George W. Bush photo

Remarks at a Victory 2004 Luncheon in New York City

April 20, 2004

Thank you all. Thank you. Please be seated. The faster I speak, the quicker you eat. [Laughter] Thanks for coming. Thanks for the support of voter turnout efforts. I look forward to carrying the banner. I look forward to explaining what I intend to do for the next 4 years, and your help will make it easier for us to get people to the polls. That's really what we're doing here today, and I want to thank you for that.

I appreciate my friend Pataki, who is doing a great job as the Governor of this great State. If you think the President is being hard, try being the Governor of New York—[laughter]—or the mayor of New York. Mayor, thank you for coming. I appreciate both the fine jobs you're doing. You both are great men. Thanks for your friendship. I'm proud to know you, as we say in Crawford, Texas.

Laura is not here, obviously, and so you drew the short straw. She is a fabulous woman who is a great First Lady. And I got to tell you, it's a lot easier to be President with somebody who is—sees the ability to influence people's lives in a positive way, just like Laura does. She is making a huge difference, whether it be literacy or women's health issues. The most important thing she means to me is steadfast love. And I'm proud of her, and I wish she were here today.

I know Peter King is here. I appreciate you coming, Congressman. I'm glad—appreciate your distinguished service in the mighty New York congressional delegation. Is Vito here as well? Hey, Vito. Good to see you. Thank you for coming. Vito Fossella as well is here—two Members of the Congress. They're here for two reasons: one, they like a good meal—[laughter]—two, they want a nice ride back to Washington. [Laughter] Maybe pick up a little wisdom, too, right, Peter?

I appreciate my friend Mercer Reynolds, who is the national finance chairman. Mercer is a business guy out of Cincinnati, Ohio, and he said, "Can I help you?" I said, "You bet. Get to work." And he has. And I really want to thank Mercer for his leadership.

Al Hoffman is the RNC finance chairman from the great State of Florida. Thank you for being here, Al, and thank you for your help. See you Friday. I will be in Naples and Miami Friday. I want to thank Lew Eisenberg. I appreciate your leadership, Lew. Thanks for helping make sure this dinner went well today. Thank you very much.

I'm looking forward to the campaign. It's—probably somebody looking at me like, "Do you really mean that?" [Laughter] I am. I like to campaign. I'm a competitive kind of person. I've got a lot of Mother in me. [Laughter] But most importantly, I've got a reason to serve 4 more years. And that's what I want to share with you today.

First, I think it's—in order to say what you're going to do, particularly as an incumbent, you've got to remind people what you have done. Because by reminding people what you have done, it will help people believe that what you're going to do is something that's true.

We've taken on—first of all, I assembled a great team. I know my Chief of Staff, Andy Card, is with us somewhere—where are you? Chief Card. I think the measure of a good leader is with whom he surrounds himself, and I've got smart, capable people with me, people who care deeply about the country, people who have got access, people who can walk in and say, "You know, you're not looking so good, Mr. President," or, "Mr. President, you're doing the right thing." Whether it be Andy or Condoleezza Rice or a great national security team or a wonderful Cabinet—I know Elaine Chao's dad is here. I appreciate you're coming, Dr. Chao. Elaine is the Secretary of Labor on our team. And I think the American people should take comfort in the fact that I have put together a good team. And it's essential you do so because you never know what's going to come on your watch. You've got to have people around, if times get tough, that are capable of making good—giving you good advice when the pressure is on.

And we had some things on our watch that I don't think a lot of people would have anticipated, starting with the attacks here on September the 11th. It was a dramatic moment for our country. It's one that I will never forget of course, and it's one that really, after I got beyond the tears, lifted my spirits because I saw the incredible courage and steadfast resolve of the people of this part of the world.

There is just something so uplifting to see the courage of the firefighters and the police and their loved ones and the citizens of New York City and Connecticut and New Jersey, as they rallied to what was a horrible moment in our history. It was such an inspiring moment for those of us who saw firsthand the response.

I made a decision then and there that I would do everything we could to learn the lessons of September the 11th and respond in a forceful way. The lesson of September the 11th, for me, was twofold: one, that any time we see a threat materialize we've got to deal with it—we can't hope it goes away—that it must be viewed in a serious nature; and secondly, it was that we'll keep the terrorists on the run until we bring them all to justice, that the best way to protect the homeland was to find them before they hurt us again. And that's what we have done.

And part of the reason I want to be the President is because I want to continue that. We're at war. The terrorists declared war on the United States, and I want to continue waging that war so that children can grow up in a peaceful country.

At the same time, the economy wasn't so hot for a while here. As you might remember, there was a recession in early 2001. And we dealt with it straight up. I told the American people that in order to deal with the economy, people need to have more money in their pockets, and went to Congress, not once but several times, and convinced Congress—and I want to thank the Congressmen who are here that supported us—that tax relief would make a difference in terms of economic vitality and growth. And it did. The recession was one of the most shallow recessions in our economic history. I look forward to reminding people that the reason why was because tax relief worked.

The economy also took a blow because we had some citizens who forgot to tell the truth. They held positions of high responsibility, and they betrayed their trust. And we responded swiftly to that as well. We passed tough laws that made it abundantly clear we expect there to be honesty in the boardrooms of America.

These were issues that the administration had to deal with, and I look forward to making the case that we have dealt with them in a way that made America a better place. But that's not how—that's just not what the American people want to hear. They don't want to see what you've done; they see what you're going to do. That's what we've got to talk about. I will campaign hard to make it clear that we've got a plan to make sure that the prosperity that we have today is lasting prosperity.

I say we have prosperity today—at least the statistics say we have prosperity today. The growth last year was strong. The projected growth this year is strong—that's growth of our economy. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. The homeownership rate is the highest ever. It's an incredibly positive statistic, isn't it, to be able to stand and say, people own more homes than ever before. That is what we want in America. We want people owning something. They ought to be able to—"This is my home. Welcome to my piece of property." More people are able to do so. More minorities own homes than ever before. We've still got a minority homeownership gap, but nevertheless, it's a positive sign that people are owning their own homes. Jobs are being created; 308,000 new jobs in the month of March was positive, 750,000 jobs since August. In other words, the economy is picking up.

And yet, the fundamental question is, how do we make sure that the prosperity lasts, not just lasts through a political cycle, but how do we make sure America stays on the leading edge of economic prosperity for a decade to come or two decades to come? How do we make sure the entrepreneurial spirit is strong and alive and well?

First, it starts with having the right philosophy. The role of Government isn't to create wealth but to create an environment where the entrepreneur can flourish and succeed. That's the role of Government.

We've got some unusual challenges to make sure America is a prosperous nation for a long time to come. One, we've got to make sure that we've got spending discipline in Washington, and it's a battle because appropriators tend to appropriate. And we just got to make sure they appropriate in the amounts of money that we can afford these days. And I put a pretty tough budget out there that said we're going to fund our troops. It said we're going to make sure we fund our homeland security challenges, but nondefense discretionary spending needs to be at less than one percent, in order to make sure that we don't overcommit our budget.

It's going to be an issue in the campaign, by the way, because the tendency is to promise a lot of things when you run for President. Already the other side has promised over a trillion dollars of new spending, and they haven't figured out how to pay for it yet. You can't provide a trillion dollars in new spending by just taxing the rich. There's not enough money when it comes to just taxing the rich. That means you're going to have to tax everybody, which leads to the second issue, as to how to make sure that we're a competitive nation for a long time coming, and that's to make sure the Tax Code is simple, easy to understand, and the tax relief we passed is permanent.

I say "the tax relief we passed is permanent"—certainly, in the Tax Code, it's necessary for people who want to invest capital. People who invest capital, whether they be large or small businesses, must understand the rules of the game. It's a huge mistake for Congress to let the tax relief expire, and so I look forward to continuing to making the case that tax relief must be permanent.

It's essential for families that the tax relief be permanent. Remember, a key component of the tax relief was raising the child credit to $1,000. If they let that lapse, it's a tax increase on working families. We lowered the lowest tax bracket to 10 percent and expanded who could participate. If they let that aspect lapse, it's a tax on working families.

We tax marriage in America. We got what they call the marriage penalty. In my judgment, it's a little backwards. We ought not to be taxing marriage. We ought to be encouraging marriage. We reduced the penalty on marriage, and yet, if Congress doesn't act, it goes back up, sends the wrong signal. It's a bad tax.

We put the death tax on its way to extinction—that's an important tax—in order to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit to be strong. After all, we want to encourage people to pass their assets on to whoever they want and have the Government only tax it once. And if Congress doesn't act, the death tax will come back to life—2010, by the way, is going to be an unusual year. [Laughter]

We cut all taxes, by the way, in the tax relief package. My attitude is, if you pay taxes, you ought to get tax relief. If there's going to be tax relief, then everybody ought to get tax relief. And so we cut all taxes. It's important that those tax rates stay low, particularly for small businesses. I look forward to making the case to the American people and reminding them that tax relief helped the small-business sector immeasurably.

Most small businesses are Subchapter S corporations or sole proprietorships. And so when you cut income-tax rates, you're really affecting small-business capital formation, which has been a vital part of our recovery. The small-business sector is strong. What I'm telling you is, good tax policy is a part of keeping this country competitive. Good tax policy relative to our competition is what is necessary to make sure that there's economic vitality in the long run.

To make sure America stays competitive and to make sure jobs stay home and jobs are vibrant here, we need an energy policy in America. It's hard to project a strong and vital economy if you're not sure if you got any energy. If you're worried about a modern electricity system—we went through this before, last summer. Remember, Mayor? I called George and the mayor. It was a difficult period of time if you're in a leadership role. Imagine what it's like if you're a small manufacturing company reliant upon electricity in order to manufacture a product. If you're competing not only in the American economy but the global economy and you're not sure if you're going to get any electricity, it's an issue as to whether or not you're going to be able to stay in business. And so we need an energy policy that, first of all, allows for and encourages the modernization of our electricity grids.

The other problem we got is that we're dependent on foreign sources of energy. It's going to be hard to stay competitive so long as America is reliant upon somebody else for our energy supply. Now, I believe technology can make a huge difference in terms of consumption by encouraging conservation. I think there's great potential for renewables and alternative sources of energy. I mean, I'd love to be the President one day to be able to stand up and say, "We've grown enough crops so we're no longer dependent upon a source of energy," and that's possible. It's just not possible for the short run.

And so we've got to have a good energy policy that gets us to where technology will change our uses of energy and the sources of energy, which means we need clean coal technology, which means we need to explore for natural gas, which means we need reasonable nuclear energy policy. In order for this country to remain competitive, we have got to become less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

Lasting prosperity means that the country must be confident with its trade policy. The tendency is to—in the country is to, if you're doubtful about our ability to compete, is to promote what I call economic isolationism, which means the willingness to either pull back from aggressive trade policy or to encourage the creation of tariffs and barriers to trade. I think that would be a huge mistake for people looking for work. I think it would be a big mistake to kind of lose our confidence in the world when it comes to trading. Listen, we're great at a lot of things, and when you're good at something, you need to be promoting it. We're great at growing things like corn and soybeans and cows and hogs. And we ought to be aggressively selling those products overseas. We're wonderful at entertainment. We're excellent at high-tech. These are our competitive advantages, and rather than losing our confidence, we ought to be more confident than ever.

And trade policy, as far as I'm concerned, really means having other nations treat us as we treat them. It's been the policy of many administrations, both Republican and Democrat, to open up our markets so that our consumers have got choice. They've got competition for their dollar, which is good for price and good for quality. The problem we face in the world is other nations haven't treated us the same, and so it's policy of this administration is, rather than retreat and be pessimistic, is to be confident and bold and insist others open up their markets. Lasting prosperity means that the country must fight off economic isolationism and open up as many markets as possible, so we can compete in a fair way.

Lasting prosperity means we've got to have reasonable medical policy. The cost of health care makes it awfully difficult for, starting with small businesses, to expand and hire new people. I've spent a lot of time with the entrepreneurs of America, and they're saying that the cost of medicine is one of the primary factors that prevents aggressive expansion of the job base, as far as their individual company is concerned.

We've addressed it this way: First, you've got to understand there's the philosophical fight in Washington; there are those who promote policies that will make it certain that the Federal Government makes the medical decisions for people. I think it's absolutely wrong. I believe in the opposite. I believe if you empower consumers and give consumers more options from which to choose, medical policy becomes more affordable and more available.

And that's why a key component of our health care vision is what's called health savings accounts. They're a new product. They're just becoming online. But they will enable individuals and small businesses to better afford health care. They will better drive price, and they'll better enhance quality.

And there are some other practical things that need to be done. Association health care plans will allow small businesses to pool risk, just like big businesses get to do, in order to be able to better afford medical care.

We need to make sure we use our technologies wisely so that we can strip out unnecessary costs and enhance quality by promoting an aggressive expansion of technology. One of the interesting things is most businesses here are very productive because they use the IT available; not so for the medical field. I mean, there are vast improvements to be had by the expansion of information technologies in the field. And one of the roles of the Federal Government is to provide standards so that the technology and the information can be shared and exploited in a proper way.

And finally, look, we need medical liability reform in the country. If you're interested in making sure health care is available and affordable, we've got to have a system that doesn't reward trial lawyers simply for filing lawsuits.

Speaking about trial lawyers, in order that there be lasting prosperity—in other words, when I say "lasting prosperity," I mean, to create an environment so that the great entrepreneurial spirit flourishes—we better rein in the junk and frivolous lawsuits that threaten capital formation. That's why I'm strongly for the asbestos legislation that's stuck in the Senate. That's why I'm strongly for class-action lawsuit reform that's stuck in the Senate—the same place, by the way, where medical liability reform is stuck, in the Senate.

But I will continue to push the issue, not only in the campaign but should I be fortunate enough to serve 4 more years, because the idea is to create a fair legal environment and, at the same time, encourage capital formation, risktaking, and business expansion so that the prosperity which we have today will last beyond us, will last beyond this administration. I'm going to give a speech on Monday talking about the innovation society, the expansion of a broadband technology in a market-driven way, and the role of Government is to make sure we don't overtax the broadband technology so it gets spread out, and doesn't overregulate. And it will take—the market will act, if we create the environment for market forces to flourish.

And so one of the things I'm going to campaign a lot on and talk to the American people about is that, listen, we've handled a tough recession, and I recognize there needs to be more. It's given me a chance to put in place the framework for prosperity which will last for a while, so that people can find work and realize their dreams, so people who want to start their own business feel comfortable doing so.

See, one of the wonderful things about the Presidency is I get to see success stories. People have had an idea in their head; they went to their garage; they started their own business. And now they're creating jobs for people. They've got an asset to call their own. It's just—I think it's so important that the country elect a President who understands the power and the promise of the entrepreneurial spirit. I look forward to making the case that I'm the person.

Abroad, we've got issues as well. I mean, we're at war. I will make the case that I'm prepared to continue to lead the country to win the war, not just fight the war but win the war.

An American President must speak clearly, and when he speaks, must mean what he says, in order to make the world more peaceful. And that requires a clear vision about where you want to lead. I believe strongly in the power of freedom, the transforming power of freedom. I know that free societies are peaceful societies. I believe the Almighty has—believes that every person should be free. It's a gift from the Almighty, regardless of their religion or the color of their skin. I believe that as the torchbearer of freedom, the United States must lead and must never shirk our duty to lead.

America must lead when it comes to fighting the war on terror. We must continue to rally a coalition of the willing to stay tough and determined and rout out Al Qaida before they hit us again. That's our obligation. That means when we say we're going to lead, we do, without hesitation, without fear of a political poll or a focus group. If we say we're going to be steadfast and strong, we must be steadfast and strong, and I will, as the President.

I said very clearly that if you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist, and I meant every word of that. The action in Afghanistan showed the people I meant what I said. The Taliban evidently didn't believe us. They do now, and they're no longer in power, and Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorist training camps.

We still have a task to do in Afghanistan. Part of winning the war on terror is to make sure that countries that we have liberated are free and peaceful and prosperous and hopeful. And Afghanistan is turning that way. It's hard work there in Afghanistan. After all, they were savaged by the Taliban. Remember the—remember what these people were like. It's hard for the American citizen to understand the nature of the Taliban. These are people who wouldn't let young girls go to school.

There's a movie called "Osama." I wish you'd look at it. It's an interesting movie. It talks about what life was like in Afghanistan. It also speaks—when I talk to the American people about what it means to liberate people, the movie says it a lot better than I can, about what life was like prior to the arrival of a coalition.

So we're working hard in Afghanistan. There are people still lurking around there that we'll find. We're sharing intelligence. We're watching money trails, just like we are in other countries as well. But part of the war on terror is to fight a different kind of war and win a different kind of war. We've got over 10,000 troops there. They're doing their job, brave souls, courageous Americans, and other nations are helping as well. NATO is involved with provincial reconstruction teams. The world is getting better there.

Karen Hughes reported back the other day the difference between what she saw the first time she went and the last time she went is just—just an excitement. There's an air of hope; there's an air of promise, which is essential for a nation to grow up and be peaceful.

In Iraq, everybody knows the decision-making process. If they don't, I'll remind them that after 9/11, another lesson is that you've got to deal with threats before they become real, which is part of the reality of the world we live in today. If we see a threat gathering overseas, we can't ignore it anymore. That doesn't mean every threat will be dealt with militarily. That's the last option. A Commander in Chief worth his salt is somebody who commits troops last, not first, and it was my last option.

That's why I went to the United Nations and said, "You've looked at the intelligence, the same intelligence we've looked at, and you've seen him to be a threat. I can understand why you think he's a threat. Not only does the intelligence say he's a threat, he used weapons of mass destruction. He's a man who was willing to murder his own people, the guy who paid suiciders to go to Israel to kill. He's a person who declared his hatred for America. He's a threat. Now, let's collectively deal with him." The United Nations said, "You bet. We will."

The Security Council voted unanimously, and the message was loud and clear. It said, "If you do not disarm, you will face serious consequences." When the American President speaks—and I echoed that sentiment—we must mean it, and I meant it. And he didn't disarm. Quite the contrary. Like he had for the past decade, he thumbed his nose at the free world. He was given all the chances in the world to disarm. He was given the chances not to deceive. He was given the chances to leave peacefully. And when he didn't, we acted with a coalition of the willing. And the world is better off because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.

Part of the war on terror is making sure that a free Iraq emerges. I want to be in office so I can work toward that moment. It's an historic opportunity. We should think about what the world will be like with a free and peaceful and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East. It's hard to envision right now because it hasn't been that way.

There are a lot of people in the world who believe that certain societies can't self-govern. That's not what Americans believe. I told you, we believe freedom is in the soul of every human being. People long for freedom. It's not easy, though, to go from being tortured and maimed and a society where there is mass graves to a free society. It's hard work. It's really hard work. But Americans are used to hard work when it comes to a cause greater than ourself. And that's what we're doing, and we'll stay the course.

As I said in this press conference the other night, it was a tough several weeks. I know it was. And a lot of families have suffered as a result of the sacrifice of their loved ones. But the sacrifice will make America more secure and the world peaceful and free. This is historic times.

The story I shared the other day is one I'll share with you again. It's the one about visiting with Prime Minister Koizumi. And we were eating Kobe beef in Tokyo, and we were talking about North Korea. It turns out most of the world's problems ends up on the desk in the Oval Office, and there's one right there. And we were talking about how we could work together to convince the dictator in North Korea to disarm, to meet the demands of the free world that the Peninsula, Korean Peninsula be nuclear-weapons free. And it dawned on me in the course of our conversation that had we not gotten it right after World War II, I wouldn't have been having the conversation, or it's likely I wouldn't have been having the conversation, with Prime Minister Koizumi.

And it was a refreshing moment when I thought about that. I thank the people who have preceded for having the vision necessary to set the conditions so that the American President and the Japanese Prime Minister could collaborate for world peace.

And that's what we're doing now. During that dinner, I also thought about making sure we fulfill the mission we're on in Iraq so that an American President could ultimately sit down with a duly elected Iraqi leader and talk about how to make the Middle East more secure or how to deal with current security problems that might be affecting the security of the American people. These are historic times.

The killers in Iraq want us to leave, and they do for a reason. They hate freedom. Freedom really troubles them. Free societies change the habits of men and women. Free societies lift the sights and hopes of people, and that scares the terrorists and scares the thug. And that's why you're seeing them react the way they are. We're not leaving. We're not leaving. When America says something, we've got to mean it. We said to the Iraqi people, "We stand with you. We stand with you as you achieve your aspirations as free people. Nothing will shake our will." The American President must mean what he says in order to make the world a more peaceful and free place.

Because we acted in Iraq, there won't be mass graves. Because we acted in Iraq, Libya changed her behavior and is now voluntarily getting rid of weapons of mass destruction. Because we acted in Iraq, freedom is arising in the heart of the Middle East. Because we acted in Iraq, America is more secure and will be more secure in the years to come.

We have great responsibilities as the country, and I look forward to explaining to the American people what I mean by that. We have a responsibility to lead the world toward peace. We have a responsibility to lead a coalition to fight terror. We have a responsibility to help those who hurt, and that's why I went before the Congress and asked them to join me in supporting a compassionate initiative to help fight HIV/AIDS in places like Africa or the Caribbean. With our power comes responsibilities to make the world a better place. And I look forward to making my case to the American people that I understand that responsibility and look forward to assuming that responsibility on behalf of our people.

Finally, one of the things that convinced me to go into politics in the first place is that Government has a chance to help change a culture. And the culture that I aspire for America is one that I call the responsibility era, where people know clearly that there are certain responsibilities that come with citizenship. If you're a mother or a father, you are responsible for loving your child with all your heart and all your soul. I like to remind people that in a responsibility era, that if you're a CEO in corporate America, you're responsible for telling the truth. There should be no doubt in your mind—the responsibility that it's not acceptable to change the books in a way that is illegal. In a responsibility era, education, for example, is that people have got to take responsibility for their schools. Government has got to be responsible for giving people more options in schools, by the way. But there's a responsibility that comes with making sure the education systems run well. There's a responsibility to love a neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself.

And one of the responsibilities as President is understanding the strength of the country lies in the hearts and souls of the citizens. It's really not in the halls of our Government. See, that's not where the strength of the country is. It's in the souls of the people. And if you understand that, then you're able to utilize the great power of the Presidency to rally that strength, to call people to a higher calling.

As I look around the room here, I see people who have done fantastic work about making the communities in which they live a better place, people who have heard the call to love a neighbor by supporting good education programs or good health programs, mentoring programs. Each of us has a responsibility, in my judgment, to help feed the hungry and house the homeless, love the lonely—part of being an American. And the President must understand that, that there's a responsibility to capture the American spirit and call people to a higher calling. And I look forward to doing that for 4 more years.

I want to thank you for your help. This is an important election. A lot turns on the election. And I've got a reason for wanting to serve 4 more years, and I appreciate you supporting me in that endeavor.

God bless.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:40 p.m. at the River Club. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. George E. Pataki of New York; Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City; Mercer Reynolds, national finance chairman, Bush-Cheney '04, Inc.; Al Hoffman, finance chairman, Republican National Committee; Lew Eisenberg, New Jersey cochair, Bush-Cheney 2004; James Chao, father of Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao; Karen Hughes, former Counselor to the President; former President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan; and Chairman Kim Chong-il of North Korea.

* White House correction.

George W. Bush, Remarks at a Victory 2004 Luncheon in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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