First Inaugural Address, 1993
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My fellow citizens:
Today we celebrate the mystery of American renewal.
This ceremony is held in the depth of winter. But, by the words
we speak and the faces we show the world, we force the spring.
A spring reborn in the world's oldest democracy, that brings
forth the vision and courage to reinvent America.
When our founders boldly declared America's independence to
the world and our purposes to the Almighty, they knew that
America, to endure, would have to change.
Not change for change's sake, but change to preserve America's
ideals?life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Though we march
to the music of our time, our mission is timeless.
Each generation of Americans must define what it means to
be an American.
On behalf of our nation, I salute my predecessor, President
Bush, for his half-century of service to America.
And I thank the millions of men and women whose steadfastness
and sacrifice triumphed over Depression, fascism and Communism.
Today, a generation raised in the shadows of the Cold War
assumes new responsibilities in a world warmed by the sunshine
of freedom but threatened still by ancient hatreds and new plagues.
Raised in unrivaled prosperity, we inherit an economy that is still
the world's strongest, but is weakened by business failures,
stagnant wages, increasing inequality, and deep divisions among
When George Washington first took the oath I have just sworn
to uphold, news traveled slowly across the land by horseback
and across the ocean by boat. Now, the sights and sounds of
this ceremony are broadcast instantaneously to billions around
Communications and commerce are global; investment is mobile;
technology is almost magical; and ambition for a better life is
now universal. We earn our livelihood in peaceful competition
with people all across the earth.
Profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking our world,
and the urgent question of our time is whether we can make
change our friend and not our enemy.
This new world has already enriched the lives of millions of
Americans who are able to compete and win in it. But when most
people are working harder for less; when others cannot work at
all; when the cost of health care devastates families and threatens
to bankrupt many of our enterprises, great and small; when fear
of crime robs law-abiding citizens of their freedom; and when
millions of poor children cannot even imagine the lives we are
calling them to lead?we have not made change our friend.
We know we have to face hard truths and take strong steps.
But we have not done so. Instead, we have drifted, and that
drifting has eroded our resources, fractured our economy, and
shaken our confidence.
Though our challenges are fearsome, so are our strengths.
And Americans have ever been a restless, questing, hopeful
people. We must bring to our task today the vision and will
of those who came before us.
From our revolution, the Civil War, to the Great Depression
to the civil rights movement, our people have always mustered
the determination to construct from these crises the pillars of
Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations
of our nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time.
Well, my fellow citizens, this is our time. Let us embrace it.
Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the
engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America
that cannot be cured by what is right with America.
And so today, we pledge an end to the era of deadlock and drift?
a new season of American renewal has begun.
To renew America, we must be bold.
We must do what no generation has had to do before. We must
invest more in our own people, in their jobs, in their future, and
at the same time cut our massive debt. And we must do so in a
world in which we must compete for every opportunity.
It will not be easy; it will require sacrifice. But it can be done,
and done fairly, not choosing sacrifice for its own sake, but for
our own sake. We must provide for our nation the way a family
provides for its children.
Our Founders saw themselves in the light of posterity. We can
do no less. Anyone who has ever watched a child's eyes wander
into sleep knows what posterity is. Posterity is the world to
come?the world for whom we hold our ideals, from whom we
have borrowed our planet, and to whom we bear sacred
We must do what America does best: offer more opportunity
to all and demand responsibility from all.
It is time to break the bad habit of expecting something for
nothing, from our government or from each other. Let us all
take more responsibility, not only for ourselves and our
families but for our communities and our country.
To renew America, we must revitalize our democracy.
This beautiful capital, like every capital since the dawn of
civilization, is often a place of intrigue and calculation. Powerful
people maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who
is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting
those people whose toil and sweat sends us here and pays
Americans deserve better, and in this city today, there are
people who want to do better. And so I say to all of us here,
let us resolve to reform our politics, so that power and privilege
no longer shout down the voice of the people. Let us put aside
personal advantage so that we can feel the pain and see the
promise of America.
Let us resolve to make our government a place for what
Franklin Roosevelt called "bold, persistent experimentation,"
a government for our tomorrows, not our yesterdays.
Let us give this capital back to the people to whom it belongs.
To renew America, we must meet challenges abroad as well
as at home. There is no longer division between what is foreign
and what is domestic?the world economy, the world environment,
the world AIDS crisis, the world arms race?they affect us all.
Today, as an old order passes, the new world is more free
but less stable. Communism's collapse has called forth old
animosities and new dangers. Clearly America must continue
to lead the world we did so much to make.
While America rebuilds at home, we will not shrink from the
challenges, nor fail to seize the opportunities, of this new world.
Together with our friends and allies, we will work to shape
change, lest it engulf us.
When our vital interests are challenged, or the will and
conscience of the international community is defied, we will act?
with peaceful diplomacy when ever possible, with force when
necessary. The brave Americans serving our nation today in the
Persian Gulf, in Somalia, and wherever else they stand are
testament to our resolve.
But our greatest strength is the power of our ideas, which
are still new in many lands. Across the world, we see them
embraced?and we rejoice. Our hopes, our hearts, our hands,
are with those on every continent who are building democracy
and freedom. Their cause is America's cause.
The American people have summoned the change we celebrate
today. You have raised your voices in an unmistakable chorus.
You have cast your votes in historic numbers. And you have
changed the face of Congress, the presidency and the political
process itself. Yes, you, my fellow Americans have forced the
spring. Now, we must do the work the season demands.
To that work I now turn, with all the authority of my office. I
ask the Congress to join with me. But no president, no Congress,
no government, can undertake this mission alone. My fellow
Americans, you, too, must play your part in our renewal. I
challenge a new generation of young Americans to a season
of service?to act on your idealism by helping troubled children,
keeping company with those in need, reconnecting our torn
communities. There is so much to be done?enough indeed for
millions of others who are still young in spirit to give of themselves
in service, too.
In serving, we recognize a simple but powerful truth?we need
each other. And we must care for one another. Today, we do
more than celebrate America; we rededicate ourselves to the
very idea of America.
An idea born in revolution and renewed through two centuries
of challenge. An idea tempered by the knowledge that, but for
fate, we?the fortunate and the unfortunate?might have been
each other. An idea ennobled by the faith that our nation can
summon from its myriad diversity the deepest measure of unity.
An idea infused with the conviction that America's long heroic
journey must go forever upward.
And so, my fellow Americans, at the edge of the twenty-first
century, let us begin with energy and hope, with faith and
discipline, and let us work until our work is done. The scripture
says, "And let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season,
we shall reap, if we faint not."
From this joyful mountaintop of celebration, we hear a call to
service in the valley. We have heard the trumpets. We have
changed the guard. And now, each in our way, and with God's
help, we must answer the call.
Thank you and God bless you all.