microphone at podium

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

February 04, 1997

Rebuttal Delivered by Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma (4th District)

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

Good evening.

My name is J.C. Watts, Jr. I'm the Republican congressman from the fourth district of Oklahoma, and I've been asked to speak to the American people in response to the president's address this evening.

Before I get into my presentation, I want to send condolences to the Tejeda family on behalf of the 105th Congress. Frank was a friend. He was a wonderful spirit. And he will be surely missed.

I don't intend to take a lot of your time. It's late, and there's been a lot of talk already this evening.

But I want to tell you a little bit about where I'm from. I grew up in Oklahoma. My district includes the towns of Midwest City, Norman, Lawton, Walters, Waurika, and Duncan, just to name a few. We raise cattle back home. We grow some cotton and wheat, peanuts and we drill for oil.

We've got Tinker and Altus Air Force bases nearby and we have the Army post at Fort Sill. The University of Oklahoma is there. That's where I went to school. I played a little football and graduated with a degree in journalism.

I tell you all this because I want you to know that the district I'm blessed to represent is as diverse as America itself. It's the kind of place reporters usually call the heartland and they're right—in so many ways, it is America's heart.

I'm going to try to use my words tonight and my time not to confuse issues but to clarify them, not to obscure my philosophy and my party's but to illuminate it—because the way I see it, the purpose of politics is to lead, not to mislead.

Those of us who've been sent to Washington have a moral responsibility to offer more than poll-tested phrases and winning smiles. We must offer a serious vision. We must share our intentions. We must make our plans clear.

That's my job tonight—to tell you what we believe, what the Republican Party believes, and what we will work for.

We believe, first of all, that the state of this union really isn't determined in Washington, D.C. It never has been and it never will be. But for a long time, the federal government has been grabbing too much power and too much authority over all of the people. And it is those people—it is all of us—who decide the real state of the union.

Doc Benson in Oklahoma City decides the state of the union. He runs a non-profit called The Education and Employment Ministry, where he believes that you restore men and women by restoring their dreams and finding them a job.

Freddy Garcia is the state of the union, also. Freddy was a drug addict in San Antonio, Texas. Now he has a ministry helping people get off drugs. His Victory Fellowship has success rates that the social scientists can only dream of.

I saw the state of the union last week in Marlow, Oklahoma. A bunch of us met at the elementary school, where we ate beef brisket and baked beans and the chamber of commerce recognized the Farm Family of the Year. The McCarleys won and their kids were oh so proud.

The strength of America is not in Washington. The strength of America is at home, in lives well lived in a land of faith and family. The strength of America is not on Wall Street, but on Main Street, not in big business, but in small business with local owners and workers. It's not in Congress. It's in the city hall.

And I pray Republicans and Democrats both understand this.

We shouldn't just say it, we should live it. And so we have made it our mission to limit the claims and demands of Washington, to limit it's call for more power, more authority and more taxes. Our mission is to return power to your home, to where mothers and fathers can exercise it according to their beliefs.

So let me tell you three actions the Republicans will take in the coming year. First, we can help our country by bringing back the knowledge, the ancient wisdom that we are nothing without our spiritual, traditional and family values. The Republicans will take action to give those values a bigger place in solving America's problems. After all, our values are more important to our future than any so-called bureaucratic breakthrough. Think about your life and how you built it.

I didn't get my values from Washington. I got my values from my parents—from Buddy and Helen Watts in Eufaula, Oklahoma. I got my values growing up in a black neighborhood on the east side of the railroad tracks where money was scarce, but dreams were plentiful and love was all around. I got my values from a strong family, a strong church and a strong neighborhood.

I wasn't raised to be a Republican or Democrat. My parents just taught by example. They taught me and my brothers and sisters that if you lived under their roof, you were going to work. They taught us if you made a mistake, as we all do, you've got to own up to it, you call it what it is, and you try to turn it around. They taught us if you spend more money than you make, you're on a sure road to disaster.

I was taught to respect everyone for the simple reason that we're all God's children. I was taught, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and from my uncle Wade Watts, to judge a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. And I was taught that character does count, and that character is simply doing what's right when nobody's looking.

My parents also taught me I could do anything if I applied myself and understood sacrifice and commitment.

Now if you agree with those things my parents taught me, and that I'm trying to teach my children, then friends, we have common ground. It is the Republican Party that has been trying to return these values to government, and it hasn't been easy because for a long time, the government has acted as if it didn't have any common sense.

Here's an example. For the past 30 years, our nation spent $5 trillion trying to erase poverty. And the result—as you know—is that we didn't get rid of it at all. In fact, we spread it. We destroyed the self-esteem of millions of people, grinding them down in a welfare system that penalizes moms for wanting to marry the father of their children and penalizes moms for wanting to save money. Friends, that's not right.

Last year, the Republican Congress moved to reform the welfare system, and for the first time in my lifetime, we are helping people climb the ladder of economic opportunity.

Let me tell you the next step. A number of my colleagues and I, my Republican colleagues and I are working on a package called the American Community Renewal Act.

It seeks to return government to the side of the institutions that hold communities together—faith, family, hard work, strong neighborhoods.

This will help rebuild low-income communities through their own moral renewal and giving them economic opportunity. It also recognizes that faith-based institutions contribute to the healing of our nation's problems.

So our first priority is to bring values back and give them pride of place in our moral and economic renewal. And in the next few weeks, we will be visiting a number of communities to highlight the accomplishments of active faith-based organizations.

The second thing Republicans will do is face a problem that demands immediate attention. We must get our government's financial affairs in order.

The biggest step in that direction is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that demands that the federal government balance its books. We are more than $5 trillion in debt. This year, we will spend $330 billion on interest payments alone on the national debt.

And you know what? Not one dime of that $330 billion will go to strengthen Medicare, Medicaid. Not one dime of it will go to find a cure for cancer or fight drugs and crime. And worse yet—not one dime will go toward learning, making the classrooms the centerpiece of our education.

Over $5 trillion worth of national debt is more than financially irresponsible. Friends, it's immoral, because someone is going to have to pay the piper. And you know who it's going to be? It's going to be our kids and our grandkids.

The American family is already overtaxed. Right now, the average family spends about half of every dollar they earn in some type of government tax or government fee.

Consider a five-year-old child today. If things continue as they are, by the time they're 25, they'll pay about 84 cents of every dollar they make on some government tax or government fee. Friends, that's more than a shame. It's a scandal.

The Balanced Budget Amendment will force the government to change its ways—permanently. No longer will a president or a Congress be able to spend money we don't have on benefits our children will never see.

In a few weeks, we will vote on that amendment. Republicans can't pass it on our own because it takes a two-thirds majority. So we need Democrat votes, and we need your help. We need you to write or call your representative and senators and tell them to pass the Balanced Budget Amendment now.

And here's the good news. A balanced budget amendment will lower your house payment, lower your car payment, lower your student loan payments. The savings could be as much as $1,500 a year. Well, to some up here in Washington, $1,500 may not be much.

However, it's a new washer and dryer. It's a home computer or money toward a much-needed second car for a hard-working family.

And by the way, don't believe all those dire warnings about the amendment wrecking Social Security. That's just not true.

I encourage all of us in Congress—Republicans and Democrats—to appeal to people's intelligence and not to their fears.

President Clinton was right on target tonight. He said the people want bipartisanship. I believe they do. But they want the kind of bipartisanship that results in progress. They don't want phony compromise. They don't want the kind of weak, back-scratching, go-along-to-get-along bipartisanship that allows lawmakers to feel good, but gets bad results.

There are some striking examples of cooperation this past year.

When Republicans led the effort to reform welfare, President Clinton opposed it at first. But eventually, after we passed it, he bowed to the will of the people and signed it. We applaud the president's embrace of reform and Mr. President, from the bottom of my heart, we are pleased to continue this bipartisan effort.

And there was the promise of bipartisanship tonight when the president signaled his interest in tax relief. Working Americans need real tax relief, not just targeted tax cuts to help one group at the expense of another. We all pay too much in taxes.

I hope the president shares this belief with us and works with us to bring desperately needed tax relief to America's working families. And we must work together—Democrats and Republicans—to win the twin wars against drugs and ignorance.

The war on drugs can and will be won, in large measure, by making sure that every child in America can walk to school safely, sit in a classroom where the teacher can really help them learn.

Third and finally, I want to say a few words about the Republican vision of how we can continue to make this "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

You know, I'm just old enough to remember the Jim Crow brand of discrimination. I've seen issues of race hurt human beings and hurt our entire nation. Too often when we talk about racial healing, we make the old assumption that government can heal the racial divide.

In my lifetime, there have been some great and good laws that took some evil and ignorant laws off the books. So legislation has its place. But we're at a point now where we have to ask ourselves some questions. And are asking.

If legislation is the answer to the racial divide in our nation, then why in Gods' name in our time has the division grown? Why is the healing we long for so far from reality? Why does it seem that the more laws we pass, the less love we have?

The fact is, our problems can't be solved by legislation alone. Surely we have learned from our long difficult journey a great truth—Government can't ease all pain. We must deal with the heart of man.

Republicans and Democrats—red, yellow, black and white—have to understand that we must individually—al of us accept our share of responsibility.

We must decide, as we stand on the edge of a new age, if we will be a captive of the past.

America must be a place where all of us—red, yellow, brown, black and white—in some way feel a part of the American Dream. It does not happen by dividing us into racial groups. It did not happen by trying to turn rich against poor or by using the politics of fear. It does not happen by reducing our values to the lowest common denominator. And friends, it does not happen by asking Americans to accept what's immoral and wrong in the name of tolerance.

We must make our mark on the future as a people who care—care for our families, for one another, for our neighbors, for all the beautiful children.

We must make our mark as a people who share and help each other in need.

We must be a people who dare—dare to take responsibility for our hatreds and fears and ask God to heal us from within.

And we must be a people of prayer, a people who pray as if the strength of our nation depended on it—because it does. When you come right down to it, that's our vision and our agenda.

All over the country, I've often told the story of a boy and his father. The father was trying to get some work done and the boy wanted the daddy's attention, but the father was busy at his desk with so much to do.

To occupy the boy, this father gave his son a pencil and paper and said, "Here, son. Go draw the family." Two minutes later, he was back with a picture—all stick figures.

So, the dad, trying to buy some more time, said, "Here. Go draw the dog." Two minutes later, he comes back with another stick figure. Now the father was exasperated. He looked around, he saw a magazine, and he remembered that he had seen a picture of the world in this magazine.

In what he thought was a stroke of genius, the father tore out the picture and tore it into 20 different pieces. And he said, "Here, son, go put the world back together."

And you know what happened? Five minutes later, the little Michelangelo was back saying, "Daddy, look what I've done!" The father looked and he said, "Son, how did you do it so quickly? How did you put the world back together so quickly?"

And the little boy answered, "Dad, it was easy. There was a picture of a man on the back of the world—on the back of the map—on the back of the world. And once I put the man back together, the world fell into place."

And friends, this is our agenda—to put our men and women back together, to put ourselves back together and in that way get our country back together.

I am reminded of the final words of President John Kennedy's inaugural address: He said this: "Let us go forth to lead the land we love, knowing that here on earth, God's work truly must be our own."

I say Amen to that. Thank you for your graciousness in listening to me so late in the evening.

God bless you, and God bless our children. And thank you very much.

Rebuttal Speech, Republican Party Response to President Clinton'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/308902

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