Address to the Commonwealth Club of California
As you may know, I've just returned from a week-long trip to Japan. I was there to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan by the United States, an act that has made a lasting impression 'on the Japanese.
While I was there, Japan announced its commitment to join with the United States in assisting Eastern and Central Europe with a 400 million dollar aid package. We also announced a manufacturing technology initiative that will allow American engineers to gain experience working in Japanese businesses.
Japan and the United States are allies and partners. Though we have our differences, especially in the area of trade, our two countries - with 40 percent of the world's GNP - are committed to a global partnership in behalf of peace and economic growth.
But in the midst of all of these discussions of international affairs, I was asked many times in Japan about the recent events in Los Angeles. From the perspective of many Japanese, the ethnic diversity of our culture is a weakness compared to their homogeneous society. I begged to differ with my hosts. I explained that our diversity is our strength. And I explained that the immigrants who come to our shores have made, and continue to make, vast contributions to our culture and our economy.
It is wrong to imply that the Los Angeles riots were an inevitable outcome of our diversified society. But the question that I tried to answer in Japan is one that needs answering here: What happened? Why? And how do we prevent it in the future?
One response has been predictable: Instead of denouncing wrongdoing, some have shown tolerance for rioters; some have enjoyed saying "I told you so"; and some have simply made excuses for what happened. All of this has been accompanied by pleas for more money.
I'll readily accept that we need to understand what happened. But I reject the idea we should tolerate or excuse it.
When I have been asked during these last weeks who caused the riots and the killing in LA., my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame. Yes, I can understand how people were shocked and outraged by the verdict in the Rodney King trial. But there is simply no excuse for the mayhem that followed. To apologize or in any way to excuse what happened is wrong. It is a betrayal of all those people equally outraged and equally disadvantaged who did not loot and did not riot-and who were in many cases victims of the rioters. No matter how much you may disagree with the verdict, the riots were wrong. And if we as a society don't condemn what is wrong, how can we teach our children what is right?
But after condemning the riots, we do need to try to understand the underlying situation.
In a nutshell: I believe the lawless social anarchy which we saw is directly related to the breakdown of family structure. personal responsibility and social order in too many areas of our society. For the poor the situation' is compounded by a welfare ethos that impedes individual efforts to move ahead in society, and hampers their ability to take advantage of the opportunities America offers.
If we don't succeed in addressing these fundamental problems, and in restoring basic values, any attempt to fix what's broken will fail. But one reason I believe we won't fail is that we have come so fur in the last 25 years.
There is no question that this country has had a terrible problem with race and racism. The evil of slavery has left a long legacy. But we have faced .racism squarely, and we have made progress in the past quarter century. The landmark civil rights bills of the 1960s removed legal barriers to allow full participation by blacks in the economic, social and political life of the nation. By any measure the America of 1992 is more egalitarian, more integrated, and offers more opportunities to black Americans - and all other minority group members - than the America of 1964. There is more to be done. But I think that all of us can be proud of our progress.
And let's be specific about one aspect of this progress: This country now has a black middle class that barely existed a quarter century ago. Since 1967 the median income of black two-parent families risen by 60 percent in real terms. The number of black college graduates has skyrocketed. Black men and women have achieved real political power - black mayors head 48 of our largest cities including Los Angeles. These are achievements.
But as we all know, there is another side to that bright landscape. During this period of progress, we have also developed a culture of poverty - some call it an underclass - that is far more violent and harder to escape than it was a generation ago.
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