It's The Schools, Stupid

'Politics must stop at the schoolhouse door.'


By Thomas H. Moore/AllPolitics

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 4) -- America's schools took center stage in the State of the Union Address tonight, as President Bill Clinton issued a "call to action for American education."

The theme of the entire evening was a call to action -- and in his 60-minute address the president called for many -- "to prepare America for the 21st century."

"We must be shapers of events, not observers," Clinton said. "For if we do not act, the moment will pass, and we will lose the best possibilities of our future. We face no imminent threat, but we do have an enemy. The enemy of our time is inaction."

"A child born tonight will have almost no memory of the 20th century," Clinton said. "Everything that child will know of America will be because of what we do now to build a new century."

Clinton struck a tone similar to that of his inaugural address. He appeared to be speaking to citizens, not just voters; to historians, not only journalists. Still, in a nod to the next round of presidential voters, he was careful to sprinkle the accomplishments of Vice President Al Gore throughout his speech.


On education, Clinton harked back to the solidarity the nation achieved earlier in this century in a different area. "One of the greatest sources of our strength throughout the Cold War was a bipartisan foreign policy," Clinton said. "Because our future was at stake, politics stopped at the water's edge."

The president called on the country to forge "a new nonpartisan commitment to education, because education is a critical national security issue for our future, and politics must stop at the schoolhouse door." (256K AIFF or WAV sound)

"Every eight-year-old must be able to read," Clinton said in a familiar refrain. "Every 12-year-old must be able to log on to the Internet. Every 18-year-old must be able to go to college. And every adult American must be able to keep on learning for a lifetime."

The president sketched out a 10-point plan of things the country must do to get there:

  1. Institute national education standards, including national reading and math tests.
  2. Concentrate on teachers, and certify more seasoned educators as "master teachers."
  3. Get children to read well through efforts like the America Reads program.
  4. Emphasize education early in life, including an expansion of Head Start to 1 million children by 2002.
  5. Give parents the opportunity to choose their children's public schools.
  6. Teach children character.
  7. Improve school infrastructure, toward which he has included $5 billion for school construction in his budget.
  8. Make the 13th and 14th years of school universal.
  9. Ensure wide access to adult learning programs.
  10. Get computers into all the nation's schools.

In the short term, Clinton said, he and Congress should wrap up their "unfinished business": balancing the budget, fixing welfare reform, and reforming campaign finance. (384K AIFF or WAV sound)

Clinton drew hisses from Republicans but cheers from Democrats as he called for a balanced budget without amending the U.S. Constitution. "Balancing the budget requires only your vote and my signature. It does not require us to rewrite our constitution," he said. (192K AIFF or WAV sound)


The president called for a July 4 deadline to pass the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance act, loathed by many Republicans, which would ban "soft money" from corporations and non-citizens. (480K AIFF or WAV sound)

On welfare, Clinton asked Congress to strike portions of last year's reform law that cut off aid to legal immigrants. "No one can walk out of this chamber with a clear conscience unless you are prepared to finish the job," he said. "To do otherwise is simply unworthy of a great nation of immigrants."

Clinton reeled off a string of hard-to-oppose microproposals, the kind that served him well during his re-election campaign. He proposed a guarantee that women could stay in hospitals for 48 hours after mastectomies. He called for child safety locks on handguns. He also exhorted parents to read to their children.

By his own standards, Clinton stuck unusually close to his pre-released script, taking a major detour only once to tell the Congress that he felt his major job in his second term was to tackle tough tasks, and help them do the same. (224K AIFF or WAV sound)

The president mentioned the Internet no less than six times, asking that children be hooked up, that hospitals be hooked up -- and that children's hospitals be hooked up. He also noted that this was the first State of the Union with live video on the Internet.

Clinton's call for continuing America's strength in the world touched only briefly on nitty-gritty defense topics like force modernization.

Instead, Clinton's vision of strong American leadership centered on the nation's efforts to build a strong Europe, ban nuclear testing and participate in organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations. He called ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention a "new test of leadership." (224K AIFF or WAV sound)

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