Second Inaugural Address, 1997
|printer friendly version
My fellow citizens:
At this last presidential inauguration of the twentieth century,
let us lift our eyes toward the challenges that await us in the
next century. It is our great good fortune that time and chance
have put us not only at the edge of a new century, in a new
millennium, but on the edge of a bright new prospect in human
affairs?a moment that will define our course, and our character,
for decades to come. We must keep our old democracy forever
young. Guided by the ancient vision of a promised land, let us
set our sights upon a land of new promise.
The promise of America was born in the 18th century out of the
bold conviction that we are all created equal. It was extended a
nd preserved in the 19th century, when our nation spread
across the continent, saved the union, and abolished the awful
scourge of slavery.
Then, in turmoil and triumph, that promise exploded onto the
world stage to make this the American Century.
And what a century it has been. America became the world?s
mightiest industrial power; saved the world from tyranny in
two world wars and a long cold war; and time and again,
reached out across the globe to millions who, like us, longed
for the blessings of liberty.
Along the way, Americans produced a great middle class and
security in old age; built unrivaled centers of learning and
opened public schools to all; split the atom and explored the
heavens; invented the computer and the microchip; and
deepened the wellspring of justice by making a revolution in
civil rights for African Americans and all minorities, and extending
the circle of citizenship, opportunity and dignity to women.
Now, for the third time, a new century is upon us, and another
time to choose. We began the 19th century with a choice, to
spread our nation from coast to coast. We began the 20th century
with a choice, to harness the Industrial Revolution to our values
of free enterprise, conservation, and human decency. Those
choices made all the difference. At the dawn of the 21st century
a free people must now choose to shape the forces of the
Information Age and the global society, to unleash the limitless
potential of all our people, and, yes, to form a more perfect union.
When last we gathered, our march to this new future seemed
less certain than it does today. We vowed then to set a clear
course to renew our nation.
In these four years, we have been touched by tragedy,
exhilarated by challenge, strengthened by achievement. America
stands alone as the world?s indispensable nation. Once again,
our economy is the strongest on Earth. Once again, we are
building stronger families, thriving communities, better educational
opportunities, a cleaner environment. Problems that once seemed
destined to deepen now bend to our efforts: our streets are safer
and record numbers of our fellow citizens have moved from
welfare to work.
And once again, we have resolved for our time a great debate
over the role of government. Today we can declare: Government
is not the problem, and government is not the solution. We?the
American people?we are the solution. Our founders understood
that well and gave us a democracy strong enough to endure for
centuries, flexible enough to face our common challenges and
advance our common dreams in each new day.
As times change, so government must change. We need a new
government for a new century?humble enough not to try to
solve all our problems for us, but strong enough to give us the
tools to solve our problems for ourselves; a government that is
smaller, lives within its means, and does more with less. Yet
where it can stand up for our values and interests in the world,
and where it can give Americans the power to make a real
difference in their everyday lives, government should do more,
not less. The preeminent mission of our new government is to
give all Americans an opportunity?not a guarantee, but a real
opportunity?to build better lives.
Beyond that, my fellow citizens, the future is up to us. Our
founders taught us that the preservation of our liberty and our
union depends upon responsible citizenship. And we need a
new sense of responsibility for a new century. There is work to
do, work that government alone cannot do: teaching children to
read; hiring people off welfare rolls; coming out from behind
locked doors and shuttered windows to help reclaim our streets
from drugs and gangs and crime; taking time out of our own
lives to serve others.
Each and every one of us, in our own way, must assume
personal responsibility?not only for ourselves and our families,
but for our neighbors and our nation. Our greatest responsibility
is to embrace a new spirit of community for a new century. For
any one of us to succeed, we must succeed as one America.
The challenge of our past remains the challenge of our future?
will we be one nation, one people, with one common destiny,
or not? Will we all come together, or come apart?
The divide of race has been America?s constant curse. And each
new wave of immigrants gives new targets to old prejudices.
Prejudice and contempt, cloaked in the pretense of religious
or political conviction are no different. These forces have nearly
destroyed our nation in the past. They plague us still. They fuel
the fanaticism of terror. And they torment the lives of millions in
fractured nations all around the world.
These obsessions cripple both those who hate and, of course,
those who are hated, robbing both of what they might become.
We cannot, we will not, succumb to the dark impulses that lurk
in the far regions of the soul everywhere. We shall overcome
them. And we shall replace them with the generous spirit of a
people who feel at home with one another.
Our rich texture of racial, religious and political diversity will be
a Godsend in the 21st century. Great rewards will come to
those who can live together, learn together, work together,
forge new ties that bind together.
As this new era approaches we can already see its broad
outlines. Ten years ago, the Internet was the mystical province
of physicists; today, it is a commonplace encyclopedia for
millions of schoolchildren. Scientists now are decoding the
blueprint of human life. Cures for our most feared illnesses
seem close at hand.
The world is no longer divided into two hostile camps. Instead,
now we are building bonds with nations that once were our
adversaries. Growing connections of commerce and culture give
us a chance to lift the fortunes and spirits of people the world
over. And for the very first time in all of history, more people on
this planet live under democracy than dictatorship.
My fellow Americans, as we look back at this remarkable
century, we may ask, can we hope not just to follow, but even
to surpass the achievements of the 20th century in America
and to avoid the awful bloodshed that stained its legacy? To
that question, every American here and every American in our
land today must answer a resounding ?Yes.?
This is the heart of our task. With a new vision of government,
a new sense of responsibility, a new spirit of community, we
will sustain America?s journey. The promise we sought in a
new land we will find again in a land of new promise.
In this new land, education will be every citizen?s most prized
possession. Our schools will have the highest standards in
the world, igniting the spark of possibility in the eyes of every
girl and every boy. And the doors of higher education will be
open to all. The knowledge and power of the Information Age
will be within reach not just of the few, but of every classroom,
every library, every child. Parents and children will have time
not only to work, but to read and play together. And the plans
they make at their kitchen table will be those of a better home,
a better job, the certain chance to go to college.
Our streets will echo again with the laughter of our children,
because no one will try to shoot them or sell them drugs
anymore. Everyone who can work, will work, with today?s
permanent under class part of tomorrow?s growing middle
class. New miracles of medicine at last will reach not only
those who can claim care now, but the children and hardworking
families too long denied.
We will stand mighty for peace and freedom, and maintain
a strong defense against terror and destruction. Our children
will sleep free from the threat of nuclear, chemical or biological
weapons. Ports and airports, farms and factories will thrive
with trade and innovation and ideas. And the world?s greatest
democracy will lead a whole world of democracies.
Our land of new promise will be a nation that meets its
obligations?a nation that balances its budget, but never
loses the balance of its values. A nation where our grandparents
have secure retirement and health care, and their grandchildren
know we have made the reforms necessary to sustain those
benefits for their time. A nation that fortifies the world?s most
productive economy even as it protects the great natural
bounty of our water, air, and majestic land.
And in this land of new promise, we will have reformed our
politics so that the voice of the people will always speak louder
than the din of narrow interests?regaining the participation
and deserving the trust of all Americans.
Fellow citizens, let us build that America, a nation ever moving
forward toward realizing the full potential of all its citizens.
Prosperity and power?yes, they are important, and we must
maintain them. But let us never forget: The greatest progress
we have made, and the greatest progress we have yet to
make, is in the human heart. In the end, all the world?s wealth
and a thousand armies are no match for the strength and
decency of the human spirit.
Thirty-four years ago, the man whose life we celebrate today
spoke to us down there, at the other end of this Mall, in words
that moved the conscience of a nation. Like a prophet of old,
he told of his dream that one day America would rise up and
treat all its citizens as equals before the law and in the heart.
Martin Luther King?s dream was the American Dream. His quest
is our quest: the ceaseless striving to live out our true creed.
Our history has been built on such dreams and labors. And by
our dreams and labors we will redeem the promise of America
in the 21st century.
To that effort I pledge all my strength and every power of
my office. I ask the members of Congress here to join in that
pledge. The American people returned to office a President
of one party and a Congress of another. Surely, they did not
do this to advance the politics of petty bickering and extreme
partisanship they plainly deplore. No, they call on us instead to
be repairers of the breach, and to move on with America?s mission.
America demands and deserves big things from us?and nothing
big ever came from being small. Let us remember the timeless
wisdom of Cardinal Bernardin, when facing the end of his own life.
He said: ?It is wrong to waste the precious gift of time, on
acrimony and division.?
Fellow citizens, we must not waste the precious gift of this time.
For all of us are on that same journey of our lives, and our
journey, too, will come to an end. But the journey of our America
must go on.
And so, my fellow Americans, we must be strong, for there is
much to dare. The demands of our time are great and they are
different. Let us meet them with faith and courage, with patience
and a grateful and happy heart. Let us shape the hope of this day
into the noblest chapter in our history. Yes, let us build our bridge.
A bridge wide enough and strong enough for every American to
cross over to a blessed land of new promise.
May those generations whose faces we cannot yet see, whose
names we may never know, say of us here that we led our
beloved land into a new century with the American Dream alive
for all her children; with the American promise of a more perfect
union a reality for all her people; with America?s bright flame of
freedom spreading throughout all the world.
From the height of this place and the summit of this century,
let us go forth. May God strengthen our hands for the good work
ahead?and always, always bless our America.