Magazine article USA TODAY

Opportunity, Responsibility, Community: Building a Bridge to the 21st Century

Magazine article USA TODAY

Opportunity, Responsibility, Community: Building a Bridge to the 21st Century

Article excerpt

WE ARE just four years from the dawn of a new century. It is a time of tremendous hope, exciting change, and enormous possibility. As we move into the information age and the global economy, I believe the outcome of this fall's election will determine how we prepare for the future--whether we have the courage to build a bridge to the 21st century and seize all the opportunities of a new economic age.

I believe we must work together and build that bridge to meet America's major challenges and protect our values; to help parents raise their children; to help young people and adults get the education and training they need; to make our streets safer; to help Americans succeed at home and at work; to break the cycle of poverty and dependence; to protect our environment for generations to come; and to maintain our world leadership for the sake of peace and freedom.

I like to tell people that there are three things the American people should look at as they decide who can best meet these crucial challenges: the record, the difference between their choices, and our plans for the future. Voters should begin by taking a look at the record. I ran for President with three major goals for this country: first, to make the American Dream a reality once again for every American, second, to ensure that the U.S. remains the strongest force for peace and freedom in the world; and third, to restore our sense of community--the responsibility we have to each other and to ourselves.

We are beginning to meet these goals with a strategy rooted in the most profoundly American values: offering opportunity to all, demanding responsibility from all, and coming together as a community, across the lines that too often divide us. That is America's basic bargain; it is how we have come this far; and it is how we will move forward into the 21st century.

Four years ago, our economy was no longer providing the opportunity that is the key to the American Dream. Unemployment was nearly eight percent; the deficit was at an all-time high and growing; and job growth was anemic. I vowed to change that, and I'm very proud that I have.

Our economic strategy has given us growth that is both steady and strong. We now make more autos than Japan. We have 915,000 new construction jobs. There is a record number of businesses owned by women. We have cut the deficit by more than half, and it is now the smallest it has been since 1981. Our economy has created over 10,000,000 jobs. Real hourly wages, which fell for a decade, are on the rise again, and we have raised the minimum wage by working across party lines. Our economy is now the soundest it has been in a generation.

We have taken a new approach to our other challenges as well. We have put in place a crime policy that is tough and smart to take back our streets from drugs and gangs and guns. We are putting 100,000 new police on the street through community policing. We put tougher penalties on the books, making three-strikes-and-you're-out the law of the land. We banned 19 deadly assault weapons. The Brady Law has stopped 60,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers from getting handguns, and I want to extend it to those who commit acts of domestic violence and ban deadly cop-killer bullets as well. Our approach is working. The crime rate has been coming down, for four years in a row, in towns, cities, and communities all across America.

We took a new approach to welfare reform, too. I ran for President in 1992 determined to end welfare as we know it--imposing time limits, requiring work, and providing child care. While we waited for Congress to pass a welfare law that was fair to families, we worked with 40 states to launch 67 welfare reform experiments. Today, fully 75% of welfare recipients are living under new rules. The New York Times called it a "quiet revolution" in welfare, and 1,600,000 fewer people are on welfare than the day I took office. Meanwhile, I have signed a welfare reform bill to help us finish the job we started in 1992. …

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