`America has done well,' Clinton reflects

In farewell address, president urges U.S. to honor global role

He highlights economy

January 19, 2001|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Clinton said farewell to the nation last night by expressing his profound gratitude for being allowed to serve for the past eight years and warning his successors not to turn away from America's responsibility to project leadership around the world.

In an emotion-free Oval Office speech, broadcast live by most major networks, Clinton characterized himself as a president who had led America into the "global information age" and cataloged the accomplishments of his administration in strengthening the country's neighborhoods and families.

With a note of self-satisfaction, Clinton said President-elect George W. Bush will inherit a nation in "a strong position to meet the challenges of the future."

He boasted, as he often has before, of the nation's economic expansion - the longest on record - which is "breaking records" for job creation and helping reduce welfare dependency and crime, though some economists say the country may be tipping into recession.

For the normally long-winded Clinton, who delivered an hourlong farewell address in Arkansas the other day, the speech clocked in at a little more than seven minutes. It isn't clear that the networks were willing to grant him much more time; one of them, ABC, assured viewers that it was breaking into its regular prime-time program for a "brief" special news event.

Underscoring the last-minute nature of Clinton's remarks, the network opened with a shot of a moving van outside the the White House.

Clinton's speech came less than 36 hours before his presidency ends and after the inaugural celebration for his successor had begun. By contrast, Ronald Reagan, the last president to give a televised farewell speech, did so with nine days to go in his term.

As he said goodbye, Clinton returned to the themes of his 1992 campaign. He said he had tried to give America "a new kind of government - smaller, more effective, full of ideas and policies appropriate to this new time" by "always putting people first, always focusing on the future."

"Working together," he said, "America has done well."

Clinton said he was leaving the presidency "more idealistic, more full of hope than the day I arrived, and more confident than ever that America's best days lie ahead."

He made no mention of impeachment or any of the scandals that marked his terms in office. He also skipped over such policy failures as his ill-fated health care reform effort. While praising the fact that "more than 3 million children have health insurance now," he did not say that there are millions more Americans without any health insurance at all than when he took office. Though a late-comer to the environmental cause, he listed cleaner air and water among his top successes.

Clinton noted that "more of our precious land has been preserved in the continental United States than at any time in 100 years"- a boast that allowed him to ignore President Jimmy Carter's record in setting aside vast areas of Alaskan wilderness. Much of Clinton's conservation efforts are under attack by the Bush administration, which is threatening to undo much of what Clinton achieved.

The president will take at least one more opportunity to say goodbye before his term ends at noon tomorrow. He will tape his final weekly radio address today, to be broadcast at 10:06 a.m. tomorrow, moments before he and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, greet Bush and his wife, Laura, for the traditional inauguration morning coffee at the White House.

Clinton said he wanted to leave office with three thoughts about the future. In a veiled warning against Bush's plans for a huge tax cut and increased spending on defense and other initiatives, he said the nation should remain on the path he has set toward paying off the national debt by the end of the decade. That, he said, would still allow for tax relief, more spending and protection of the retirement of the baby boomers, one of the issues he failed to tackle in his second term after getting bogged down in the impeachment fight.

Clinton also called for continued international engagement by the United States, implicitly chiding his successor, who has called for America's allies to assume more of the burden for keeping the peace in their portion of the world.

"If we want the world to embody our shared values, then we must assume a shared responsibility," he argued, pointing to the positive role U.S. leadership provided in Kosovo and Bosnia.

He also warned that expanded trade still has not closed the gap between the world's haves and have-nots and that even at this time of relative peace, the United States is more subject than ever to terrorism, organized crime, the spread of disease and environmental degradation. "Global poverty is a powder keg that can be ignited by our indifference," he said. "America cannot and must not disentangle itself from the world," he said, contrasting that with Thomas Jefferson's famous words of caution, from his 1801 inaugural address, against "entangling alliances."

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