George W. Bush photo

Remarks at a Victory 2004 Dinner in Santa Monica, California

August 12, 2004

The President. Thanks for coming. And thanks for having us. Thank you all. Please be seated. Thanks for the warm, warm welcome.

Audience member. [Inaudible]

The President. Thank you. Thank you all. Mine is the only line of work where you get introduced by your wife—[laughter]— and I'm really glad I did. I can't tell you how proud I am of Laura. She is a fabulous First Lady. I like to tell these folks I've been campaigning with recently, I said I'm going to give you some reasons to put me back in office, but perhaps the most important one of all is so that Laura is the First Lady for 4 more years. And by the way, it's a joy to campaign with her, and it's a great joy for both of us to campaign with our daughters. It's really been a fun experience for us to have Barbara and Jenna on the campaign trail with us. And it's kind of like the camping trip I never took them on. [Laughter]

I'm also proud to be here with the Governor of California. He's a—because he and I share a lot in common. We both married above ourselves—[laughter]—we both have trouble with the English language—[laughter]—we both have big biceps—[laughter]—well, two out of three aren't bad. If I had to put a motto or slogan on Governor Schwarzenegger, I would say he's a guy who got the job done. He came to this important State, and he got the job done. That's how I hope people view me as well—as the President, came to the Capital and got the job done.

This is a part of a western swing that actually started in Florida. [Laughter] John McCain and I were campaigning in Panama City the other day. We had 23,000 people show up, a big crowd for August. Last night in Phoenix, there was about 15,000, 16,000, loud, energetic, enthusiastic people. I'm telling you what I'm seeing. The crowds are big. The enthusiasm is high. We're going to win in November. [Applause] Thank you all.

And I want to thank you for your help tonight. This is not the first time we've been out here, by the way, nor is it going to be the last time. I intend to compete in California. I know that Parsky, my man Parsky says, "Don't worry, you're going to win it this time." And I said, "You know what? I think I am." I'm looking forward to coming to this great State. Nobody should take this State for granted in 2004.

I'm running with a good man. And Dick Cheney, you know, I like to tell people he's not the prettiest face on the ticket. [Laughter] I didn't pick him for his looks. [Laughter] I picked him because he can do the job. I picked him because of his experience. I picked him because of his sound advice.

I want to thank my friend Brad Freeman. I'm thankful for the fact he didn't introduce me. [Laughter] But I love him like a brother. And I thank you all for coming too.

Rabbi Hier, I want to thank you for your outstanding prayer. I got up after he offered that prayer and said I want a copy of it. It was really strong. What a fine man Rabbi Hier is. What a sweet, fine man. Roland said, "That's my rabbi." I said I can understand why.

I want to thank all the Congressmen who are here, Ed Royce and Ken Calvert and Chris Cox and Dana Rohrabacher. These are fine Members of the United States Congress, good, hard-working, decent people. I see Riordan is here—Mr. Secretary, I'm glad you're here, glad you finally found work. [Laughter] Remember the last job I tried to give you, but—Ambassador to Chad. But he didn't want it. [Laughter]

I'm glad the next Senator from California, Bill Jones, is with us. I appreciate you, Senator.

I want to thank my friend Mercer Reynolds, who has helped raise money all across the country. He's from Cincinnati, Ohio. He's an entrepreneur, a business guy, former partner of the Texas Rangers who said, "How can I help?" I said, "Why don't you lead the efforts to make sure we're well-funded." And he has done a fabulous job. I appreciate you being here, friend. Finally, I want to thank my friend Gerry Parsky and Robin for being here as well and being such great friends.

Listen, I'm here to ask for the vote. I'm traveling the country letting the people know that I've got a reason to be your President for 4 more years. I've got a reason to run for office. I want this country to be a safer country, a stronger country, and a better country for every one of our citizens.

And we've done a lot. You know, this country has come through a lot, and we've accomplished a lot. But there's only one reason to look backward, and that's to determine who best can lead us forward. I'm traveling the country talking about what more we can do to make this country the best country it can possibly be. I have more work to do on behalf of the American people. We've got more work to do to make sure our public schools work well.

You might remember, when I came to office, the system was such that it just shuffled the kids through grade after grade, year after year, without teaching them the basics. And I went to Washington to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations. And so we changed the attitude toward our public schools, at least in the Nation's Capital. We've now raised the bar. We've said we expect results, show us whether or not the children can read and write and add and subtract. If they can't, we'll fix the problems early. The whole goal is to make sure that not one single child is left behind in America. And we're making progress— we're making progress.

We've laid the foundation for excellence. You know, there's a lot of talk in these campaigns about funding. We've increased funding by—for elementary and secondary education by 49 percent. We've increased funding since 2001 by 52 percent for Title I. But that's part of the issue. The other issue is, are we actually getting the job done? Are the schools functioning the way they're supposed to function? And if not, we're demanding change. When we find kids trapped in schools that will not teach and will not change, this administration is calling for change.

There's more to do. We've got intervention programs in junior high and high school to make sure, at the very minimum, our kids can read. A high school diploma must mean something, so we've got a plan to restructure our high schools in a more effective way. We want to make sure the Internet is in our classrooms to bring the latest technology for our kids. What I'm telling you is, over the next 4 years, our children will gain the skills and confidence ready to succeed in the 21st century.

There's more to do. There's more to do for health care. You might remember the Medicare debate. President after President, Congress after Congress said, "Oh, don't worry, we'll strengthen Medicare," and yet, Medicare was not meeting the needs of our seniors. We pay $100,000 for heart surgery, but not the medicines necessary to prevent the heart surgery from the first place. We got a job done. We worked with the Congress to strengthen Medicare. Seniors will now have a choice. Seniors will have prescription drug coverage. Poor seniors will be helped. There's a lot of talk in Washington, but this administration, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, is getting the job done.

We've expanded low-income—we've expanded community health centers for low-income Americans. We've established what's called health savings accounts so families can save tax-free for their health needs. We need more to do. We've got to make sure we bring technology into the health care industry to save money and to cut down on medical errors. I'll tell you what else we need to do. We need medical liability reform in the Nation's Capital now. You cannot be pro-doctor and pro-patient and pro-trial-lawyer at the same time. You have to choose. My opponent made his choice, and he put him on the ticket. I made my choice. I'm going to continue the Congress to get medical liability reform.

In all we do to improve health care in America, we will make sure that the health decisions are made between the doctor and the patient, not made by Government officials in Washington, DC.

There's more to do on our economy. Just remember what we've been through in this country. We've been through a recession and stock market decline. We've been through a corporate scandal. We've been through terrorist attacks. And yet our economy is strong and getting stronger. I believe the reasons why is because the American people refuse to fold. I also know the reason why is because the entrepreneurial spirit is strong. The role of Government is not to create wealth; the role of Government is to create an environment in which the entrepreneur can flourish.

And part of making sure the entrepreneurial spirit is strong, we cut taxes. We needed tax relief in order to get out of the recession we're in. When people have more money of their own in their pocket, they're going to demand an additional good or a service, and when they demand that additional good or a service, somebody in our system is going to produce it. The tax relief we passed is working; the economy is growing. More jobs are being added, and there is more work to do.

I'm running because I understand, in order to keep jobs here in America, America must be the best place in the business—in the world to do business. Now, what does that mean? That means tort reform. It means letting small businesses pool risk when it comes to health care so they can buy more affordable insurance just like big businesses do. It means an energy policy that is less dependent on foreign sources of energy to keep jobs here. It means having a trade policy that is confident in our capacity to compete. We ought to be opening markets around the world. My view is American entrepreneurs and manufacturers and small-business people and farmers and ranchers can compete with anybody, anytime, anyplace so long as the rules are fair.

You know what else it means? It means we better have an education system that encourages workers to gain the skills necessary for the jobs of the 21st century. I have been traveling our country a lot. I remember going to North Carolina where textile mills had moved overseas. And, of course, there was despondency there. But our Government provided help for those workers so they could go back to community colleges to train for the jobs which actually now exist in North Carolina. And when a worker becomes more productive as a result of more education, they make more money. People are finding new jobs in this changing economy of ours, and a proper role for Government is to provide job training which works.

I'm running for a reason. I want people finding work in this country. I want more small businesses flourishing. I want to continue this fantastic story of homeownership in America. Do you realize the homeowner-ship rate in our country is at the highest rate ever? I love the fact that more and more people from all walks of life are opening their front door and saying, "Welcome to my home."

After 4 years, America's economy will still lead the industrialized world. After 4 years, people will get better paying jobs. And after 4 years, more people will be able to realize their dream and say, "This is my business, and I'm expanding it."

The next 4 years also require diligence when it comes to foreign policy. If America shows weakness or uncertainty in this world, the world will drift toward tragedy. This isn't going to happen on my watch.

You know, our world changed on September the 11th. And since that day, we have led and the world has changed. Just think about this. Prior to September the 11th, Afghanistan was a home base of Al Qaida. Al Qaida was training there. They trained thousands of killers and sent them around the world in secret cells, including our own country. Because we acted, because we were firm—and with resolve, Afghanistan is now free. Afghanistan is an ally in the war on terror. In Afghanistan, young girls now go to school for the first time.

The other day I was in Cleveland, Ohio, for the International Children's Game, and I had kicked off the games. They had all these kids out in front from all around the world. Right there in my vision was the Afghan girls soccer team. It was a fantastic feeling. I can't tell you how proud I was of our country. We believe in freedom and liberty.

Remember, before September the 11th, Pakistan was a transit point for Al Qaida.Today, Pakistan is a strong ally in the war on terror, and America and the world are safer for it.

Prior to September the 11th, Libya was a country that had designs on weapons of mass destruction. Because we acted, because we were clear in our resolve, Muammar Qadhafi got the message, dismantled his weapons programs. America and the world are safer.

Before September the 11th, Saddam Hussein was the sworn enemy of America. Remember, Saddam Hussein's history. He defied the world, resolution after resolution after resolution. He was firing weapons at our pilots when our pilots were trying to enforce the world's sanctions. Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein paid the families of suicide bombers. Saddam Hussein harbored terrorists. Remember Abu Nidal? He killed Leon Klinghoffer. His organization was given safe harbor in Iraq. Zarqawi, the person who'd just behead somebody because he feels like it, trying to intimidate the free world, had been given safe haven in Iraq. Saddam Hussein killed thousands of his own citizens. He was a threat in a volatile part of the world.

We saw a threat in Saddam Hussein. After September the 11th, America must deal with threats before they fully materialize. I made a decision to go to the United States Congress to seek a resolution of support in case we needed to use force in Iraq. I say "in case we needed to use force in Iraq"; the use of force should be the last option of the President of the United States. It certainly is in my case. And so I went to the Congress, and they looked at the facts as we saw them and looked at the intelligence as I saw it. And they agreed with me that Saddam Hussein was a threat—"they" being members of both political parties, looked at the same intelligence—including my opponent, who looked at the very same intelligence.

I went to the United Nations. I think it's very important for our country to try to solve problems and deal with threat diplomatically as a first resort. So I went to the U.N. I asked them to take a serious look at Saddam Hussein as a threat to the world. I described how threats in the post-September-the-11th era must be looked at in a new light. They agreed. You might remember, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution 15 to nothing that said, "Saddam Hussein, disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences." The world spoke with one voice, and yet, once again, he defied the world. Remember, we thought weapons inspectors were a good idea. And yet, he systematically deceived the weapons inspectors. He wasn't about to disclose. And as he had for year after year after year, he basically said there's no consequences. So I had a choice to make at this point in time: to forget the lessons of September the 11th and trust a madman, or take action to defend our country. Given that choice, I will defend America every time.

You know, even though we didn't find the stockpiles that everybody thought we would find, Saddam had the capability to make weapons. And in a post-September-the-11th era, the thought of him having that capacity and that capability and the thought of him being able to pass that capability on to our enemies, our sworn enemies who had the willingness to kill thousands in one attack, was a threat we had to deal with. Knowing what I know today, I would have still made the same decision.

And now, almost 2 years after he voted for the war in Iraq and almost 220 days after switching positions to declare himself the antiwar candidate, my opponent found a—what I call a new nuance. [Laughter] He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq. After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Senator Kerry agrees with me that even though we did not find the stockpiles of weapons that we all believed were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I'm glad he cleared that up. [Laughter] The only problem is there's 80 more days for him to change his mind. [Laughter]

I'm running because there's more to do to defend our country. We're—we will work with our friends and allies to pursue these terrorists around the world. Listen, it's better to defeat them there than to face them here in our own country. I know you cannot talk sense to these people. There's the—you can't negotiate with them. You cannot hope for the best. It is essential that we be firm and resolved and steady and stay on the offense against people who would do us harm.

And the way—we will, of course, continue to work with our friends and allies. We've got a vast coalition in support of our goals. Sixty nations are involved with Proliferation Security Initiative. There's 40 nations involved in Afghanistan. Nearly 30 nations are involved in Iraq. I thank their leaders all the time. I appreciate so very much the families of those soldiers who are working side by side with our soldiers to bring peace and freedom to the world with their great contributions. I have an obligation to continue building and strengthening alliances, which I will do. But I will never turn over America's national security decisions to leaders of other foreign countries.

I'm really proud of our military. Our military has helped us to keep our commitments. We must keep our commitments to our military. That's why, last September, I proposed supplemental funding to support our troops who are in combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq. This money was for body armor and vital equipment, hazard pay, health benefits, ammunition, fuel, and spare parts. It was an important piece of legislation. We received great bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. As a matter of fact, only 12 Senators voted against that vital funding for our troops, 2 of whom are my opponent and his runningmate.

When questioned about that vote, I found it interesting that he said this: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it." [Laughter] End quote. [Laughter] He got pressured more, and he went on to say he was proud to vote, then he said the whole thing was a complicated matter. There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat.

In the long run, our security is not guaranteed by force alone. We've got to work to change the conditions that give rise to terror, and that's poverty and hopelessness and resentment. The best way to do that is to spread freedom. We believe that liberty can change people for the better.

I oftentimes tell the story about visiting with Prime Minister Koizumi, a good friend of mine. Laura and I were having dinner with him one night in Tokyo. And it dawned on me that it was amazing that here is the leader of America and the leader of Japan sitting around the table talking about peace. What's amazing is that we were enemies not all that long ago. As a matter of fact, my dad, and I'm sure many of your dads, fought against the Japanese people, bitter enemies. Fortunately, after World War II, my predecessor and others in positions of responsibility in Washington believed that liberty could change Japan for the better. They defied the critics and the pessimists and said, "Let's help build a self-governing society based upon the principles of liberty." And as a result of being—having such a heartfelt belief in the fact that liberty can change the habits of people, I'm now at the table with a former enemy talking about peace.

And this is what—this is the historic moment we're in in the world today, as far as I'm concerned. I truly believe that someday, an elected Iraqi President will be sitting down—or Prime Minister—will be sitting down with the President of the United States talking about peace, talking about how to make sure our world is a better place.

See, what's happening is, is that freedom is beginning to rise up in a part of the world that is desperate for freedom, a part of the world where people are resentful because they are not free human beings. And we believe that freedom is the Almighty's gift to every person in this world. It is the basic belief of the American system.

And so—I say this to the families of the soldiers I meet. I tell them their sons and daughters or husbands and wives are on an incredibly important mission for history. See, when Iraq is free, it will begin to change the vision of those in Iran who want to be free. When Iraq is free, it will say to the Palestinians, who have been subjected to leadership that has not led in their interest, that it's possible to live at peace with our close friend Israel. Freedom will change the habits of people so that peace prevails in this world.

There are still—you know, there are still enemies who hate us, and they are plotting to harm us—that's the world we live in— and we've got a lot to do here at home to protect us. I'll just give you some thoughts about some statements that have been made about our staying on the offense in the war on terror. My opponent says that going to war with the terrorists is actually improving their recruiting efforts. I think the logic is upside-down. I think that shows a misunderstanding of the enemy. See, remember, during the nineties, the terrorists were recruiting and training for war with us long before—long before—we went to war with them. They don't need an excuse for their hatred. I think it's wrong to blame our country for the anger and evil of those killers. See, we don't create terrorists by fighting back; we defeat the terrorists by fighting back.

We're starting the hard work of reform, I want to—inside Washington on homeland security. I want to thank the Members of Congress who are here. We put together a new Department of Homeland Security, and they're doing good work. There's a lot of good people working hard on your behalf. The PATRIOT Act is a very important piece of legislation. The PATRIOT Act gives our law enforcement officers the tools necessary to crack terror networks. It is necessary. Congress needs to renew the PATRIOT Act.

We're sharing intelligence better than before. As you recently read, I picked a really good man out of the United States Congress from Florida, Porter Goss, to head the Central Intelligence Agency. I'm looking forward to working with Congress on the creation of the National Intelligence Director. What I'm telling you is our Government understands what we need to do to secure ourselves. I understand, you know, the—we've got to be right 100 percent of the time, the enemy only right once. We should take great comfort that there's people at all levels of government— really decent, honorable people—who are working hard as they possibly can to do their duty and protect our country.

I talked about reforming in Washington. It's never easy to do that. Entrenched interests there are pretty strong. The status quo has got a lot of defenders. But if you think about it, we've gotten good results for the people by pushing hard for reform. See, when it comes to raising standards in schools and insisting on excellence for every child, we're getting the job done. When it comes to reforming Medicare so our seniors have got prescription drugs and insisting that the doctors and the patients are the center of health care decisionmaking, we're getting the job done. When it comes to growing this economy and creating jobs and enhancing the entrepreneurial spirit, we're getting the job done. When it comes to defending America and spreading freedom and peace, we're getting the job done. What I'm telling you is, when it comes to electing a President, put somebody in office who can get the job done.

Audience members. Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

The President. Thank you. Listen, the world we're in is a changing world, but there's some things that aren't going to change: our belief in liberty and opportunity and the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity. They won't change. In a changing world, the values we try to live by will not change: courage and compassion, reverence and integrity. In a changing world, there are some just very vital institutions: our families and our schools, our religious congregations. These institutions are really important for our country. They deserve the respect of Government.

We stand for institutions like marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society. We stand for a culture of life in which every person matters and each person counts. We stand for judges who strictly interpret the law, not legislate from the bench.

We stand for a culture of responsibility in this country. The culture is changing; slowly but surely it's changing from one that has said, "If it feels good, do it," and "If you've got a problem, blame somebody else," to a culture in which each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make in life.

If you're fortunate enough to be a mother or a father, you're responsible for loving your child with all your heart. If you're worried about the quality of the education in this community, you're responsible for doing something about it. If you're a CEO in corporate America, you are responsible for telling the truth to your shareholders and your employees. And I believe a central tenet of a responsibility society is, each of us should love our neighbor just like we'd like to be loved ourself.

You know, for all Americans, these years in our history will always stand apart. There are quiet times in the life of this Nation when little is expected of its leaders. This isn't one of those times. It's a time we need firm resolve and clear vision. This is a time we must stick to those ideals which make this country such a fabulous country.

You know, I'll never forget the day I went into the ruins of the Twin Towers, September the 14th, 2001. There were workers in hardhats there yelling at me, "Whatever it takes." I can remember walking—working the ropeline there and shaking hands with people, guys with bloodshot eyes, and they'd been in the rubble looking for a buddy. He said, you know, "Mr. President, do not let me down." He took that day personally. Everybody searching through the rubble took it personally. I know you took it personally, and so did I. I have a duty that goes on. Every day I wake up thinking about how to better secure our country. I will never relent in defending America, whatever it takes.

We have done a lot together—we have done a lot together, and we have done the hard work. And there is more hard work to do, and I'm ready for the task. I've got the energy to continue leading this country, and I know where I want to take us. Over the next 4 years, we'll be dedicated to spreading opportunity and ownership to every corner of America. For the next 4 years, we will pass the enduring values of our great land on to another generation. And for the next 4 years, we'll be relentless in our pursuit of freedom and peace.

You know, when I traveled your State 4 years ago and our country, I said if you gave me the high honor of holding this office, the Presidency of the United States, I would uphold the dignity and honor of that office—the pledge I made. With your help over the next 4 years, I will continue to honor that pledge.

Thanks for coming, and may God bless you all. Thank you for your support. Thank you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 6:54 p.m. at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. In his remarks, the President referred to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California; Gerald L. Parsky, California State chairman, Bush-Cheney '04, Inc., and his wife, Robin; Brad Freeman, California State finance chairman, Bush-Cheney '04, Inc.; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder, Simon Wiesenthal Center; former Mayor Richard J. Riordan of Los Angeles, CA; Mercer Reynolds, Victory national finance chairman, Republican National Committee; Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi, leader of Libya; former President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; senior Al Qaida associate Abu Musab Al Zarqawi; and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of the First Lady, who introduced the President.

George W. Bush, Remarks at a Victory 2004 Dinner in Santa Monica, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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