George W. Bush photo

Remarks Announcing Candidacy for the Republican Presidential Nomination

June 12, 1999

What a pleasure it is to visit with you, to shake your hands. Laura and I are so grateful for your welcome, your enthusiasm, your confidence.

There will come a time for formal speeches and 10 point plans. But I know the question on your mind: Why are you thinking about running for president? So I'll tell you what's on my heart.

I'll have a formal announcement sometime in the Fall. I have come here today to tell you this: I am running for President of the United States. There's no turning back, and I intend to be the next President of the United States.

I'm running because our country must be prosperous. But prosperity must have a purpose. The purpose of prosperity is to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart. The purpose of prosperity is to leave no one out—to leave no one behind. I'm running because my party must match a conservative mind with a compassionate heart. And I'm running to win.

Prosperity is not a given. Some in this administration think they invented it. But they did not invent prosperity, any more than they invented the Internet. Governments don't create wealth. Wealth is created by Americans — by creativity and enterprise and risk-taking. But government can create an environment where businesses and entrepreneurs and families can dream and flourish.

We'll be prosperous if we reduce taxes. I'll have a plan that reduces marginal rates to create jobs, but a plan that also helps struggling families on the outskirts of poverty. I believe that after we meet priorities, all that remains must be passed back to Americans, so it will not be spent by Washington.

We'll be prosperous if we reduce the regulations that strangle enterprise. And I will do what I did in Texas: fight for meaningful, real tort reform.

We'll be prosperous if we embrace free trade. I'll work to end tariffs and break down barriers everywhere, entirely, so the whole world trades in freedom. The fearful build walls. The confident demolish them. I am confident in American workers and farmers and producers. And I am confident that America's best is the best in the world.

We must be prosperous to keep our commitments to the health and security and dignity of the elderly. And we should trust Americans by giving them the option of investing part of their Social Security contributions in private accounts.

And we must be prosperous to keep the peace. This is still a world of terror and missiles and madmen. And we are challenged by aging weapons and failing intelligence.

I will rebuild our military power — because a dangerous world still requires a sharpened sword.

I will move quickly to defend our people and our allies against missiles and blackmail.

And I will have a foreign policy with a touch of iron — driven by American values and American interests.

America must seize this moment. America must lead. Because America's greatest export to the world is, and always will be, freedom.

America will be prosperous and strong if we do the right things. But prosperity alone is simple materialism. Prosperity must have a greater purpose. The success of America has never been proven by cities of gold, but by citizens of character. Men and women who work hard, dream big, love their family, serve their neighbor. Values that turn a piece of earth into a neighborhood, a community, a chosen nation.

That dream is so vivid — but still many are saying: The dream is not for me. Kids who turn schoolyards into battlefields. Children who corrupt their wills and souls with drugs, who limit their ambitions by having children themselves. Failed schools are creating two societies: one that reads and one that can't; one that dreams and one that doesn't.

These are burdens on the conscience of a successful nation. The next president must close this gap of hope. It is the great challenge to America's good heart.

I want to be a president who sets a tone, a direction, an agenda. I will be an activist president, who sets goals worthy of a great nation. I won't use my office as a mirror to reflect public opinion. And I'll be guided by conservative principles. Government should do a few things, and do them well. Government should not try to be all things to all people.

My first goal is to usher in the responsibility era. An era that stands in stark contrast to the last few decades, when the culture has clearly said: If it feels good, do it. If you've got a problem, blame someone else. Each of us must understand we are responsible for the choices we make in life. We're responsible for the children we bring into the world. We're responsible to love our neighbor as we want to be loved ourselves.

And we must pass this message to our children — teach them there are right choices in life and wrong choices in life. Drugs will destroy you. Alcohol will ruin your life. And having a child out of wedlock is a sure fire way to fall behind. We'll love the babies. But the message must be clear: It is not the definition of a man to father a child out of wedlock and say, "They're not my problem, they're yours."

Some people think it's inappropriate to draw a moral line. Not me. For our children to have the lives we want for them, they must learn to say yes to responsibility, yes to family, yes to honesty and work. I have seen our culture change once in my lifetime, so I know it can change again.

What can be done? Government can help. We can write laws to give schools and principals more authority to discipline children and protect the peace of classrooms. We must encourage states to reform their juvenile justice laws. We must say to our children, "We love you, but discipline and love go hand in hand, and there will be bad consequences for bad behavior."

But changing our culture requires more than laws. Cultures change one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time. Government can spend money, but it can't put hope in our hearts or a sense of purpose in our lives. This is done by churches and synagogues and mosques and charities that warm the cold of life. A quiet river of goodness and kindness that cuts through stone.

So my second goal — one of the biggest jobs for the next president — is to rally these armies of compassion that exist in every community. To nurture. To mentor. To comfort. To perform their commonplace miracles of renewal.

As president, I will lift the regulations that hamper them. I will involve them in after-school programs, maternity group homes, drug treatment, prison ministries. I will lay out specific incentives to encourage an outpouring of giving in America. Supporting these men and women — the soldiers in the army of compassion — is the next, bold step of welfare reform. Because changing hearts will change our entire society.

And my third goal. We should make a solemn commitment in this country: That every child will be educated. That no child will be left behind.

I believe in the power of high standards and high hopes. I have seen what works in my state. Raise the bar of expectations. Measure progress. Insist on results. Blow the whistle on failure. Don't give up on anyone.

As president, I will give more flexibility and authority to states — but encourage local folks to measure results for every child. I will praise success — but shine a spotlight of shame on failure. If schools fail, we must be bold enough to challenge the status quo. And I am going to change Head Start — to teach our youngest children phonics so they can read, and the basics, so they can add.

Everyone must have a first rate education, because there are no second rate children, no second rate dreams.

You've heard me talk about compassionate conservatism. These goals are what I mean.

It is conservative to cut taxes. It is compassionate to help people save and give and build.

It is conservative to reform welfare by insisting on work. It is compassionate to take the side of charities and churches that confront the suffering which remains.

It is conservative to confront illegitimacy. It is compassionate to offer practical help to women and children in crisis.

It is conservative to insist on education standards, basics and local control. It is compassionate to make sure that not one single child gets left behind.

I know this approach has been criticized. But why? Is compassion beneath us? Is mercy below us? Should our party be led by someone who boasts of a hard heart? I know Republicans — across the country — are generous of heart. I am confident the American people view compassion as a noble calling. The calling of a nation where the strong are just and the weak are valued.

I am proud to be a compassionate conservative. I welcome the label. And on this ground I'll take my stand.

It is the ground I've stood as governor of Texas, a job I really love. I know it isn't the same as being president. But if Texas were a country, it would be the 11th largest economy in the world. And I've had some successes. We passed the two biggest tax cuts in Texas history. We reformed our welfare and tort laws. We improved test scores for all the children in our schools, especially African-American and Hispanic kids.

I've learned to lead. I don't run polls to tell me what to think. I make decisions based on a conservative philosophy that is engrained in my heart. Trust local people to make right choices about their schools and cities. Understand that private property is the backbone of capitalism. Fight for American interests and American workers in the world. Know the importance of family and the need for personal responsibility. These are principles from which I will not vary.

I've learned you can not lead by dividing people. This country is hungry for a new style of campaign. Positive. Hopeful. Inclusive. A campaign that attracts new faces and new voices. A campaign that unites all Americans toward a better tomorrow.

I say a better tomorrow because I've learned that people want to follow an optimist. They don't respond to the message: "Follow me, things are going to get worse." They respond to someone who appeals to our better angels, not our darker impulses. They respond to someone who sees better times — and I see better times.

I want you to imagine a campaign that carries this message. We will defend the American dream with sound economic policies and tax cuts. But we will also tell every American, "The dream is for you." Tell forgotten children in failed schools, "The dream is for you." Tell families, from the barrios of LA to the Rio Grande Valley: "El sueno americano es para ti." Tell men and women in our decaying cities, "The dream is for you." Tell confused young people, starved of ideals, "The dream is for you." This is the kind of campaign we must run.

For my part, I'm running, and I'm running hard. I know that this race will be competitive. I know the other candidates are good and talented people. And I know I'm late. But now that the Texas legislative session is over, I'm taking my front porch campaign to every front porch in this state. I will tell people exactly what I told you here today. Face to face. Eye to eye. And I cannot wait.

It feels to me like an old era of American politics is ending — like Americans are waiting for new hopes, new energy, new idealism. We will prove that someone who is conservative and compassionate can win without sacrificing principle. We will show that politics, after a time of tarnished ideals, can be higher and better. We will give our country a fresh start after a season of cynicism.

We have a long way to go, but we start today. And I hope you'll join me.

Thank you.

George W. Bush, Remarks Announcing Candidacy for the Republican Presidential Nomination Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project