has built-in incentives to reward success. The old way was centralized in Washington. The New Covenant must take hold in communities across the country.
Our job here is to expand opportunity, not bureaucracy: To empower people to make the most of their own lives; to enhance our security at home and abroad.
We must go beyond the sterile debate between the illusion that there is a program for every problem and the illusion that government is the source of all our problems. Our job is to get rid of yesterday's government so our people can meet today's and tomorrow's needs.
For years before I became President, others had been saying they would cut government, but not much happened. We did it. We cut over a quarter of a trillion dollars in spending, more than 300 domestic programs, more than 100,000 positions from the federal bureaucracy in the last two years alone. Based on decisions we have already made, we will have cut a total of more than a quarter million positions, making the federal government the smallest it has been since John Kennedy was President.
Under the leadership of Vice President Gore, our initiatives have already saved taxpayers $63 billion. The age of the $500 hammer is gone. Deadwood programs like mohair subsidies are gone. We have streamlined the Agriculture Department by more than 1,200 offices. Slashed the Small Business loan form from an inch-thick to a single page and thrown away the government's 10,000 page personnel manual. FEMA -- the federal disaster agency -- has gone from being a disaster to helping people. Government workers -- hand-in-hand with private business -- rebuilt southern California's fractured freeways in record time and under budget. And because the federal government moved fast, all but one of the 650 schools damaged in the earthquake are back in business educating our children.
University administrators tell me that they are saving weeks of time on college loan applications because of our new college loan program that cut costs to the taxpayers, cuts costs to students, and gives people a better way to pay back their college loans, and cut out bureaucracy.
Previous government reform reports gathered dust. We are getting results. And we're not through. There is going to be a second round of reinventing government. We propose to cut $130 billion in spending by shrinking departments, extending our freeze on domestic spending, cutting 60 public housing programs down to three. Getting rid of over 100 programs we don't need -- like the Interstate Commerce Commission and the helium reserve program.
These programs have outlived their usefulness. We have to cut yesterday's government to help solve tomorrow's problems.
And we need to get government closer to the people it's meant to serve. Where states and communities, private citizens and the private sector can do a better job, we should get out of the way. We're taking power away from federal bureaucracies and giving it back to communities and individuals. And it's time for Congress to stop passing on to the states the cost of the decisions we make here in Washington.
For years, Congress has concealed in the budget scores of pet spending projects -- and last year was no different: A million dollars to study stress in plants, $12 million for a tick-removal program that didn't even work. Give me the line-item veto and I'll save the taxpayers money.
But when we cut, let's remember that government still has important responsibilities: Our young people hold our future in their hands; we owe a debt to our veterans who were willing to risk their lives for us; the elderly have made us what we are. My budget cuts a lot, but it protects education, veterans, Social Security, and Medicare and so should you.
And when we give more flexibility to the states, let's remember certain fundamental national needs that should be addressed in every state. Immunization against childhood disease; school lunches; Head Start; medical care and nutrition for pregnant women and infants -- they're in the national interest.
I applaud your desire to get rid of costly, unnecessary regulations. But when we deregulate, let's remember what national action in the national interest has given us: Safer food for our families; safer toys for our kids; safer nursing homes for our parents. Safer cars and highways. And safer workplaces. Clean water and clean air.
Do we need more common sense and fairness in our regulations? You bet we do. But we can have common sense and still provide for safe drinking water. We can have fairness and still clean up toxic waste dumps. And we ought to do it.
Should we cut the deficit more? Of course, we should. We must bring down spending in a way that protects the economic recovery and does not punish the middle class or seniors.
I know many of you in this chamber support the balanced budget amendment. We all want to balance the budget. Our administration has done more to bring the budget closer to balance than any one in a long time. But if you're going to pass this amendment, you have to be straight with the American people. They have a right to know what you are going to cut and how it would affect them. And you should tell them before you change the Constitution.
In the New Covenant there are problems we have the responsibility to face.
Nothing has done more to undermine our sense of responsibility than our failed welfare system. It rewards welfare over work. It undermines family values. It lets millions of parents get away without paying child support.
That is why I have worked so long to reform welfare. We have made a good start. In the last two years, my administration has given more states the chance to find their own ways to reform welfare than the past two administrations combined. Last year, I introduced the most sweeping welfare reform plan ever presented by an administration.
We have to make welfare what it was meant to be: a second chance, not a way of life. We'll help those on welfare move to work as quickly as possible, provide child care and teach skills if they need them for up to two years. But after that, the rule will be simple: Anyone who can work must go to work.
If a parent isn't paying child support, we'll make them pay. We'll suspend their driver's licenses, track them across state lines and make them work off what they owe. Governments don't raise children. Parents do.
I want to work with you to pass welfare reform. But our goal must be to liberate people and lift them up -- from dependence to independence, welfare to work, mere childbearing to responsible parenting -- not punish them because they happen to be poor. We should require work and mutual responsibility, but we shouldn't cut people off because they are poor, young, unmarried. We should promote responsibility by requiring young mothers to live at home with their parents or in other supervised settings and finish school, not by putting them and their children out on the street. We shouldn't punish poor children for the mistakes of their parents.
Let this be the year we end welfare as we know it. But let this also be the year we stop using this issue to divide America. No one is more eager to end welfare than the people that are trapped on it. Let's promote education, work, good parenting. Let's punish bad behavior and the refusal to be a student, a worker, a responsible parent. Let's not punish poverty and past mistakes. All of us have made mistakes. None of us can change our yesterdays, but all of us can change tomorrows. Just ask Lynn Woolsey, who worked her way off welfare and is now a congresswoman from California.
I know it has become fashionable to embrace Franklin D. Roosevelt. So let's remember exactly what he said:"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel in order to be tough."
I know members of this Congress are concerned about crime. But I would remind you that last year we passed a very tough crime bill -- longer sentences, three strikes and you're out, more prevention, more prisons, and 100,000 more police. And we paid for it all by reducing the size of the federal bureaucracy and giving money back to local communities to lower the crime rate. There may be other things we can do to be tougher on crime and to help lower the crime rate, and let's do them. But let's not take back the good things we've already done. That's what local community leaders think. And that's what the police who put their lives on the line every day think.
Secondly, the last Congress passed the Brady Bill and the ban on nineteen assault weapons. I think everybody in this room knows that several members of the last Congress who voted for the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill lost their seats because of it. Neither the bill supporters nor I believe anything should be done to infringe upon the legitimate right of our citizens to bear arms for hunting and sporting purposes. Those people laid down their seats in Congress to try to keep more police and children from laying down their lives in our streets under a hail of assault weapons' bullets. And I will not see that ban repealed.
We shouldn't cut government programs that help to prepare us for the new economy, promote responsibility, and are organized from the grass roots up, not by federal bureaucracies. The best example of that is the national service program -- Americorps -- which today has 20,000 Americans, more than ever served in one year in the Peace Corps, working all over America, helping people -- person to person -- in local volunteer groups, solving problems and earning some money for their education. This is citizenship at its best. It's good for the Americorps members and good for the rest of us. It's the essence of the New Covenant. And we shouldn't stop it.
All Americans are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal immigrants entering this country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by our citizens or legal immigrants, and the public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That's why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal aliens who try to take American jobs, and by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens.
In the budget I will present to you, we will do more to try to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, and to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace, as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.
This is a nation of immigrants. But it is also a nation of law. And it is wrong, and ultimately self-defeating, for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years.
The most important job of government is to empower people to succeed in the new global economy. America has always been the land of opportunity, a land where if you work hard you can get ahead. We are a middle class country. Middle class values sustain us. We must expand the middle class and shrink the underclass, while supporting the millions who are already successful in the new economy.
America is once again the world's strongest economy. Almost six million jobs in two years. Exports booming. Inflation down. High wage jobs coming back. A record number of American entrepreneurs living the American dream. If we want it to stay that way, those who work and lift our nation must have more of its benefits.
Today too many of those people are being left out. They are working harder for less security, less income, less certainty they can even afford a vacation, much less college for their children or retirement for themselves. We cannot let this continue.
If we don't act, our economy will probably do what it's done since 1978: Provide high income growth to those at the top, give very little to everyone in the middle, and leave the people at the bottom to fall even farther behind, no matter how hard they work.
We must have a government that can be a partner in making this new economy work for all Americans -- a government that helps each and every one of us get an education and have the opportunity to renew our skills.
That's why we worked so hard to increase educational opportunity from Head Start, to public schools, to apprenticeships, to job training, to making college loans available and more affordable for 20 million people. That's the first thing we have to do.
The second thing we can do to raise incomes is to lower taxes. In 1993, we took the first step with a working family tax cut for 15 million families with incomes of under $27,000 and a tax cut to most small and new businesses. Before we could do more than that, we first had to bring down the deficit we inherited. And we had to get economic growth up. We have done both.
Now we can cut taxes in a more comprehensive way. Tax cuts must promote and reinforce our first obligation, empowering citizens with education and training to make the most of their lives. The tax relief spotlight must shine on those who make the right choices for their families and communities.
I have proposed the Middle Class Bill of Rights -- which should be called a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, because its provisions only benefit those who are working to educate and raise their children or to improve their own lives. It will, therefore, give needed tax relief and raise incomes in the short and long runs in a way that benefits all of us.
There are four provisions: First, a tax deduction for all education and training after high school. Education is even more important now than ever to the economic well-being of America, and we should do everything we can to encourage it. If businesses can get a deduction for investing in factories, why shouldn't families for investment in their future?
Second, a $500 tax credit for all children under thirteen in middle class households.
Third, an individual retirement account with penalty-free withdrawal rights for the cost of education, health care, first-time home buying, and care of a parent.
And fourth, a G.I. Bill for American workers. We propose to collapse nearly 70 federal programs and offer vouchers directly to eligible American workers. If you are laid off, or make a low wage, you will get a voucher worth $2,600 a year for up to two years to go to your local community college or get private or public job training to raise your job skills.
Anyone can call for a tax cut, but I will not accept one that explodes the deficit and puts our economic recovery at risk. We must pay for any tax cuts, fully and honestly. Two years ago, it was an open question whether we would find the strength to cut the deficit. Thanks to the courage of many people here, and many who did not return to take their seats in this House, we began to do what others said they would do for years.
We Democrats cut the deficit by over $600 billion -- that's nearly $10,000 for every family of four in this country. The deficit is coming down three years in a row for the first time since President Truman was in office.
In the budget I will send you, the Middle Class Bill of Rights is fully paid for by budget cuts, cuts in bureaucracy, cuts in programs, cuts in special interest subsidies. And the spending cuts will more than double the tax cuts. My budget pays for the Middle Class Bill of Rights without any cuts in Medicare. And I will oppose any attempt to pay for tax cuts with Medicare cuts.
I know a lot of you have your own ideas about tax relief. I want to work with you. My test for any proposal is: Will it create jobs and raise incomes? Will it strengthen families and support children? Will it build the middle class and shrink the underclass? Is it paid for? If it does, I will support it. If it doesn't, I will oppose it.
That's why I will ask you to support raising the minimum wage. It rewards work. Two and a half million Americans, often women with children, work for $4.25 an hour. In terms of real buying power, by next year, that minimum wage will be at a 40 year low.
I have studied the arguments and evidence for and against a minimum wage increase. The weight of evidence is that a modest increase does not cost jobs, and may even lure people into the job market. But the plain fact is you can't make a living on $4.25 an hour, especially if you have kids to support. In the past, the minimum wage has been a bipartisan issue. It should be again. I challenge you to get together and find a way to make the minimum wage a living wage.
Members of Congress have been on the job less than a month. But by the end of the week, 28 days into the new year, each Congressman has already earned as much in Congressional salary as people who work under minimum wage make in an entire year.
And everyone in this chamber has something else that too many Americans go without: health care. Last year, we almost came to blows over health care, but nothing was done. But the hard, cold fact is that, since we started this debate, we know that more than 1.1 million Americans in working families have lost their coverage. The hard, cold fact is that millions more, mostly workers who are farmers, self-employed, and in small businesses, have seen their coverage erode with higher premium costs, higher deductibles, and higher co-payments.
I still believe we must move our nation towards providing health security for every American family. Last year, we bit off more than we could chew. This year, let's work together, step by step, and get something done.
Let's at least pass meaningful insurance reform so that no American risks losing coverage or facing skyrocketing prices when they change jobs, or lose a job, or a family member falls ill. I want to work together with the Democratic leadership and Republicans like Bob Dole, who have a longtime commitment to health reform.
Let's make sure that self-employed people and small businesses can buy insurance at more affordable rates through voluntary purchasing pools. Let's help families provide long-term care for a sick parent or a disabled child. Let's help workers who lose their jobs keep health insurance coverage for a year while they look for work. And let's find a way to make sure our children have health care. Let's work together. This is too important for politics as usual.
Much of what is on the American people's mind is devoted to internal security concerns -- the security of our jobs and incomes, our children, our streets, our health, our borders. Now that the Cold War is past, it is tempting to believe that all security issues, with the possible exception of trade, reside within our borders. That is not so.
Our security depends upon our continued world leadership for peace, freedom, and democracy. We cannot be strong at home without being strong abroad.
The financial crisis in Mexico is a powerful case in point. We have to act -- for the sake of millions of Americans whose livelihoods are tied to Mexico's well-being. If we want to secure American jobs, preserve American exports and safeguard America's borders, we must pass our stabilization program and help put Mexico back on track. And let me repeat -- this is not a loan, this is not foreign aid, this is not a bail-out. We'll be giving a guarantee, like co-signing a note with good collateral that will cover our risk. This legislation is right for America, and together with the bipartisan leadership, I call on Congress to pass it quickly.
Tonight, not a single Russian missile is aimed at our homes or our children. And we, with them, are on the way to destroying missiles and bombers that carry 9000 nuclear warheads.
We've come so far so fast in the post-Cold War world that it is easy to take the decline of the nuclear threat for granted. But it is still there, and we are not finished yet.
This year, I am asking the Senate to approve START II -- and eliminate weapons that carry 5000 more warheads. The United States will lead the charge to extend indefinitely the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, to enact a comprehensive nuclear test ban, and to eliminate chemical weapons. To stop, and roll back, North Korea's potentially deadly nuclear program, we will continue to implement the agreement we have reached with that nation. It's a smart, tough deal based on continuing inspection, with safeguards for our allies and ourselves.
This year, I will submit to Congress comprehensive legislation to strengthen our hand in combating terrorists, whether they strike at home or abroad. As the cowards who bombed the World Trade Center can testify, the United States will hunt down terrorists and bring them to justice.
Just this week, another horrendous terrorist act in Israel killed 19 and injured scores more. On behalf of the American people I extend our deepest sympathy to the families of the victims. I know that in the face of such evil, it is hard to go forward. But the terrorists are the past, not the future. We must -- and we will -- persist in our pursuit of a comprehensive peace between Israel and all her neighbors in the Middle East. Accordingly, last night I signed an Executive Order that will block the assets in the United States of terrorist organizations that threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process and prohibits financial transactions with these groups. Tonight, I call on our allies, and peace-loving nations around the world, to join us with renewed fervor in the global effort to combat terrorism.
From my first day in office I have pledged that our nation would maintain the best equipped, best trained and best prepared fighting force on Earth. We have -- and they are. They have managed the dramatic downsizing of our forces since the Cold War with remarkable skill and spirit. To make sure our military is ready for action -- and to provide the pay and quality of life that the military and their families deserve -- I am asking this Congress to add $25 billion more in defense spending over the next six years. Tonight I repeat that request. We ask much of our armed forces. They are called to service in many ways -- and we must give them and their families what the times demand and they deserve.
Time after time, in the last year, our troops showed America at its best: helping to save hundreds of thousands of lives in Rwanda, moving with lightning speed to head off another Iraqi threat to Kuwait, and giving freedom and democracy back to the people of Haiti.
The United States has proudly supported peace, prosperity, freedom and democracy, from South Africa to Northern Ireland, from Central and Eastern Europe to Asia, from Latin America to the Middle East. All these endeavors make America's future more confident and more secure.
This, then, my fellow Americans, is our agenda -- expanding opportunity, not bureaucracy, enhancing security at home and abroad, empowering people to make the most of their own lives.
It is ambitious and achievable, but it is not enough. We need more than new ideas changing the world, or equipping all Americans to compete in the new economy. More than a government that is smaller, smarter and wiser. More than all the changes we can make from the outside in. Our fortunes and our posterity also depend upon our ability to answer questions from within, from the values and the voices that speak to our hearts, voices that tell us we must accept responsibility for ourselves, for our families, for our communities and, yes, for our fellow citizens.
We see our families and our communities coming apart. Our common ground is shifting out from under us. The PTA, the town hall meeting, the ball park -- it's hard for many overworked Americans to find the time and space for the things that strengthen the bonds of trust and cooperation among citizens. And too many of our children don't have the parents and grandparents who can give them the experiences they need to build character and strengthen identity.
We all know that while we here in this chamber can make a difference, the real differences in America must be made by our fellow citizens where they work and where they live. More than ever before, as we move to the twenty-first century, everyone matters and we don't have a person to waste.
That means the new covenant is for everybody. For our corporate and business leaders: We are working to bring down the deficit and expand markets and to support your success in every way. But you have an obligation when you are doing well to keep jobs in our communities and give American workers a fair share of the prosperity they generate.
For those in the entertainment industry: We applaud your creativity and your worldwide success, and we support your freedom of expression. But you have a responsibility to assess the impact of your work and to understand the damage that comes from the incessant, repetitive and mindless violence, and irresponsible conduct that permeates our media. Not because we will make you, but because you should.
For our community leaders: We've got to stop the epidemic of teen pregnancies and births where there is no marriage. I have sent Congress a plan to target schools all over the country with anti-pregnancy programs that work. But government can only do so much. Tonight, I am calling on parents and leaders across the country to join together in a National Campaign Against Teen Pregnancy -- to make a difference.
For our religious leaders: You can ignite your congregations to carry their faith into action, reaching out to all our children, to those in distress, to those who have been savaged by the breakdown of all we hold dear. Because so much of what has to be done must come from the inside out. You can make all the difference.
Responsibility is for all our citizens. It takes a lot of people to help all the kids in trouble to stay off the streets and in school, to build the Habitat for Humanity houses, to provide the people power for all the civic organizations that make our communities grow. It takes every parent to teach their children the difference between right and wrong, and to encourage them to learn and grow, to say no to the wrong things in life and to believe they can become whatever they want to be.
I know it is hard when you are working harder for less money and you are under great stress to do these things. I also know it's hard to do the work of citizenship when for years, politicians in both parties have treated you like consumers and spectators, promising you something for nothing and playing on your fears and frustrations. And more and more of the information you get comes in very negative ways, not conducive to real conversation. But the truth is, we have got to stop seeing each other as enemies, even when we have different views. If you go back to the very beginning of this country, the great strength of America has always been our ability to associate with people who were different from ourselves and to work together to find common ground. And in the present day, everybody has a responsibility to do more of that.
That is the first law of democracy, the oldest lesson of most of our faiths: That we are stronger together than alone. That we all gain when we give. That is why we must make citizenship matter again. Here are five shining examples of citizenship:
Cindy Perry teaches second graders to read in AmeriCorps, in rural Kentucky. She gains when she gives: She is a mother of four, and she says that her service"inspired" her to get her high-school equivalency last year. Now, like thousands of other members, she will use her scholarship from AmeriCorps to go to college to equip herself to compete and win in the new economy.
With so many forces pulling us apart, we cannot stop a force like AmeriCorps that's pulling us together.
Chief Stephen Bishop gains when he gives: He has worked with AmeriCorps to build community policing in Kansas City -- and has seen crime go down because of it. He stood up for our Crime Bill and the Assault Weapons ban, and knows that the people he serves and the people he leads are all safer because of it.
Corporal Gregory Depestre gains when he gives: He went to Haiti as part of his adopted country's force to help secure democracy. And he saw the people of his native land --Haiti -- are restoring democracy for themselves.
And Jack Lucas gained when he gave. Fifty crowded years ago, in the sands of Iwo Jima, he taught and he learned the lessons of citizenship. February 20, 1945 was no ordinary day for a small-town boy. As he and his three buddies moved along a slope, they encountered the enemy -- and two grenades at their feet. Jack Lucas threw himself on them both, and, in that moment, saved the lives of his companions. And what did he gain? In the next instant, a medic saved his life. He gained a foothold for freedom. And he gained this: Jack Lucas -- at 17 years old, just a year older than his grandson is today -- became the youngest Marine in our history, the youngest man in this century, to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
All these years later, here's what he says about that day:"It didn't matter where you were from, who you were. You relied on one another. You did it for your country."
We all gain when we give. We reap whatever we sow. That's at the heart of the New Covenant: Responsibility. Citizenship. Opportunity. They are more than stale chapter headings in some remote civics book. They are the virtues by which we can fulfill ourselves and our God-given potential -- the virtues by which we can live out, the eternal promise of America, the enduring dream of that first and most sacred covenant: That we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. And that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
This is a very great country. And our best days are yet to come. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.