CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- President Clinton yesterday delivered a much-heralded speech intended to lay out the overarching principles that he believe unify his domestic policy initiatives, declaring that "the challenge of our time" is to provide Americans the security to change in a changing world.
The attempt nine months after his election to describe what former President Bush disparagingly used to call the "vision thing" centered on the theme of "security."
In Mr. Clinton's eyes, America is in the midst of a period of rapid and unsettling change. Successfully adapting to those changes -- "making change our friend," in the president's oft-repeated phrase -- requires the nation to take risks, he said. But for Americans to be willing to take those risks, he argued, they need to be made to feel secure in basic elements of their lives -- health care, job prospects, neighborhoods, schools.
Providing that sense of security -- Mr. Clinton told an audience of 40,000 students, faculty and alumni of the University of North Carolina here for ceremonies honoring the 200th anniversary of the school -- is government's prime responsibility in the current era and the unifying principle for his proposals.
"All around our great country today, I see people resisting change," Mr. Clinton said. Too many Americans are "turning inward" and voicing "a yearning for yesterday."
But, said Mr. Clinton, "yesterday is yesterday. If we try to recapture it, we will only lose tomorrow."
"The security I seek for America is like a rope for a rock climber to lift those who will take responsibility for their own lives to greater and greater pinnacles."
Mr. Clinton insisted that his proposals do not amount to "government doing more for people" although his health proposal, in particular, would dramatically increase government's role in one-seventh of the nation's economy. The goal, he said, is "Americans doing more for ourselves and our families, for our communities and for our country. It is not the absence of risk, it is the presence of opportunity."
Mr. Clinton and his aides have struggled for several weeks to find a way of laying out that argument concisely and cogently. White House strategists believe that his ability to win support for his broad domestic agenda depends in large part on their ability to convince Americans that the parts actually add up to a coherent whole -- not just a grab-bag of diverse proposals.
As set out yesterday, Mr. Clinton grouped his many proposals under three general headings: economic security, health security and personal security.