As he took the oath of office for his second term, President Clinton declared yesterday that Americans have "resolved for our time a great debate over the role of government."
"Today we can declare government is not the problem, and government is not the solution," said Clinton. "We, the American people, are the solution.
"Our founders understood that well, and gave us a democracy strong enough to endure for centuries, flexible enough to face our common challenges and advance our common dreams.
"As times change, so government must change. We need a new government for a new century, a government humble enough not to try to solve all our problems for us, but strong enough to give us the tools to solve our problems for ourselves. A government that is smaller, lives within its means, and does more with less.
"Yet where it can stand up for our values and interests around the world, and where it can give Americans the power to make a real difference in their everyday lives, government should do more, not less. The preeminent mission of our new government is to give all Americans an opportunity -- not a guarantee -- but a real opportunity to build better lives."
In an interview with The Washington Post published on Sunday, Clinton tried to put his theory about the role of government into a historical context stretching back to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.
"What Jefferson had to do was to create a new philosophy," said Clinton, "because there was his party's philosophy, which was: Well, we say we've got a national government, but really we don't want it to do very much and we want a good letting-alone.
"And there was the Federalist philosophy, Alexander Hamilton and others, that said: We've got to have a national treasury, we've got to have a common foreign policy, we've got to have a lot of strong central government. And Jefferson had to reconcile those two things.
"And he made the decision that we would be a continental country, which was phenomenal -- I mean, everything that's happened for 200 years flowed from that -- and that we ought to have education generally available to people.
"Jefferson's time parallels this time," Clinton concluded, "in the sense we have two competing philosophies of government: government as the solution, which was the basic rule from the beginning of the century through the Nixon presidency and the Carter presidency; and then government as the problem. And I think we've found a synthesis. I think we've resolved that."