Clinton's Call to Action

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Sometimes, as Bob Dole says in the Visa ad, you just can't win. The Clinton Administration must have felt snakebit when, an hour before the scheduled State of the Union speech, the Simpson jury announced they had reached a verdict. As the White House frantically phoned networks to make sure they would not break away from covering the speech (NBC said they would use a split screen), spokesman Mike McCurry said that, despite the fuss over the Simpson verdict, the speech would go on as scheduled. One House Republican even asked if he could bring a portable television into the chamber so he wouldn't miss the verdict. Oddly enough, in a country obsessed by the travails of Simpson, the request was denied.

"The President opened and closed on some strong rhetorical notes, even if the speech in between was pretty standard," says TIME's Karen Tumulty. "But tonight he was speaking faster than I've ever heard, perhaps because he wanted to say as much as he could before the networks broke away for the verdict." During the President's speech, he made the case that, with a strong economy and the nation at peace, our biggest enemy is inaction. "So tonight, I issue a call to action -- action by this Congress, by our states, by all our people, to prepare America for the 21st century," the President said. In the strongly bipartisan speech, Clinton asked for cooperation in enacting what he said were the three priorities for his second term: Balancing the budget, reforming campaign finance and completing welfare reform.

The meat of the speech, though, was education. And it was a dish that the NEA and junior colleges everywhere will love. "Let's work together to meet these goals," the President said. "Every 8-year-old must be able to read; every 12-year-old must be able to log on to the Internet; every 18-year-old must be able to go to college; and every adult American must be able to keep on learning." The President set out 10 principles for "a call to action for American education." He said the first step would be for Congress to approve a proposed $51 billion education budget for fiscal 1998. The Administration said the increase, including the cost of proposed tax breaks for college, would total 40 percent by 2002. Other principles included ensuring high-quality teachers, making schools safe, disciplined and drug-free, and connecting every classroom to the Internet by 2000.

The President closed with a number of domestic and policy goals, such as reducing crime and drugs, preserving Medicare, and maintaining an activist foreign policy. "Clinton presented a pretty standard laundry list, which is what these speeches are," notes Tumulty.

In what has become a State of the Union tradition, Clinton singled out the mother of Frank Tejeda, the late Texas Congressman, and the newly-elected Washington governor Gary Locke, the first Chinese American governor, as Americans who have led the way to a better future. He closed with this call to action:

"We don't have a moment to waste. Tomorrow morning, there will be just over 1,000 days until the year 2000; 1,000 days to prepare our people; 1,000 days to work together. My fellow Americans, we have work to do. Let us seize the days and the century."

Text of the Speech