Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1996

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Author: William J. Clinton  | Date: May 4, 1996

Remarks at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner,
May 4, 1996

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Carl, Terry, Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Gore, Mr. Speaker, Governor, to distinguished head table guests, to all the honorees tonight, my colleagues in the administration, to all the entertainers that made all the politicians feel that they came out to get a thrill instead of listen to me.

I apologize for being late tonight, but, as you know, I was at a charity event at Chelsea’s school, auctioning off a game of golf. It brought in a few dollars.

Audience member. How much? Tell us how much.

Audience member. Could I ask a follow-up? [Laughter]

The President. Well, I can tell you this, I know I was criticized for putting it up, but it was not bought by the ambassador from Iran. [Laughter] I was hoping Ralph Reed would buy it, but he didn’t even bid. [Laughter]

Anyway, it got a little money, but the thing that disappointed me was that it didn’t generate as much as I had hoped. So I was able to generate some serious cash for the Sidwell Friends School; I auctioned off the shoes I wore the day I shook hands with President Kennedy. [Laughter]

By the way, if there’s anybody here who would be willing to pay $500,000 for a Presidentialhumidor, I’ll be happy to go out and buy one for you.

Even though I was late, my staff kept me apprised of the evening. This may come as a surprise to you, but you’re not the only ones who do pool reports. Since not everybody at the White House can be at every public event, we distribute our own pool reports on what the press has been up to.

And so Mike McCurry handed me these notes when I arrived. This is what happened before I got here:

6:02: Helen Thomas arrives at the Hilton. In accordance with time-honored tradition, at 6:04 she asked the first question—[laughter]—"Mr. Bartender, can you make a wine spritzer?"

6:22: A van pulls up to the front door. All five members of the McLaughlin Group emerge—[laughter]—without a referee, bickering loudly. [Laughter] The topic: Is it Kondracke’s turn to sit up front on the way home? [Laughter]

6:25: Andrea Mitchell arrives on the arm of Alan Greenspan. Greenspan pays the coatroom attendant one dollar—[laughter]—and mentions that last year it only cost 75 cents. One minute later, five people in the immediate vicinity rush to call their brokers. [Laughter]

6:52: Jim Miklaszewski discreetly tells Brian Williams he’s sitting in Tom Brokaw’s chair. [Laughter]

7:09: Bill Plante arrives at the CBS table and receives many favorable comments about his new George Clooney haircut. [Laughter] One CBS executive present, however, suggested he might try a hairstyle from "Chicago Hope" instead. [Laughter]

7:15: Joe Klein introduces the entire Newsweek table to his imaginary friend—[laughter]—whom he identifies as "Anonymous." [Laughter]

7:39: Brian Williams is back in Tom Brokaw’s seat. [Laughter]

8:09: Sarah McClendon confronts a man seated at the Vanity Fair table, demanding to know what he has done with the real Oliver Stone. [Laughter] Visibly flustered, the man offers up a half-hearted explanation involving Cuban nationalists. [Laughter]

8:35: Breaking news. Wolf Blitzer breathlessly does a live feed from the front lawn of the Hilton to announce, "CNN has learned the dessert will be mocha puffs and chocolate sauce." [Laughter]

9:06: The President finally arrives at the southeast entrance. Running after him is pool reporter Mark Knoller who appears to be wearing the shoes President Clinton wore when he shook hands with President Kennedy. [Laughter] Paid a pretty good price for them, too.

Well, that’s what happened before I got here. Hillary and I are delighted to be with you tonight. I have only one criticism. I took a look at those ticket prices. They seem pretty high to me. So tonight, by Executive order, I am authorizing the release of 1,000 additional tickets. [Laughter]

You know who I’m really glad to see here tonight? Howard Fineman—[laughter]—where I can keep an eye on him. [Laughter] And I mean that—sincerely. [Laughter]

I’m glad to be here tonight with our guest speaker. Now, I make it a policy not to mention inflammatory public figures by name, but I am very pleased to share this podium tonight with the author of—[laughter]—"What’s-His-Name Is a Big, Fat Idiot." [Laughter]

I feel a certain kinship with Al Franken. We, frankly, had a terrible 1994. I had Speaker Gingrich’s victory in the midterm elections, and he had "Stuart Saves His Family." [Laughter] He asked me to tell that.

But we have rebounded pretty well. I mean, after all, I am still here, and he made a gazillion dollars on that book. As much as I enjoyed Al’s book, shortly after buying it, I came to regret my purchase. The very week I bought the book, it replaced Hillary’s as the number one bestseller.

We have another noted author here, Speaker Gingrich. He’s right over there. He’s the fellow next to the baby raccoon and the iguana. [Laughter] Mr. Speaker, as long as you’re here, I think, out in public, in front of everybody, we ought to do a little work on the budget negotiations. You give me my Medicare plan, and you can have my mocha puff and chocolate sauce. [Laughter]

It’s too bad Senator Dole couldn’t join us tonight, but thank goodness one of us is free to watch the kids. [Laughter] I must say, seriously now, that was a very interesting assertionhe put forth. I sort of thought most kids would rather stay with me than Bob Dole. I mean, after all, they’d get to play Nintendo in the Situation Room. [Laughter] Leon promises to let me know whenever "Barney" comes on.

But this babysitter debate raises only one of many pertinent questions that voters have to ask themselves before they choose the next President. An interesting line—for example, let’s say you were going on vacation for a couple of weeks. Who do you trust to water your plants? [Laughter] Bob Dole or Bill Clinton? [Laughter]

And suppose you were too busy shaking hands tonight and you didn’t get to eat. And you go home tonight and you decide to order a pizza. Who do you trust to select the toppings? [Laughter] Bob Dole or Bill Clinton? [Laughter]

Or what about this scenario? Bob Dole is on a train headed toward Spring Valley at 65 miles an hour. [Laughter] Bill Clinton is traveling by car from the opposite direction at 35 miles an hour. Given the fact that the train has twice as far to travel as the car, who do you trust to arrive in Spring Valley first? Bob Dole or Bill Clinton? [Laughter]

Now, if you don’t think these questions are relevant, and they may not seem relevant, I ask you, who are we to question the wisdom of Senator Dole’s focus groups? [Laughter]

Let me say this, too. This is a serious comment. I think Senator Dole made a mistake not keeping Mary Matalin on his team. And Mary, I saw you up here earlier. Where are you? You are welcome on my team, and I don’t care who you’re married to. [Laughter] Any bald-headed Cajun knows we’re right and they’re wrong. [Laughter]

As you know, this is the very first time in our Nation’s history a sitting President is facing a sitting majority leader in the fall campaign. To be fair to all concerned, it’s a difficult situation. Just imagine trying to do the job you were hired to do with an adversary breathing down your neck, questioning your every move, waiting for your next misstep. Trent Lott ought to just cut it out. [Laughter]

Now many of you have been writing about my so-called "stealth campaign" for reelection. We hit our first major setback this week when the RNC broke the code on our press releases. But I want you to know I’m holding firm to my strategy. And my strategy is working. In fact, according to the New York Times, my Vice President is closer to formally announcing his candidacy than I am. [Laughter]

By the way, I want to congratulate the Times on that "Al Gore Wants to be President" scoop. [Laughter] Pulitzer’s in the bag. [Laughter]

Some of you have been asking for 6 months now, when is this announcement speech? In keeping with the stealth campaign strategy, Mike McCurry had this idea that instead of the traditional announcement speech, tonight I should just give an off-the-record announcement on what he calls—he calls—"psych background." [Laughter] As if we didn’t have enough trouble. So that way I could give you some insight into my truly secret, private thoughts about this election.

So, if we can all agree on the ground rules—[laughter]—I’d like to give you a sense of the musings of my inner candidate. [Laughter] You can attribute these remarks to a source inside the President’s suit. [Laughter]

Now, I had occasion to give this topic considerable thought last weekend as I was going through the Sunday classified ads. [Laughter] Gosh, there must have been 8½ million listings, all of them at good wages. [Laughter] But I couldn’t find a single job I’d prefer to this one.

So, in lieu of a formal announcement speech, you can report on "psych background" that Bill Clinton is under the strong impression that America is a great country, and that we are living in an age of possibility. Bill Clinton suspects that America is moving in the right direction, but we have to keep working together to find common ground. Bill Clinton is inclined to think he can help us meet America’s challenges with just one more term.

Now, I’d like to go back on the record to say thank you and good night. [Laughter] So you may report that Bill Clinton said, "Thank you, and good night."

Note: The President spoke at 10:17 p.m. at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Carl Leubersdorf, outgoing president, and Terry Hunt, incoming president, WhiteHouse Correspondents Association; and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.

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Chicago: William J. Clinton, "Remarks at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, May 4, 1996," Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1996 in United States. Executive Office of the President, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Week Ending Friday, May 10, 1996 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996), 32:2543 793–795. Original Sources, accessed April 26, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CK269UJY2MP9GFP.

MLA: Clinton, William J. "Remarks at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, May 4, 1996." Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1996, in United States. Executive Office of the President, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Week Ending Friday, May 10, 1996 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996), 32:2543, pp. 793–795. Original Sources. 26 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CK269UJY2MP9GFP.

Harvard: Clinton, WJ, 'Remarks at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, May 4, 1996' in Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1996. cited in , United States. Executive Office of the President, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Week Ending Friday, May 10, 1996 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996), 32:2543, pp.793–795. Original Sources, retrieved 26 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CK269UJY2MP9GFP.