William Jefferson Clinton: Remarks to the American Association of Community Colleges in Minneapolis, Minnesota (April 24, 1995):
Before I begin today to talk about education and training, I'd like to say just a word or two if I might, before this audience of educators and people who believe in and appreciate the value of free speech, about where we are in the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing and what we are going to do about the kind of America our children will inherit.
Yesterday Hillary and I joined tens of thousands of people in Oklahoma City, and of course millions of you all across the country, to witness the end result of abject hatred. I was there, as President, to represent all of you in the mourning. But also I felt that we were there, Hillary and I, as ordinary American citizens as well, as husband and wife, as parents, as neighbors of those people.
No words can do justice to how moving it was to be there yesterday. No words can do justice to the courage of those who worked in the rescue operation around the clock. And one person has already given her life in that endeavor. No words can do justice to the small acts of kindness and generosity, all the people in Oklahoma who won't take money at the gas station or the local coffee shop or the barber shop or even at the airline ticket terminal for people who are there working to try to help them put their lives together.
But I will never forget, more than anything else, the faces and the stories of the family members of the victims. I was walking through the room shaking hands with them, and I saw a lady with her children who had been in the Oval Office just a few weeks ago as her husband left my Secret Service detail to go to what seemed to be a less hectic pace of duty in Oklahoma City. I saw the children of a man who was a football hero at the University of Arkansas when so many people who are now on the White House staff were friends of his. The young Air Force sergeant took out two pictures his wife had taken f me just 3 weeks ago when I visited our troops in Haiti. And she was one of those troops, but she came home because we wound down our mission there. And she married her fiance, and 3 days later she went to the Federal building to change her name. And so he had to give me the pictures his wife took. I saw three children, teenage children, with a woman and another child taking care of them. One of them had one of my Inaugural buttons on. Their mother died last year of an illness. Their father went to our Inaugural, and they asked me to sign the pin to their father who is still missing—three teenagers losing both parents.
I could go on and on and on. I say to all of you, first we must complete the rescue effort and the recovery effort. Of course, we must help that community rebuild. We must arrest, convict, and punish the people who committed this terrible, terrible deed, but our responsibility does not end there.
In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love it when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see—I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.
Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.
If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.
If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake. I never want to look into the faces of another set of family members like I saw yesterday, and you can help to stop it.
Our democracy has endured a lot over these last 200 years, and we are strong enough today to sort out and work through all these angry voices...