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Remarks Following the Swearing-in Ceremony for William J. Bennett as Director of National Drug Control Policy

March 13, 1989

The President. Mr. Vice President and members of the Cabinet -- Justice Scalia, I believe, was here somewhere.

Justice Scalia. I'm here.

The President. There he is -- present. But I cite that because he just did the honors over in the Oval Office for the swearing-in of Bill Bennett.

Honored guests and ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to be here. It's an honor for me to be here, with the Cabinet behind me, for this important occasion. There really is no greater test of America's greatness than its challenge on meeting this great challenge of drugs. And today I've come from the swearing-in, from Bill Bennett, the man who's going to lead this mission. We're going to need your help and the will and spirit of the American people to succeed.

Last month before a joint session of Congress, I said Bill Bennett and I will be shoulder-to-shoulder leading this charge, and here we are. And he has just been sworn in, and we are shoulder-to-shoulder, and the Cabinet will be shoulder-to-shoulder with him in this important effort. To free our nation from drugs is going to require teamwork and coordination between all levels of government, private enterprise, and then the voluntary organizations as well. It will mean building on your labors as activists, officials, public servants. For while you've done much, there remains so much more to be done. Most of all, it's going to require a sense of urgency to act now.

Drugs threaten what we are as a nation and as a family. And they chain the human soul, and they destroy the lives of our children. And so, Bill, I know that you share these beliefs. As Secretary of Education, Bill showed what worked, told us what didn't, broke a little china in the process -- [laughter] -- but challenged the establishment in a lot of ways; and that was a tremendous plus. And in the process he created a record of stunning achievement, and like you all, he's been a strong voice for excellence. And now you must work together.

Bill is the first Director of the National Drug Council Policy -- you, soldiers of this crusade. And drug abuse assaults the mind and the spirit of America, leaving damaged lives and destroyed careers. So, we've got to mobilize our moral, spiritual, and economic resources to force a decline in drug trafficking and in drug abuse. We're going to seek to encourage the over 23 million Americans who last year used illegal drugs to get clean and stay clean.

And in that budget speech, I spoke about four critical areas: education, testing, interdiction, and enforcement. And I asked for an increase of $1 billion in budget outlays. In 1990 we're requesting $6 billion in new funding to fight this war. And some money will be used to expand treatment for the poor and to young mothers, and this will help many of the innocent victims of drugs, like the thousands of babies that are born addicted or with AIDS because of the mother's addiction. Some money will be used to cut the waiting time for treatment and to help prevention efforts in urban schools, where the emergency seems to be the greatest. And much of it will be used to protect our borders, helped by the Coast Guard and Customs Service and Departments of State and Justice and the U.S. military. To spread the word and thus stem demand, we're going to need more money for education and prevention. Our request totals $1.1 billion. And we need to educate, involve parents, teachers, and communities. And finally, to stop drug criminals, we will support unequivocally our drug enforcement officials: local, State, and Federal.

You know, we've talked a lot about zero tolerance. Well, it's not a catch word. It means, quite simply, if you do crime, you've got to do time. And our budget proposes $4.1 billion -- the drug budget -- fully 70 percent of the entire drug budget for law enforcement purposes. I want judges who strictly apply the law to convicted drug offenders, and then severe sentences for the dealers who hire kids to sell and carry these drugs. I want a new offensive against organized crime, and enhanced drug prosecution, detection, enhanced intelligence capabilities. We need increased prison sentences for drug-related crimes. And the death penalty -- I believe in it firmly for drug kingpins who order and those who commit these drug-related murders.

Now let me speak very frankly about one other aspect of the fight on drug abuse. The effectiveness of the Federal Government's efforts to combat drugs has been hampered -- sometimes severely -- by inadequate cooperation and coordination among the many departments and agencies involved in this antidrug effort. There have been struggles over turf and budgets, and too often preoccupation with parochial interests.

Well, the soldiers in the drug battle have been risking their lives. Too often bureaucratic conflict here in Washington has hobbled our national effort. So, this has got to end. No war was ever won with two dozen generals acting independently. And I have chosen Bill Bennett to be the commanding general in the drug war. It is his responsibility, working with the departments and agencies headed by those you see here with me and others, to develop a strategy for this war. So, I charge him with putting all the parts of the Federal Government in harness, pulling together in a life-and-death struggle against a deadly enemy. I will not tolerate, and the country cannot afford, bureaucratic infighting that forces us to fight this battle with one arm tied behind our back.

And so, Bill has my total support. I call upon all of the parts of the Government to get behind him in charting our course toward victory. We must not waver in our resolve to overcome drug abuse. And we're going to need fortitude, patience, compassion, and certainly the support of all America. Without the people, we can't do anything, And with the people, we can do great things.

This morning, then, I ask all of you to work with Bill and with businesses, churches, families, and schools. Thank you very much for being here. And now the man of the moment, the man in whom I've placed great confidence and who I know will do a superb job: Bill Bennett.

Mr. Bennett. Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Cabinet who are so kind to be here this morning, thank you. And Mr. President, thanks especially to you for your kind words, for the trust you've placed in me, and for the firm commitment you've made to the work that I now begin.

No one who has fought this fight until now, no brave law enforcement officer, no teacher, no doctor need be told how hard and cruel America's drug problem has become. They know; we know. But those here and across the country who join me today in our just war against drugs may take some renewed confidence in our prospects for success because the President of the United States has placed this struggle at the top of his administration's agenda, at the top of our common national agenda where it needs to be.

The President has asked for total effort. He has asked for action on each and every front. He has asked for a sharp increase in funding to make that action possible. He has asked for an end to the petty bureaucratic bickering that has too often hampered Federal initiatives here in Washington. He has asked me to lead and to honor his mandate. Well, with your support, Mr. President, with your backing, much, indeed, can be done. I promise to give my all.

My office is already conducting an exhaustive review of our national fight against drugs on both supply and demand sides. Where past strategy has succeeded, we will see to it that it's continued. Where past strategy has failed, we will see that it's replaced or modified. And my Office will review the Federal drug budget. I plan no cut-rate, bargain basement initiative, but I also plan no bloated pork-barrel project, either. We will ask for what makes sense, no more, no less. And as you've instructed me, we will not play politics with drugs. That's one game the American people simply will not afford.

All this will mean change, substantial change in some cases. And change takes time and long, hard work, especially in Washington. We'll do it where necessary. We want to see waiting lines for drug treatment reduced and prison cells for drug pushers increased. We want to see the drug violence on the streets of our cities and the streets of our Nation's Capital stopped. And we want those overseas, too, to know that we mean business.

As the President has made abundantly clear, this administration wants to work with all the good citizens of America to win the war. There is good news, and we shouldn't ignore it. Drugs are no longer a thing of glamour. Our media and our culture now portray drugs accurately. They portray them for the death and ruin and despair that they are and that they bring. As the President sadly reminds us, 23 million Americans still use drugs regularly, but another 220 million Americans do not use drugs and never have.

We see the violence that drugs create. We see the damage drugs do to our economy, to our communities, and to our children. And the American people are made angry and determined, and that is a good thing. In neighborhood schools and churches across America there is a movement against drugs, and it's making a difference. Drug use is down among high school seniors. It is still too high, but it is going down. I believe that a persistent national commitment to this fight can and will bring it down further.

Many people have told me in recent weeks and months that my job will prove to be an impossible job. I think that's wrong; today I act on the assumption that that is wrong. I did not take this job to sit at stalemate. The people I'll be working with, including and especially the people seated behind me, and the people who lead our antidrug efforts here in Washington and across the country are men and women of great ability, dedication, and purpose. And best of all, the American people are with us. So, Mr. President, I have the best allies a man can have.

Mr. President, again I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to make a difference on one of the critical issues of our time. And, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Cabinet, I thank you for your good wishes and for the help I know you'll give, because I'm going to ask you for it.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I've been asked to invite you all to follow us to the Indian Treaty Room for a brief reception. Thank you all for coming. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke at 11:16 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

George Bush, Remarks Following the Swearing-in Ceremony for William J. Bennett as Director of National Drug Control Policy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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