Bill Clinton’s 2016 Democratic Convention Speech: Former President's Full Remarks
In a roaring speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, former President Bill Clinton made the case for his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech touching on everything from how the two met to what he described as Clinton's major, concrete contributions to constituents and the case against Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Clearly hoping to bolster voters' impression of his wife as she faces an election against a candidate whose unpopularity rating within his own party is only slightly different than Clinton's in hers, the former president asked the country to try and see what he saw: the "real" Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"In the spring of 1971, I met a girl," Clinton started. "She had thick blond hair, big glasses, wore no make-up. And she exuded this sense of strength and self-possession that I found magnetic. ... I married my best friend. I was still in awe, after more than four years of being around her, at how smart and strong and loving and caring she was. And I really hoped that her choosing me and rejecting my advice to pursue her own career was a decision she would never regret."
The man who once sat in the White House himself described the choice as to who will occupy it next as stark.
"One is real," Clinton said. "One is made up. And you just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans. The real one had done more positive change-making before she was 30 than many public officials do in a lifetime in office."
Finally, Clinton said his wife was a problem solver for millions of U.S. citizens and others around the globe, saying she had accomplishments including negotiating seizefires, helping locate and kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and tripling the number of people serviced by HIV/AIDS treatment programs without spending more money.
"Hillary is uniquely qualified to seize the opportunities and reduce the risks we face, and she is still the best darn change-maker I have ever known," the former president said. "You could drop her in any trouble spot. Pick one. Come back in a month and somehow, some way, she will have made it better."
Clinton's speech obviously struck a chord with the Democratic electorate, who rewarded the former president with furious applause.
Following the speech, the New York Times was among the outlets wondering just what Bill Clinton would do with all that energy as somewhat of a bystander to his wife's theoretical future presidency.
An unofficial transcript of Bill Clinton's speech follows below (official transcript to follow).
In the spring of 1971, I met a girl. The first time I saw her we were, appropriately enough, in a class on political and civil rights. She had thick blond hair, big glasses, wore no make-up. And she exuded this sense of strength and self-possession that I found magnetic. After the class I followed her out, intending to introduce myself. I got close enough to touch her back but I couldn't do it. Somehow, I knew this would not be just another tap on the shoulder and I might be starting something I couldn't stop.
I saw her many more times in the next few days, but I still didn't speak to her. Then one night, I was in the law library, talking to a classmate who wanted me to join the Yale Law Journal. He said it would guarantee me a job in a big firm, or a clerkship with a federal judge.
I really wasn't interested, I just wanted to go home to Arkansas. Then I saw the girl again, standing at the opposite end of that long room. Finally, she was staring back at me, so I watched her. She closed her book, put it down, and started walking toward me. She walked the whole length of the library, came up to me and said, "Look, if you're gonna keep staring at me, and now I'm staring back, we at least out to know each other's names. I'm Hillary Rodham, who are you?"
I was so impressed and surprised that whether you believe it or not, momentarily, I was speechless.
Finally, I sort of blurted out my name and we exchanged a few words and then she went away. Well, I didn't join the law review but I did leave that library with a whole new goal in mind.
A couple days later I saw her again and I remember she was wearing a long, white flowery skirt. And I went up to her and she said she was going to register for classes for the next term. I said I'd go too. And we stood in line and talked — you had to do that to register back then. And I thought I was doing pretty well until we got to the front of the line and the registrar looked up and said, "Bill what are you doing here? You registered this morning!"
I turned red and she laughed that big laugh of hers. And I thought, "Well heck, since my cover's been blown ... " I just went ahead and asked her to take a walk down to the art museum.
We've been walking and talking and laughing together ever since. And we've done it in good times and bad, through joy and heartbreak. We cried together this morning on the news that our good friend, and a lot of your good friend, Mark Weiner, passed away early this morning.
We built up a lifetime of memories. After the first month, and that first walk, I actually drove her home to Park Ridge, Illinois, to meet her family and see the town where she grew up, a perfect example of post-World War II middle-class America. Street after street of nice houses, great schools, good parks and big public swimming pools. And almost all white. I really liked her family — her crusty conservative father, her rambunctious brothers — all extolling the virtues of rooting for the Bears and the Cubs. And for the people from Illinois here, they even told me what waiting for next year meant. Could be next year, guys.
Now her mother was different, she was more liberal than the boys. And she had a childhood that made mine look like a piece of cake. She was easy to underestimate with her soft manner, and she reminded me all over again of the truth of that old saying — you should never judge a book by its cover. Knowing her was one of the greatest gifts Hillary ever gave me.
I learned that Hillary got her introduction to social justice through her Methodist youth minister Don Jones. He took her downtown to Chicago to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. And he remained her friend for the rest of his life. This will be the only campaign of hers he ever missed.
When she got to college, her support for civil rights, her opposition to the Vietnam War, compelled her to change parties and become a Democrat.
And then between college and law school — on a total lark — she went alone to Alaska and spent some time sliming fish.
More to the point, by the time I met her, she had already been involved in the law school's legal services project, and she had been influenced by Marian Wright Edelman. She took a summer internship interviewing workers in migrant camps for Sen. Walter Mondale's subcommittee.
She'd also begun working in the Yale-New Haven Hospital to develop procedures to handle suspected child abuse cases. She got so involved in children's issues that she actually took an extra year in law school working at the child studies center to learn what more could be done to improve the lives and the futures of poor children.
So she was already determined to figure out how to make things better. Hillary opened my eyes to a whole new world of public service by private citizens. In the summer of 1972, she went to Dothan, Alabama, to visit one of those segregated academies that then enrolled over half a million white kids in the South. Only way the economics worked is if they claimed federal tax exemptions to which they were not legally entitled. She got sent to prove they weren't.
So she sauntered into one of these academies all by herself, pretending to be a housewife that had just moved to town and needed to find a school for her son. And they exchanged pleasantries and finally she said, "Look, let's just get to the bottom line here — if I enroll my son in this school, will he be in a segregated school, yes or no?" And the guy said, "Absolutely!" She had him! I've seen it a thousands times since.
And she went back and her encounter was part of a report that gave Marian Wright Edelman the ammunition she needed to keep working to force the Nixon administration to take those tax exemptions away, and give our kids access to an equal education.
Then she went down to south Texas where she met one of the nicest fellas I ever met, the wonderful union leader Franklin Garcia, and he helped her register Mexican-American voters. I think some of them are still around vote for her in 2016.
Then, in our last year in law school, Hillary kept up this work. She went to South Carolina to see why so many young African-American boys, I mean young teenagers, were being jailed for years with adults, in men's prisons. And she filed a report on that, which led to some changes, too. Always making things better.
Now, meanwhile, let's get back to business. I was trying to convince her to marry me. I first proposed to her on a trip to Great Britain, the first time she'd ever been overseas, and we were on the shoreline of this wonderful little lake, Lake Ennerdale. I asked her to marry me, and she said, "I can't do it."
So, in 1974, I went home to teach at the law school, and Hillary moved to Massachusetts to keep working on children's issues. This time, trying to figure out why so many kids counted in the census weren't enrolled in school. She found one of them sitting alone on her porch in a wheelchair. Once more, she filed a report about these kids, and that helped influence, ultimately, the Congress to adopt the proposition that children with disabilities, physical or otherwise, should have equal access to public education. You saw the results of that last night when Anastasia Somoza talked. She never made fun of people with disabilities; she tried to empower them based on their abilities.
Meanwhile, I was still trying to get her to marry me. So the second time I asked, I tried a different tack. I said, "I really want you to marry me, but you shouldn't do it." She smiled and looked at me like, "What is this boy up to?" She said, "That is not a very good sales pitch." I said, "I know but it's true." And I meant it, it was true. I said, "I know most of the young Democrats our age who want to go into politics. They mean well and they speak well, but none of them is as good as you are at actually doing things to make positive changes in people's lives." So, I suggested she go home to Illinois or move to New York and look for a chance to run for office. She just laughed and said, "Are you out of your mind? Nobody would ever vote for me."
So, I finally got her to come visit me in Arkansas. And when she did, the people at the law school were so impressed they offered her a teaching position. And she decided to take a huge chance. She moved to a strange place, more rural, more culturally conservative than any place she'd ever been, where she knew good and well people were wondering what in the world she was like and whether they could or should accept her.
It didn't take them long to find out what she was like. She loved her teaching, and she got frustrated when one of her students said, "Well what do you expect, I'm just from Arkansas." She said, "Don't tell me that, you're as smart as anybody. You just got to believe in yourself and work hard and set high goals."
She believed that anybody could make it. She also started the first legal aid clinic in northwest Arkansas, providing legal aid services to poor people who couldn't pay for them. One day, I was driving her to the airport to fly back to Chicago, when we passed this little brick house that had a for-sale sign on it, and she said, "Boy, that's a pretty house."
It had 1,100 square feet, an attic fan and no air conditioner in hot Arkansas, and a screened-in porch. Hillary commented on what a uniquely designed and beautiful house it was. So I took a big chance. I bought the house. My mortgage was $175 a month. When she came back, I picked her up and I said, "You remember that house you liked?" She said, "Yeah." I said, "While you were gone, I bought it. You have to marry me now."
The third time was the charm. We were married in that little house on Oct. 11, 1975. I married my best friend. I was still in awe, after more than four years of being around her, at how smart and strong and loving and caring she was. And I really hoped that her choosing me and rejecting my advice to pursue her own career was a decision she would never regret. Little over a year later, we moved to Little Rock when I became attorney general, and she joined the oldest law firm west of the Mississippi.
Soon after, she started a group called the Arkansas Advocates for Families and Children. It's a group, as you can hear, is still active today.
In 1979, just after I became governor, I asked Hillary to chair a rural health committee to help expand health care to isolated farm and mountain areas. They recommended to do that partly by deploying trained nurse practitioners in places with no doctors, to provide primary care they were trained to provide. It was a big deal then — highly controversial and very important. And I got the feeling that what she did for the rest of her life, she was doing there. She just went out and figured out what needed to be done and what made the most sense and what would help the most people. And then if it was controversial, she'd just try to persuade people that it was the right thing to do.
It wasn't the only big thing that happened that spring, my first year as governor. We found out we were going to be parents. And time passed. On Feb. 27, 1980, 15 minutes after I got home from the National Governors Conference in Washington, Hillary's water broke, and off we went to the hospital. Chelsea was born just before midnight.
And it was the greatest moment of my life — the miracle of a new beginning. The hole filled for me, because my own father died before I was born. And the absolute conviction that my daughter had the best mother in the whole world.
For the next 17 years, through nursery school, Montessori, kindergarten; through T-ball, softball, soccer, volleyball and her passion for ballet; through sleepovers, summer camp, family vacations and Chelsea's own very ambitious excursions; from Halloween parties in the neighborhood to a Viennese waltz gala in the White House — Hillary first and foremost was a mother.
She became, as she often said, our family's "designated worrier," born with an extra responsibility gene. Truth is, we rarely disagreed on parenting, although she did believe that I had gone a little over the top when I took a couple of days off with Chelsea to watch all six Police Academy movies back-to-back.
When Chelsea was 9 months old, I was defeated for re-election in the Reagan landslide. And I became overnight, I think, the youngest former governor in the history of the country. We only had two-year terms back then. Hillary was great. Immediately, she said, "OK, what are we going to do? Here's what we're going to do. We're going to get a house, you're going to get a job, we're going to enjoy being Chelsea's parents. And if you really want to run again, you gotta go out and talk to people, figure out why you lost, tell people you got the message, and show them you've still got good ideas."
I followed her advice. Within two days, we had a house. I soon had a job. We had two fabulous years with Chelsea. And in 1982, I became the first governor in the history of our state to be elected, defeated and elected again.
I think my experience is, it's a pretty good thing to follow her advice. The rest of the decade sort of flew by, as our lives settled into a rhythm of family and work and friends.
In 1983, Hillary chaired a committee to recommend new education standards for us, as a part of, or, in response to a court order to equalize school funding, and a report by a national expert that said our woefully underfunded schools were the worst in America. Typical Hillary, she held listening tours in all 75 counties with our committee. She came up with really ambitious recommendations. For example, that we be the first state in America to require elementary counselors in every school because so many kids were having trouble at home and they needed it.
So I called the legislature into session, hoping to pass the standards, pass the pay raise for teachers, and raise the sales tax to pay for it all. I knew it would be hard to pass, but it got easier after Hillary testified before the education committee and the chairman, a plainspoken farmer, said, "Looks to me like we elected the wrong Clinton."
Well, by the time I ran for president, nine years later, the same expert who said that we had the worst schools in America, said that our state was one of the two most improved states in America. And that's because of those standards that Hillary developed.
Now, two years later, Hillary told me about a preschool program developed in Israel called HIPPY — Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters. The idea was to teach low-income parents, even those that couldn't read, to be their children's first teachers.
She said she thought it would work in Arkansas. I said, "That's great, what are we going to do about it?" She said, "Oh, I already did it. I called the woman who started the program in Israel, she'll be here in about 10 days and help us get started."
Next thing you know I'm being dragged around to all these little preschool graduations. Keep in mind, this was before any state even had universal kindergarten and I'm being dragged to preschool graduations watching these poor parents with tears in their eyes because they never thought they'd be able to help their kids learn. Now, 20 years of research has shown how well this program works to improve readiness for school and academic achievement. There are a lot of young adults in America who have no idea Hillary had anything to do with it, who are enjoying better lives because they were in that program.
She did all this, while being a full-time worker, a mother, and enjoying her life. Why? Well, she's insatiably curious, she's a natural leader, she's a good organizer and she's the best darn change-maker I've ever met in my entire life.
Look, this is a really important point for you to take out of this convention. If you believe in making change from the bottom up, if you believe the measure of change is how many people's lives are better, you know it's hard, and some people think it's boring. Speeches like this are fun. Actually doing the work is hard. Some people say, "Well, we need a change." She's been around a long time, she sure has — and she has sure been worth every single year she's put into making people's lives better.
I can tell you this: If you were sitting where I'm sitting and you'd heard what I've heard and every dinner conversation, every lunch conversation and every long walk, you would think, "This woman is never satisfied with the status quo in anything." She just wants to move the ball forward, that is just who she is.
When I became president with a commitment to reform health care, Hillary was a natural to head the health care task force. You all know we failed because we couldn't break a Senate filibuster. Hillary immediately went to work on solving the problems the bill sought to address one by one. The most important goal was to get more children with health insurance.
In 1997, Congress passed the Children's Health Insurance Program, still an important part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. It insures more than 8 million kids. There are a lot of other things in that bill that she got done piece by piece, pushing that rock up the hill.
In 1997, she also teamed with the House Minority Leader Tom DeLay, who maybe disliked me more than any of Newt Gingrich's crowd. They worked on a bill together to increase adoptions of children under foster care. She wanted to do it because she knew that Tom DeLay, for all of our differences, was an adoptive parent and she honored him for doing that.
Now, the bill they worked on, which passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, led to a big increase in the adoption of children out of foster care, including non-infant kids and special-needs kids. It made life better because she's a change-maker, that's what she does.
Now, when you're doing all this, real life doesn't stop: 1997 was the year Chelsea finished high school and went to college. We were happy for her, but sad for us to see her go. I'll never forget moving her into her dorm room at Stanford. It would have been a great little reality flick. There I was in a trance just staring out the window trying not to cry, and there was Hillary on her hands and knees desperately looking for one more drawer to put that liner paper in.
Finally, Chelsea took charge and told us ever so gently that it was time for us to go. So we closed a big chapter in the most important work of our lives. As you'll see Thursday night when Chelsea speaks, Hillary's done a pretty fine job of being a mother. And as you saw last night, beyond a shadow of a doubt, so has Michelle Obama.
Now, fast forward. In 1999, Congressman Charlie Rangel and other New York Democrats urged Hillary to run for the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Moynihan. We'd always intended to go to New York after I left office and commute to Arkansas, but this had never occurred to either one of us. Hillary had never run for office before, but she decided to give it a try.
She began her campaign the way she always does new things, by listening and and learning. And after a tough battle, New York elected her to the seat once held by another outsider, Robert Kennedy.
And she didn't let him down. Her early years were dominated by 9/11, by working to fund the recovery, then monitoring the health and providing compensation to victims and first and second responders. She and Sen. Schumer were tireless and so were our House members.
In 2003, partly spurred on by what we were going through, she became the first senator in the history of New York ever to serve on the Armed Services Committee.
So she tried to make sure people on the battlefield had proper equipment. She tried to expand — and did expand — health care coverage to reservists and members of the National Guard. She got longer family leave, working with Sen. Dodd, for people caring for wounded service members. And she worked for more extensive care for people with traumatic brain injury. She also served on a special Pentagon commission to propose changes necessary to meet our new security challenges. Newt Gingrich was on that commission. He told me what a good job she had done.
I say that because nobody who has seriously dealt with the men and women in today's military believes they are a disaster. They are a national treasure of all races, all religions, all walks of life.
Now, meanwhile, she compiled a really solid record, totally progressive on economic and social issues. She voted for and against some proposed trade deals. She became the de facto economic development officer for the area of New York outside the ambit of New York City.
She worked for farmers, for winemakers, for small businesses and manufacturers, for upstate cities in rural areas who needed more ideas and more new investment to create good jobs, something we have to do again in small-town and rural America, in neighborhoods that have been left behind in our cities and Indian country and, yes, in coal country.
When she lost a hard-fought contest to President Obama in 2008, she worked for his election hard. But she hesitated to say yes when he asked her to join his Cabinet because she so loved being a senator from New York.
So like me, in a different context, he had to keep asking.
But as we all saw and heard from Madeleine Albright, it was worth the effort and worth the wait.
As secretary of state, she worked hard to get strong sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. And in what the Wall Street Journal, no less, called a half-court shot at the buzzer, she got Russia and China to support them. Her team negotiated the New START Treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons and re-establish inspections. And she got enough Republican support to get two-thirds of the Senate, the vote necessary to ratify the treaty.
She flew all night long from Cambodia to the Middle East to get a cease-fire that would avoid a full-out shooting war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, to protect the peace of the region.
She backed President Obama's decision to go after Osama bin Laden.
She launched a team, this is really important today, she launched a team to fight back against terrorists online and built a new global counterterrorism effort. We've got to win this battle in the "mindfield."
She put climate change at the center of our foreign policy. She negotiated the first agreement ever — ever — where China and India officially committed to reduce their emissions. And, as she had been doing since she went to Beijing in 1995 and said women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights, she worked to empower women and girls around the world and to make the same exact declaration on behalf of the LGBT community in America and around the world.
And nobody ever talks about this much, nobody ever talks about this much, but it's important to me. She tripled the number of people with AIDS in poor countries whose lives are being saved with your tax dollars, most of them in Africa, going from 1.7 million lives to 5.1 million lives and it didn't cost you any more money. She just bought available FDA-approved generic drugs, something we need to do for the American people more.
Now, you don't know any of these people. You don't know any of those 3.4 million people, but I'll guarantee you they know you. They know you because they see you as thinking their lives matter. They know you and that's one reason the approval of the United States was 20 points higher when she left the secretary of state's office than when she took it.
Now, how does this square with the things that you heard at the Republican convention? What's the difference between what I told you and what they said? How do you square it? You can't. One is real and the other is made up. And you just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans.
The real one had done more positive change-making before she was 30 than many public officials do in a lifetime in office.
The real one, if you saw her friend Betsy Ebeling vote for Illinois today, has friends from childhood through Arkansas, where she has not lived in more than 20 years, who have gone all across America at their own expense to fight for the person they know.
The real one has earned the loyalty and the respect and the fervent support of people who have worked with her in every stage of her life, including leaders around the world who know her to be able, straightforward and completely trustworthy.
The real one calls you when you're sick or when your kid's in trouble or when there is a death in the family.
The real one repeatedly drew praise from prominent Republicans from when she was a senator and secretary of state. So what's up with this? Well, if you win elections on the theory that government is always bad and will mess up a two-car parade, a real change-maker represents a real threat. So your only option is to create a cartoon, a cartoon alternative, then run against the cartoon. Cartoons are two-dimensional; they're easy to absorb. Life in the real world is complicated and real change is hard and a lot of people even think it's boring.
Good for you, because earlier today you nominated the real one.
Listen, we got to get back on schedule, you guys calm down. Look, I have a lived a long, full, blessed life; it really took off when I met and fell in love with that girl in the spring of 1971. When I was president I worked hard to give you more peace and shared prosperity, to give you an America where nobody is invisible or counted out. But for this time, Hillary is uniquely qualified to seize the opportunity and reduce the risk we face. And she is still the best darn change-maker I have ever known. You could drop her into any trouble spot — pick one — come back in a month, and somehow, someway, she will have made it better. That is just who she is.
And so I say to you: If you love this country, you're working hard, you're paying taxes, and you're obeying the law and you'd like to become a citizen, you should choose immigration reform over somebody who wants to send you back.
If you're a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together. We want you.
If you're a young African-American, disillusioned and afraid, we saw in Dallas how great our police officers can be. Help us build a future where nobody's afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue, to protect our future.
Hillary will make us stronger together. You know it because she spent a lifetime doing it. I hope you will do it. I hope you will elect her. Those of us who have more yesterdays than tomorrows tend to care more about our children and grandchildren. The reason you should elect her is that in the greatest country on earth, we have always been about tomorrow.
Your children and grandchildren will bless you forever if you do.
God bless you. Thank you.