Part 1—D.C. Public Schools Confidential: We're so old that we can remember when Bill Clinton, running for president, came up with a silly idea:
"We don't have a person to waste." That's what the candidate said!
Clinton expressed this silly idea as part of his acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Midway through his Madison Square Garden address, he offered his silly idea:
CLINTON (7/16/92): It is time to heal America. And so we must say to every American: Look beyond the stereotypes that blind us. We need each other. All of us, we need each other. We don't have a person to waste.We didn't have a person to waste! Where do they get this stuff?
And yet for too long politicians have told the most of us that are doing all right, that what's really wrong with America is the rest of us. Them. Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the poor. Them, the homeless. Them, the people with disabilities. Them, the gays.
We've gotten to where we've nearly "Themmed" ourselves to death. Them and Them and Them. But this is America. There is no Them; there's only Us.
Wherever he got the silly idea, Clinton continued expressing it, even after getting elected. In January 1995, there he went again, in his State of the Union address:
CLINTON (1/24/95): When I used to go to the softball park in Little Rock to watch my daughter's league and people would come up to me—fathers and mothers—and talk to me, I can honestly say I had no idea whether 90 percent of them were Republicans or Democrats.There he went again! "A lot of people" were "losing a lot of chances to do better," the inscrutable president obscurely claimed. Puzzled journalists tilted their heads like the RCA Victor dog.
When I visited the relief centers after the floods in California, Northern California, last week, a woman came up to me and did something that very few of you would do. She hugged me and said, "Mr. President, I'm a Republican, but I'm glad you're here."
Now, why? We can't wait for disasters to act the way we used to act every day. Because as we move into this next century, everybody matters. We don't have a person to waste. And a lot of people are losing a lot of chances to do better.
What did the fellow actually mean by this peculiar bromide? Four months into Clinton's first term, a writer for the Christian Science Monitor tried to build some context around the obscure proclamation.
Her name was Gail Russell Chaddock. She had followed Clinton to the wilds of darkest New Hampshire, where he'd delivered a graduation address at a small, lesser-known college—the first such address he had given as president.
What did this peculiar man mean by his peculiar remark? And why in the world would he offer it here, just north of Palookaville?
Struggling to decipher Clinton's idea, Chaddock offered this possible perspective:
CHADDOCK (5/24/92): Along with the usual Saturday morning yard-sale signs, Route 101 winding through the New Hampshire town of Stratham was lined with messages like: "Welcome Mr. President," "We're counting on you, Bill," and "Mr. President. Our haircuts cost $12."Inevitably, the tiny school's president had mouthed off a bit—but Chaddock offered a way to understand Clinton's weirdest idea. According to Chaddock, Clinton maybe perhaps meant this:
The reference to last week's haircut on a Los Angeles tarmac was not the image President Clinton sought to affirm on this day. His decision to deliver the first graduation address of his presidency not to an Ivy League college or big state university but to a small technical college with a graduating class of 164 students was deliberate. And graduating students at New Hampshire Technical College at Stratham appreciated it.
"If [the president] wanted to address those who do the work of this nation, who make the products, run the hospitals, who service the public, he has come to the right place," said university president Jane Power Kilcoyne.
Mr. Clinton's message—"We don't have a person to waste"—played well here. He said: "For the majority of people who do not go on to a four-year college, it is imperative that we join the ranks of the other high-wage countries and provide a system by which 100 percent of them at least know they have the opportunity to move into a program like the one that you have been a part of."
Graduating student Greg Fuller, who first invited Clinton to the graduation ceremony during a campaign swing last year, dismissed criticism of the president's first 100 days. "I think we live in a microwave, instant-gratification society, and I think the things that are important don't happen quickly.... The press makes a lot of 100 days, but it's the long term that counts."
Kids who don't attend an Ivy League school should be gifted with opportunity too.
Presumably, that would even include a kid like Fuller, who seemed to be criticizing the press for going apeshit about the reported cost of Clinton's recent haircut. The discussion had begun with an exciting news report which—as it turned out—had largely been bungled.
What should the press corps be focused on—the cost of the president's haircut, or the futures of the nation's high school kids? According to Chaddock, Clinton seemed to be suggesting that we should think about the latter.
As you can see, Chaddock didn't explicitly say that Clinton had stated his bromide that day. That said, the text of his speech can still be read online, and sure enough! According to Nexis, the address included this offensive passage:
CLINTON (5/22/92): I want to emphasize again, for the majority of people who do not go on to a four-year college, it is imperative that we join the ranks of the other high-wage countries and provide a system by which 100 percent of them at least know they have the opportunity to move into a program like the one that you have been a part of.President Clinton slickly ignored the cost of his recent haircut. As he played this okey-doke, the rural folk were misdirected to the point where they actually offered applause, or at least so Nexis claims.
It is imperative. Why?
Because just as what you earn depends on what you can learn, what America does in terms of growing jobs depends on how functional all the people in this country are. We don't have a person to waste. There ought to be twice as many people here today as there are at this graduation ceremony. And if there were, the economy of New Hampshire and the United States would be stronger as a result.
"We don't have a person to waste," this peculiar fellow would continue to say. The mainstream press—and the career liberal world—engaged perhaps in a bit of side eye as this nonsense continued.
By today, it's obvious that we do, in fact, have a boatload of people to waste. To cite one particular group, the country is full of deserving kids who are going to waste every day.
They don't get discussed by the mainstream press. You will never see Rachel discuss them. Lawrence won't give them desks.
Over the weekend, the Washington Post described a recent manifestation of their ongoing plight. But these are the people we do have to waste. You won't be asked see them discussed on your favorite TV show tonight.
Tomorrow: D.C. Public School Confidential!