Citing recent shootings in California and the Midwest, President Clinton says it is time Americans deal with "the fear of the other" that motivates such acts of hatred.
The president was taking his message of tolerance before gay and lesbian supporters tonight at a Los Angeles dinner hosted by the group Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality. The event was expected to raise $850,000 for Democratic candidates--the largest amount of Clinton's three-day West Coast swing.
The president tested themes at two smaller events Friday night with Silicon Valley executives.
He repeated his support for legislation barring job discrimination against gays and hate crimes. Clinton urged the crowd to fight for "the innate dignity and equality of every human being" and work to ensure "a place at the American family table" for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or income.
The president noted that technology offers vast potential for transforming American society but cannot deliver as long as some segments of the population cling to prejudices because they are afraid of change.
"Here you are out here, all you think about is the new millennium," Clinton said. "Isn't it ironic that the thing that's holding us back most . . . is our inability to form a community around our common humanity because of our vulnerability to mankind's most ancient fear, the fear of the other?"
"I think we need to deal with that," he continued. "I believe my party is on the right side of all those issues."
Clinton said he has devoted much of his time in office to dealing with "the emotional and practical and national security demands" of international conflicts spurred by hatreds.
The same elements in those problems, he said, have appeared in America over the past two years.
Specifically, he recalled the slayings of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming; James Byrd, a black man, in Texas; a Korean student and a former college basketball coach in a shooting spree by "a crazy guy" in Illinois and Indiana; and the death of a Filipino postman and wounding of Jewish children in shootings in California.
"We are dragged down by the most primitive of hatreds" despite modern achievements, Clinton said. "It's bizarre."