President Clinton last night continued to bid Americans farewell, urging his successor to pursue debt reduction over tax cuts, American leadership abroad and racial harmony at home.
Mr. Clinton, closing out a presidency marked by historic economic growth but marred by scandal and impeachment, said George W. Bush will inherit a strong and renewed nation.
“I am very grateful to be able to turn over the reins of leadership to a new president with America in such a strong position to meet the challenges of the future,” Mr. Clinton said from the Oval Office in his final nationally televised address.
“Working together, America has done well,” Mr. Clinton said early in his seven-minute speech.
“Our economy is breaking records, with more than 22 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the highest homeownership ever, the longest expansion in history,” he said, referring to the nation’s 115 consecutive months of economic growth.
Mr. Clinton did not mention the Monica Lewinsky scandal that paralyzed his presidency in 1998 and made him the first elected president to be impeached.
Nor did Mr. Clinton break any new ground akin to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s parting warning about the military-industrial complex.
Mr. Clinton instead made three points in parting.
The president said the United States “must maintain our record of fiscal responsibility,” a veiled swipe at Mr. Bush’s signature promise, a $1.3 trillion, 10-year tax cut.
Mr. Clinton said the United States has paid down $600 billion of the national debt and is on track to be debt-free by the end of the decade.
“If we choose wisely, we can pay down the debt, deal with the retirement of the baby boomers, invest more in our future and provide tax relief,” Mr. Clinton said.
Mr. Bush, citing slowing economic growth, says his across-the-board tax cut is a critical tonic.
Secondly, Mr. Clinton said, the nation “must continue to lead in the world.” He urged the expansion of world trade and international cooperation against global poverty, terrorism, organized crime and the spread of deadly weapons and disease.
The United States “cannot and must not disentangle itself from the world,” he said.
Thirdly, Mr. Clinton said, the United States cannot lead in the world unless it works harder to overcome racial and ethnic differences at home.
“As we become ever more diverse, we must work harder to unite around our common values and our common humanity,” Mr. Clinton said.
“We must work harder to overcome our differences. In our hearts and in our laws, we must treat all our people with fairness and dignity, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”
Mr. Clinton said he, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, and their daughter, Chelsea, “join all Americans in wishing our very best to the next president, George W. Bush, to his family and his administration, in meeting these challenges and in leading freedom’s march in this new century.”
Mr. Clinton delivered his address hours after Mr. Bush began three days of inaugural festivities by promising Americans “a fresh start” when he is sworn in as the nation’s 43rd president.
Mr. Bush is staying in the Blair House complex across the street from the White House.
Mr. Clinton said he will leave the presidency “more idealistic, more full of hope than the day I arrived and more confident than ever that America’s best days lie ahead.”
Last night’s address marked another step in the long goodbye from the nation’s 42nd president.
In recent days, Mr. Clinton has made farewell speeches in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois and Arkansas. Today, he will record his final radio address, which will air tomorrow at 10:06 a.m. about two hours before Mr. Bush takes the 35-word oath of office.
After Mr. Bush is sworn in, Mr. Clinton will fly by helicopter from the Capitol to Andrews Air Force Base, where he will deliver farewell remarks to his staff.
Mr. Clinton then will fly to New York City, where he again will deliver farewell remarks at an airport rally. He and his wife then will head to their home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
At 54, he will be the nation’s youngest ex-president since Theodore Roosevelt.
Mr. Clinton, who designated seven new monuments Wednesday, today is expected to sign off on a final batch of presidential pardons.
“He’s enjoyed going out in a whirlwind of activity,” White House spokesman Jake Siewert said.
“He said he never wanted his presidency to wind down. He just wanted it to close out.”