January 23, 1996 – Twenty-three years ago today, a State of The Union. A Democratic President with a Republican majority in the House and Senate. Squabbles and shutdowns – two so far; it was an election year and this was the acknowledged kickoff. It would only get more lively between now and November:
President Clinton: “My duty tonight is to report on the state of the Union, not the state of our Government but of our American community, and to set forth our responsibilities, in the words of our Founders, to form a more perfect Union.
The state of the Union is strong. Our economy is the healthiest it has been in three decades. We have the lowest combined rates of unemployment and inflation in 27 years. We have completed—created nearly 8 million new jobs, over a million of them in basic industries like construction and automobiles. America is selling more cars than Japan for the first time since the 1970’s. And for 3 years in a row, we have had a record number of new businesses started in our country.
Our leadership in the world is also strong, bringing hope for new peace. And perhaps most important, we are gaining ground in restoring our fundamental values. The crime rate, the welfare and food stamp rolls, the poverty rate, and the teen pregnancy rate are all down. And as they go down, prospects for America’s future go up.
We live in an age of possibility. A hundred years ago we moved from farm to factory. Now we move to an age of technology, information, and global competition. These changes have opened vast new opportunities for our people, but they have also presented them with stiff challenges. While more Americans are living better, too many of our fellow citizens are working harder just to keep up, and they are rightly concerned about the security of their families.
We must answer here three fundamental questions: First, how do we make the American dream of opportunity for all a reality for all Americans who are willing to work for it? Second, how do we preserve our old and enduring values as we move into the future? And third, how do we meet these challenges together, as one America?
We know big Government does not have all the answers. We know there’s not a program for every problem. We know, and we have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic Government in Washington. And we have to give the American people one that lives within its means. The era of big Government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.
Instead, we must go forward as one America, one nation working together to meet the challenges we face together. Self-reliance and teamwork are not opposing virtues; we must have both. I believe our new, smaller Government must work in an old-fashioned American way, together with all of our citizens through State and local governments, in the workplace, in religious, charitable, and civic associations. Our goal must be to enable all our people to make the most of their own lives, with stronger families, more educational opportunity, economic security, safer streets, a cleaner environment in a safer world.
To improve the state of our Union, we must ask more of ourselves, we must expect more of each other, and we must face our challenges together.”
And Senator Bob Dole’s response:
Senator Bob Dole: “Good evening. I’m Bob Dole, and I’m here to briefly reply to the president’s message on the state of the Union. But a reply need not be an argument. Instead, I want to present another view, another way of thinking about the problems we face.
A few years back, I met with a group of 100 high school seniors, one young man and woman from every state. During the meeting, one young man stood up and said, “Senator, everybody has somebody who speaks for them, but who speaks for us?” he asked me, “Who speaks for the future?” That’s what I want to talk with you about tonight, the future and the values that will shape it. Those values are at the heart of our disagreements with the president.
We have tried and tried again and again, but such a place appears to be elusive, for while we share an abiding love of country, we have been unable to agree. Why? Because we have starkly different philosophies of government and profoundly different visions of America. So all the talk and fighting in Washington can seem very remote, and we political figures can seem detached and petty and far removed from the everyday struggle of American citizens and families.
But the truth is we cannot ignore the future. The point of our lives, after all, is to raise children who are smarter and healthier and nobler than we are, to contribute to a country that is better than today’s America, to make a world that is better and finer for all of God’s creations. America’s greatness, all that we take such justified pride in today, America’s greatness was built by men and women who sacrificed ease and comfort and the joys of today to build a better future for those who came after.”
That’s what we were doing, this January 23, 1996, at least many of us were. And in case you missed it the first time around here is the State of The Union Address and opposition rebuttal as presented by National Public Radio.
Politics – always around – never understood.