microphone at podium

Democratic Party Response to President Bush's "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union"

January 29, 1991

Rebuttal Delivered by Senator George Mitchell of Maine

[The President's speech of which this is a response, can be found by clicking this link.]

Across the Persian Gulf, dawn is now breaking. For Americans there, another night of danger is passing. Another day of combat begins.

In the skies over Iraq, aboard the ships in the gulf, on the sands of Arabia, they're Americans—not Republicans or Democrats—but Americans who've answered their country's call.

Before the war began, we debated openly, as democracy demands. We agreed that Iraq's aggression was brutal and illegal and that Iraq must leave Kuwait, by force if necessary.

The difference was not in the goals, but in the means. Whether force should be used immediately, or only as a last resort if other means failed. No one will ever know if that other course would have worked. Now that war has begun we'll work to see that it's swift and decisive, with the least possible loss of life.

Our hearts go out to the prisoners of war who've endured brutality and exploitation. We honor their bravery. We care for their families. We warn their captors they'll pay a heavy price for mistreating our men.

There's nothing a democratic society can do that's more difficult than to ask a few to risk everything in behalf of the many who risk nothing. We've done that. Our troops deserve our full support. They have mine and that of the Congress.

Our support will not end when the fighting ends. Those who risk their lives in our behalf, and their families, must know that a grateful nation cares about them, not just during but also after the war. Planning for Peace

And then, when the war's over, there's one lesson we must never forget: The dictator we help today may turn his weapons on us tomorrow. For 10 years, U.S. policy favored Iraq. We can't repeat that kind of mistake.

Out of the tragedy of war, we seek a world where the force of law is more powerful than the force of arms. We seek a world where justice and human rights are respected everywhere. Students massacred in China, priests murdered in Central America, demonstrators gunned down in Lithuania—these acts of violence are as wrong as Iraqi soldiers killing civilians. We cannot oppose repression in one place and overlook it in another. We seek a world where the burdens of freedom are shared by all who enjoy its benefits.

For half a century, from the Berlin airlift to the Persian Gulf, America has done its part. Those allies who've prospered behind the shield of a common defense must contribute their fair share. They're not doing it yet. It's time they did.

One nation, Israel, has done much by its brave refusal to be provoked. This crisis has given us powerful new proof of the importance of Israel's friendship. Nation's Other Business

But as critical as the gulf conflict is, the other business of the nation won't wait. The President says he seeks a new world order. We ask him to join us in putting our own house in order. We have a crisis abroad. But we also have a crisis here at home.

We're in a recession. More than a million Americans who had jobs last year are out of work today. Bankruptcies are rising. The banking system is in trouble. People are worried about their economic future. We can meet this crisis by providing for the well-being of the American family. That's our strength. Working families, the men and women who toil in industry, tend farms, work computers and run small businesses, the children and students who are the future—they're the true measure of our national vitality.

In just two weeks, this war has shown us the enormous potential of our people and of our technology. We've combined superior equipment with concentrated training, high skill with great courage, to do the work of war. Now we should apply our talent and technology to the work of peace.

If we can make the best smart bomb, can't we make the best V.C.R.? If we can build a high-speed Patriot missile, can't we build a high-speed train? I believe we can.

Our first priority must be economic growth.

A skilled and dedicated work force, modern equipment and innovation are essential to a rising standard of living. And economic growth solves many problems. The old saying is true: The best social program is a good job. Need for an Energy Policy

The first step to growth is a sensible energy policy. We should have learned the lessons of the two oil price shocks of the 70's. But we didn't. For 10 years, we've had no energy policy. We just relied on imported oil. We must change that. We need a new energy program which encourages conservation, promotes the use of alternative fuels, and reduces our dependence on imported oil.

We're outraged by the environmental disaster in the Persian Gulf. But there's a broader threat: To the global environment. We must combat pollution, before it makes much of the earth unfit for life.

We must strengthen the banking system now, before it's a full national crisis, not after.

Last year the Senate passed a good bill to limit spending in political campaigns and eliminate political action committees.

We're going to pass it again this year and push until it becomes law. We want a better society, not just for our returning service men and women, but for their children and all children.

We owe them not just a safer world but safer streets at home. So we'll put the emphasis and the resources where they belong, at the state and local level. That's the front line of the war on drugs and crime. We'll provide care, food and early education for the millions of children who don't get them. Crisis in Health Care

We spend more on health care than any other country. We get the best of care—but only for those who can afford it. That leaves out a lot of Americans. Thirty-seven million don't have any health insurance. And we don't have any policy on what will be the crisis of this decade: long-term care for the elderly.

We can provide better health care at less cost. We all have to do more with less. Your families have to. Government must do the same, to be more careful with your tax dollars. For 10 years, we've had record budget deficits and record trade deficits. We've lost a lot of American jobs. We've got to bring the deficits down and the jobs home. Differing on Taxes

The President's way to do that is to give huge tax cuts to those with incomes over $200,000 a year.

We disagree. It's working men and woman, the middle class, whose taxes should be cut. They're already bearing most of the tax burden. They're also bearing the burden of war.

Not many kids whose families earn more than $200,000 a year volunteer to join the Army. It's mostly the children of working people, the middle class and the poor who'll do the fighting and the dying. Their families shouldn't have to bear all the burdens. What they need, what all Americans need most of all is opportunity, the chance to succeed through hard work.

Before I entered the Senate, I served as a Federal judge. It's a position of great power. But what I enjoyed most was presiding at citizenship ceremonies. People who'd come from all over the world gathered before me in a Federal courtroom. There, in the final act, I administered to them the oath of allegiance to the United States, and they became Americans.

After every ceremony I spoke personally with each new American. I asked them how and why they came. Their stories were inspiring, their devotion to America moving. Their answers were different but through them ran a common theme, best expressed by a young man who said, in halting English, "I came because here in America everyone has a chance." He summed up America in one sentence: Here everyone has a chance.

I know that's true. I know that in America you can go as high and as far as your talent and your willingness to work will take you. That means there must be a quality education for every American child. There must be jobs, fairness in the workplace, with no discrimination, with equal rights and economic independence for women. No guarantees for anyone, but an equal chance to succeed for everyone. Taking Stock, in Freedom

So tonight, as we take stock of our country, we acknowledge our good fortune to be Americans, citizens of the most free, the most open, the most just society in human history, even as we recognize that there remain wrongs to be righted.

But most of all, we think of our grave responsibility:

To half a million of our fellow citizens who bear the burden of battle. To support them now, and to respect them when they return.

I think tonight about a young airman from Winslow, Me. I met him in December in Saudi Arabia. He has four children, including 1-year-old twins. He hadn't seen them for months and didn't know when he would. But he didn't complain. He was quiet, but it was the quiet strength of someone committed to his country and his duty.

Our duty now is to support the men and women serving in the Persian Gulf, to work and pray for their swift and safe return home, and to build an America worthy of them and their children. May God bless and watch over each of them. Thank you and good night.

Rebuttal Speech, Democratic Party Response to President Bush's "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/309037

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