Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting in Meadville, Pennsylvania
11:36 A.M. EDT
MRS. CHENEY: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Please -- thank you so much. We love being here, and would you all sit down? We would love it if you would do that.
I just want to introduce Elizabeth and Grace. And Elizabeth is a first grader, and she really is a good reader. So Mrs. Bush is very proud of her. And this is Grace. She has on a new pair of shoes that have made her fall down many times, but they're quite beautiful and pink. (Applause.) So they're very glad to be here with you.
Now, Elizabeth and Grace, would you go back and see your mom? That would be really good. Thank you. (Applause.)
Well, it's just a beautiful day to be here at Allegheny College, and we're so pleased that you would all come out. And the trees could not be more beautiful. The sky is blue. What a glorious day. And we have felt so privileged as we've traveled all across this country and seen the many beautiful places in America -- we've felt so proud to be Americans, as I know all of you do, too. (Applause.)
When I make a list of all the reasons I am proud to be an American, I'll tell you right at the top, I put our President, George W. Bush. (Applause.)
He has done a magnificent job these last four years, and if you'll permit me to say so, the Vice President is no slouch either. (Applause.) I get to introduce Dick because I've known him for so long. (Laughter.) I have known him since he was 14 years old. This is true. And his job that summer I first knew him was sweeping out the Ben Franklin store in Casper, Wyoming. (Laughter.) And I've known him through a number of jobs since. I've known him since he was digging ditches at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Grounds, which is just outside our hometown in Casper. And I've known him since he was loading bentonite -- hundred-pound sacks of bentonite onto railroad cars. And I've known him since he was building power line across the West to help pay for his education. And I like to tell about all those jobs because I think when you grow up working hard, you learn some really important lessons. And one of them is that the hard working people of this country ought to get to keep as much of their paychecks as possible. (Applause.)
They like that. I like that. Well, thank you so much. I've felt so privileged these last four years to really have had a front row seat on history. And I've felt so proud to watch our great nation rise up after the awful attacks of September 11th, and our great nation rose up and we comforted those whose lives had been changed forever by that day. And under the leadership of our President, we went after the terrorists who had attacked us, and we went after states that sponsored terror. To keep our country safe, our President has led an effort to defend us over there, so we don't have to defend ourselves here in the streets of our own cities. (Applause.)
When I think about this election, I'm sure I'm like you, there are a lot of issues that are important to me, but there's one that is really in the forefront of my mind at all times, and that's because I am a mother, and I'm a grandma. And I think about the safety and security of my children and grandchildren. And one thing you know we can count on is that the terrorists are going to try to come after us again. And when I say to myself, who do I want standing in the door, it is not John Kerry, and it is not John Edwards. (Applause.)
The people I want in charge of our security and the safety of my children and grandchildren are George Bush and Dick Cheney. (Applause.) And so let me introduce to you my husband, Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.)
Well, thank you very much. She wouldn't go out with me until I was 17. (Laughter.) It's a true story. But I tell people often that we got married because Dwight Eisenhower got elected President of the United States. In 1952, I was a youngster living in Lincoln, Nebraska with my folks. Dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service. Eisenhower got elected. They reorganized the government. Dad got transferred to Casper, Wyoming, and that's where I met Lynne, and we grew up together, went to high school together, and recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) I explained to a group the other night that if it hadn't been for Eisenhower's great election victory in 1952, Lynne would have married somebody else. (Laughter.) And she said, right, and now he'd be Vice President of the United States. (Laughter and applause.) They always laugh at that, but they know it's true. (Laughter.) It's true.
We're delighted to be here today in western Pennsylvania. It is a beautiful part of the country. I've got a few streams in Pennsylvania I visited on more than one occasion with my fly rod. And it's great country, and we've got some great friends here. And you've got some great members of Congress that represent you and serve you so ably in Washington -- John Peterson, this morning; and Phil English; Rick Santorum; Arlen Specter. It's a very talented group. (Applause.)
What we ordinarily do with these town hall meetings is it's an opportunity for me to share some thoughts with you on an important issue or two, and then we stop and open it up to questions and comments. And you'll have an opportunity to offer up your thoughts and ideas, or to pursue other issues. I don't mean to restrict the subject matter at all this morning, but what I would like to talk about at the outset is what I think goes to the heart of this election and why it's so important. Now, there's going to be a debate tonight in Arizona. The President is ready. He's loaded for bear. I'm sure he'll do a great job, just like he did last Friday night -- (applause) -- on domestic issues. But what I wanted to do today was to focus on the national security question, on the question of how we guarantee the safety and security of our nation in the years ahead. And I say, I don't mean to restrict the conversation just to that subject, but I think it goes to the heart of the decision that we're going to make as a nation on the 2nd of November. And it's a very, very important piece of business for us.
The reason I want to talk about is I think you can look back through American history and find periods when we've come to sort of watershed events, when we've arrived at a point where we had to fundamentally change the way we thought about security because we faced a new threat, because we had to reorganize our military, or take steps to put in place a set of policies that then were crucial to securing the country for many years ahead.
I think of the period immediately after World War II as one of those eras, when we came back after we'd won the war in the Pacific and in Europe, then all of a sudden, we found ourselves faced with the Cold War, with the Soviet Union that had developed nuclear weapons, occupied half of Europe, and was a major threat to the United States. And we developed the policy of deterrence, a strategy of holding at risk the Soviet Union so they'd never be tempted to launch against the United States. We created the Department of Defense in 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency; created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- a series of steps -- got a funny buzz in the sound system -- but took a series of steps that were essential and that were then supported by Republican and Democrat administrations alike going forward for the next 40 years, until we prevailed in the Cold War, and the Soviet Union imploded, the Berlin Wall came down.
I sense we're at another one of those turning points in our history that dates specifically to 9/11. And the events of that date when all of a sudden we were struck by the al Qaeda terrorists in not only New York and Washington, but of course Shanksville, in Pennsylvania -- where we lost nearly 3,000 people, more people than we lost at Pearl Harbor. And we also were made aware in relatively short order that that terrorist network was out there, and that they were doing everything they could to try to acquire deadlier weapons to use against us. We know from materials we found in Afghanistan and from interrogating some of the people we've captured that they would love to get their hands on a chemical or biological weapon, or even a nuclear weapon. And the biggest threat we face today as a nation is the possibility of a group of terrorists in the midst of one of our own cities with that kind of deadly capability that would put at risk in relatively short order the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
And we have to keep that risk and that threat in mind when we think about what kind of strategy do we want to put in place, and how do we conduct ourselves in the years ahead to minimize the possibility that that will ever happen -- what strategy do we need to pursue in the war on terror. And I think the decision we're going to make on November 2nd goes right smack at that issue, and that there is a fairly clear choice in terms of the way we will pursue that objective and the way President Bush will continue to pursue that objective, and I think the way John Kerry and John Edwards would go about it. And that's what I want to focus on this morning.
If you think back to what happened on 9/11, we did a number of things in the immediate aftermath of that -- some of the stuff had been working before. But we focused especially on strengthening our defenses here at home. We created the Department of Homeland Security -- got a great Pennsylvanian in Tom Ridge, used to be the congressman from here, running it. (Applause.)
It's the most sweeping reorganization of the federal government since we created the Department of Defense in 1947. We passed the Patriot Act to give law enforcement the same tools that we use against drug traffickers and organized crime so that they can use those tools against terrorist organizations. We recently passed Project BioShield, which gives the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health money and authority to work to develop countermeasures against the possible attack with biological weapons -- a series of steps to make our defenses much tougher here at home than they've ever been before.
But the President also made another crucial decision, and that was that there's no such thing as a perfect defense. You can get it right 99 percent of the time, and given the nature of the threat, if they get through one time out of a hundred, or one time out of a thousand, the consequences are enormous. So the President made the decision that not only do we have to have a good defense, we also have to go on offense. And that's absolutely crucial to the strategy. (Applause.)
And that means using our intelligence capabilities, but also our military force capabilities to aggressively go after the terrorists wherever we find them, wherever they're organizing and training and planning to launch attacks against the United States. But we also -- and this is a departure from the past, we also have to go after those who sponsor terror because there are states out there that have for years provided sanctuary and safe harbor for terrorists, in some cases provided funding for them, or provided them with weapons, have basically been state sponsors of terror. And that decision to go after the terrorists, as well as those who sponsor terrorists has been vital in terms of the strategy that we've pursued. And you've seen it, of course, in Afghanistan where we went in and took down the Taliban. We closed the training camps where an estimated 20,000 terrorists were trained in the late '90s, including some of those who struck us on 9/11. We captured and killed hundreds of al Qaeda. We put Osama bin Laden on the run. We'll get him eventually. We've been in the hunt ever since. And the final step in the process, once you've taken down the old regime, the Taliban regime that sponsored and provided a sanctuary for the al Qaeda, you have to put something in its place. You can't just walk away from a situation like that because you'll have a failed state, and they'll revert back to what they used to be -- a breeding ground for terror, or a nation that is involved as a dictatorship, and is involved, for example, in trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. So you have to worry about what we put in place before we depart. Of course, the key there is to establish a democratically elected government in Afghanistan and also in Iraq.
Now, the amazing thing is after a lot of hand-wringing -- it has now been about three years since we launched into Afghanistan, six months after we took Afghanistan, John Edwards was out saying, oh, it's not going to work. Everything is turning to chaos, the Taliban are going to take control again. Wrong. He was dead wrong. He's dead wrong now when he wrings his hands and says, this is an impossible task. Hard task, absolutely -- very hard thing to go. They've never had free elections in Afghanistan in the 5,000-year history of the country. Last Saturday they had one, first one ever. (Applause.)
Out of 10 million registered voters in Afghanistan, nearly half of them are women. This is a society that until we went in and liberated 25 million people in Afghanistan, a society where women had absolutely no role whatsoever, were severely punished for minor transgressions. Today they can vote and participate in the political process in Afghanistan. (Applause.)
Now, Iraq -- a somewhat different proposition in Iraq. Of course, we had Saddam Hussein in power, a man who had started two wars, who for 12 years had defied the international community and violated U.N. sanctions and refused to live up to the conditions he accepted at the end of the Gulf War; a man who had previously produced and used weapons of mass destruction, specifically chemical weapons against his own people and against the Iranians; and a man who had a long history of supporting terror. He has been carried by our State Department as a state sponsor of terror for at least 15 years. He has in the past been actively involved in making $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers who would kill Israelis, for example. He has provided a sanctuary for Abu Nidal, for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. And he had a relationship with al Qaeda. You hear debates on the other side, was there or was there not a relationship, George Tenet, director of the CIA, testified two years ago in open session before the Senate foreign relations committee and laid out the record of the 10-year relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq. Those are the facts. And the fact is that we went in and took down Saddam Hussein's regime. We did it because -- again, remembering what the biggest threat we're faced with is, the idea of terrorists in our cities with a weapons of mass destruction, a biological agent, chemical weapon, or a nuclear weapon. Iraq represented the place where the nexus between WMD and the terrorists, we felt was most likely to occur and transpire. Today, Saddam Hussein is in jail, and the world is a whale of a lot better off for it. (Applause.)
Now, when you have a President who speaks clearly who says what he means and means what he says, and then follows it up with action as we did in Afghanistan and Iraq, other positive things happen. And five days after we found Saddam Hussein and dug him out of his hole in Northern Iraq last December, Moammar Ghadafi, the leader of Libya, went public and announced he was giving up all of his aspirations to acquire weapons of mass destruction. (Applause.)
He'd spent millions over the years acquiring uranium, acquiring centrifuges to enrich uranium, and acquiring a weapons design, a design for a nuclear weapon, and building the capacity in Libya to produce nuclear weapons, and then he saw George Bush's determination and the capability of the United States military, and he looked at all of that, and he decided that it was time to change course. And so he called -- he did not call the United Nations -- he contacted George Bush and Tony Blair when it was time to surrender material. (Applause.)
And the other positive thing that happened was the network that had provided him with that material headed by a man named A.Q. Khan, a Pakistan citizen. He'd helped develop Pakistan's program. But then he went off on his own and was selling this technology -- not only to Libya, but also to Iran and North Korea. That network has now been shut down. Mr. Khan is under house arrest in Pakistan; his network is out of business. (Applause.)
So we're actively and aggressively addressing both the question of the terror, of sponsors of terror, as well as, obviously the problem of the proliferation of these deadly technologies. That's what George Bush has done and has accomplished in three years. Now, we're going to make a decision on November 2nd about the way forward, and whether or not we're going to continue to pursue and active aggress program and strategy, such as the President has designed and put in place, or whether we're going to shift and change course. And the reason that I think that is the choice is because I look at John Kerry, and I look at his record, with respect to how he's come down on national security over -- about the last 30 years, and how he's talked about the war on terror. And frankly, I don't see anything in his record that leads me to believe that he would be an aggressive implementer, if you will, of the kind of strategy I think we need in order to make certain we win the war on terror, that we destroy the terrorists, that we take down those regimes that make the mistake of sponsoring or supporting terror, and that we adequately safeguard the security of the United States. I don't see it in John Kerry's record.
Now, let me be precise if I can. I want to emphasize here, I by no means challenge his patriotism. I praised his military service in Vietnam in my speech at the Republican Convention in New York City and got applause for it from the Republicans gathered there. We've never, never challenged his patriotism. I do challenge his judgment. I think it's flawed. And I think going back to -- (Applause.) You can go back to the early '70s when he ran for Congress the first time on a platform that we shouldn't deploy U.S. forces without United Nations approval. I think that was a mistake. 1984, when he ran for the Senate the first time on a platform of cutting or eliminating most of the major weapons systems that Ronald Reagan ordered up in order to equip the United States military that led and contributed to our victory in the Cold War. He was wrong on those issues, consistently. Or 1991, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and was poised to dominate the Persian Gulf, of course, we mounted an effort -- this was when I was Secretary of Defense -- we mounted Operation Desert Storm, went in and kicked him out of Kuwait, put together an international coalition, and so forth, John Kerry voted against Operation Desert Storm. He wouldn't even support military action then when it was a very clear-cut case. The nation was behind it, et cetera. If we come on forward to 1993, the first attack on the World Trade Center, John Kerry was a member of the Senate intelligence committee. And as best I can tell, didn't attend a single member -- a single meeting of the Senate intelligence committee in the year after that attack. He did manage to offer up an amendment to cut several billion dollars out of our intelligence budget, a move that was so radical even Ted Kennedy wouldn't support it. (Laughter.) That's the record. (Applause.)
Now, during the course of this campaign, he's tried very hard not to talk about that record. You didn't see him in Boston at the Democratic Convention talking about his service in the United States Senate. He harked back to his service in Vietnam, which again, we honor him for, as we do all our veterans. But the fact of the matter is, he's tried very hard during the course of the campaign to talk tough, during the course of the debates, for example, that he'll actively and aggressively pursue the war on terror. But it's awfully hard to take a little tough talk during the course of a 90-minute debate and allow that to obscure a record of 30 years of coming down on virtually the wrong side of every major national security issue.
Most recently, just last Sunday, he -- there was an article about the Senator in The New York Times magazine. I'm sure nobody here reads The New York Times. (Laughter.) But sometimes it's worth looking at. But in this article, he talked about -- he was interviewed at length by the journalist who wrote the article, and he talked about sort of what his expectations were, or his aspirations with respect to pursuing the war on terror. And what he said was he wanted to get terror back to the point where it was viewed as a nuisance and, in effect, manageable, controlled under manageable proportions and drew an analogy to local law enforcement dealing with problems of illegal gambling and prostitution. That's what he said. It's in the Sunday New York Times, that concept that we could get terrorism back to a point where it was just a nuisance, not a major problem for us.
Then I asked myself the question, I said, well, when was that? When was terrorism just a nuisance? Obviously, I assume that that means at some period prior to 9/11 there was a period of time there where we didn't have to be quite so concerned about terrorism. And I asked myself, well, what was that four years ago yesterday, when they attacked the USS Cole off Yemen and killed 17 of our sailors and nearly sunk the ship? Or was it back in 1998, a little over six years ago when they attacked simultaneously two of our embassies in East Africa, killed hundreds of people, including a number of Americans? Or maybe it was 1993, the first attack on the World Trade Center, when they tried to bring down the tower then -- it didn't work; they came back eight years later to do the job -- when they took a truck load of explosives and drove it underneath one of the World Trade Center buildings and touched it off. Or maybe it was 1988, December, when they took Pan Am 103 and knocked it out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland. Or possibly 1983, when in Beirut in the spring, they first attacked our embassy and killed a number of our people, and then that fall, a suicide bomber, a truckload of explosives pulled into a building housing our Marines and we lost 241 Marines that morning. It doesn't strike me that you can ever think of terror and what it represents as a nuisance. And if you've got a mind set that thinks that way, that believes that there's a point at which you can take this problem that we're now faced with in a global war on terror, and pigeonhole it like that, and treat it like that, and categorize it like that, that says to me that the individual who entertains those thoughts isn't as serious as I want my Commander-in-Chief to be in pursuing the war on terror. (Applause.)
Now, this is a global conflict. Nobody should underestimate that at all. They've come not only, obviously, after the United States. But we've seen attacks since 9/11 in Madrid, Casablanca, Mombassa in East Africa, Istanbul, Baghdad, Riyadh, Jakarta, Bali, most recently in Beslan in Southern Russia, and of course then, just within the last week or so, the attack in Egypt, down near the Israeli border, which is still being looked at in terms of who is responsible, although there's -- I think -- substantial evidence that suggests that that, too, was an al Qaeda operation.
The decision you're going to make on November 2nd is to pick that individual who is going to be our Commander-in-Chief, and who, in fact, is going to be charged with the responsibilities of defending the nation and pursuing our adversaries and doing whatever is necessary to make certain that they never get off the kind of attack that would be devastating for our communities here in the United States were they able to do that. It's about as serious a decision as anybody is ever asked to make. And we're all going to make it as Americans two weeks from next Tuesday. And so I'd ask you just to think about when you contemplate the choice that we're going to make because I do think it is about the most important election I've ever participated in, and I say that not just because my name is on the ballot, but I can't remember a time during all the years I've been in public service when we had what I think is such a clear-cut choice.
Finally, let me close today and then open it up to questions. (Applause.) Open it up to questions, and simply say that in addition, obviously, to the President who I think has done a superb job as our Commander-in-Chief these last three-and-a-half years, it is absolutely essential, as well, that we thank the men and women in uniform and their families who have sacrificed so much on behalf of all of us. (Applause.)
So with that, I'll stop. And we're supposed to have some proctors in the audience, people with microphones in these attractive orange jerseys -- (laughter) -- with the numbers on them. If you've got something you'd like to say, just grab the attention of one of the proctors. They'll bring a mike over to you. And we'll start back here with number three.
Q: Hello, Mr. Vice President. Welcome to Pennsylvania. You were my boss when I fought in Desert Storm with the 24th Infantry Division, and one of the lasting feelings that I had throughout that experience was that our soldiers felt that we were probably the most well-taken-care-of soldiers perhaps in the history of our country, in that the decisions that were made were made with the greatest thought towards the well being of the soldier. As a prior military person, I can't even imagine not casting my vote for anyone other than yourself and President Bush. (Applause.)
And my question is -- well, I'm a little surprised that more of an issue hasn't been made with what the actual military people think of who would be the best Commander-in-Chief, rather than other people who weren't in there, who didn't experience and see what happened. Do you have any comments on that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we're -- obviously, we steer clear of seeking any kind of an endorsement from active duty military. That wouldn't be appropriate -- improper to ask them that, and I have a hunch how I think most of them feel. But we'd never ask, if I could put it in those terms.
I look for -- well, I look to men like Tommy Franks, for example, who was our commander in both Afghanistan and Iraq, who oversaw that operation, career military officer, now retired, out of the military, spoke at our convention in New York City, and I think has subsequent to that been a very effective spokesman on behalf of the ticket. And we're proud to have their support.
But also I want to emphasize where the military is concerned, the men and women in uniform, if anybody, have earned the right to participate in this process, and to make their views and choices known. And I wouldn't criticize any of them, whatever political faith they may espouse, or whoever they may want to vote for. That's certainly their prerogative. And we welcome their support to the extent they want to support our ticket, as well as we do for everybody else, too.
MRS. CHENEY: Dick, can I ask a question? I keep hearing John Kerry and John Edwards talk about Tora Bora and Osama bin Laden, and what is the story? They keep making it look as though somehow Iraq distracted us from capturing Osama bin Laden. They keep saying that. What's the story?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's not true. And if you look carefully, Tommy Franks has addressed it. He was the man in charge of both operations. And the fact of the matter is that we clearly have the capacity to deal with both Afghanistan and Iraq because we've done it. And the charge they make that somehow this is a distraction, I can remember John Edwards in the period -- I guess, this was fall of '02, came about the time that they voted for the authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein in response to this very question, can we do both, saying, absolutely we can do both. We need to do both. They were for it before they were against. (Laughter and applause.) And I just think that's a fallacious charge. It doesn't stand up. Somebody back here, number four?
Q: Mr. Vice President, my question is a little bit different. Do you foresee any funding that will be made available to the prison systems, whether it be at the federal level, or right down at the county level for different federal mandates that the prison systems have to meet?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not familiar with any specific proposal that's pending. I'm trying to think back. I talked with Governor Schwarzenegger about this in California, because they've had a problem there -- you may be referring to a similar problem here where you have illegal immigrants who come in and commit a crime and end up being imprisoned for their crime here in the United States. And the question is whether or not the federal government has an obligation, and I think some of us believe it does, to contribute to cost of prosecuting and the sentencing and holding that individual, because the federal government, after all, was supposedly responsible for controlling our borders in the first place, and keeping illegal aliens from immigrating into the United States. So there's been a battle here, a discussion or debate. And I know in the past, I believe there has been some funding provided. I'm unaware right now of any proposal right now to increase that level of funding. But we'll take a look at it.
We got somebody over here? Yes.
Q: Mr. Vice President, first I'd like to thank you for your many years of service to our country, and you and the President do, indeed, make us very proud to be Americans. (Applause.)
I was wondering if you could comment on the -- what I feel are the original "death to America" crowds, the Iranians. And what is going to happen there?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What's going to happen in Iran? Well, the situation in Iran is worrisome because of their apparent determination to try to develop their own nuclear weapons capability. They deny it. They claim they're simply developing nuclear power, and that they're not going to enrich uranium to weapons grade. It's a little hard to understand why they need nuclear power since they're sitting on top of so much oil and gas. But they are pursuing, and it is troublesome for us, in part, because we think Iran equipped with nuclear weapons significantly increases the threat level in that part of the world. We've worked on it diplomatically with the British, the French, and the Germans whose foreign ministers have been negotiated with the Iranians. We've recently had the matter before the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and making clear to the Iranians that there's no percentage in their trying to develop nuclear weapons, that if they want to have normal discourse with
the rest of the world, if they want to have normal kinds of relationships, then they need to change their course of action. And of course, there are sanctions currently imposed on Iran by the United States.
The next step will be probably in November when I would expect another meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors. And if the Iranians haven't lived up to some of the commitments and obligations they've made by then, then the next step would be to refer the whole matter to the U.N. Security Council where they would consider the application of international economic sanctions on Iran. And we would like to be able to resolve the matter diplomatically. That's the effort that is now underway, and I think nearly everybody in the region out there, as well as increasingly the Europeans understand that a nuclear-armed Iran isn't anything that anybody should welcome. And we need to do whatever we have to do, basically. As I say, we're working it diplomatically to try other resolve that matter.
Number two, somebody.
Q: Thank you. And I wanted to congratulate your beautiful grandchildren, and I appreciated that you shared them with us today. Thank you.
As a school board member of 12 years, I can say that No Child Left Behind has greatly empowered public education to make sure that our teachers are trained in effective teaching methods, that our curriculums are aligned to the standards, and that our test scores are raised. And I want to thank you for that piece of legislation.
We've been given the challenge to have all children proficient by 2014. My question is: how can you help us with those children who will never be proficient by 2014? How can we, on the local level, get the funding we need to educate those special needs students so that even though they're not reaching what the federal government has declared as proficient, they're reaching their own goals and achieving those? How can you help us with that?
MRS. CHENEY: I followed education -- Dick asked me if I'd like to talk here. I followed education since we were in Texas. And I watched Governor Bush in Texas really bring, for the first time, high standards and accountability to that system with good results. And I know he's very interested in special needs children and has increased funding for special needs children even above and beyond the funding that's gone into elementary and secondary education. So his heart is with those kids, and with the teachers and teachers' aides who are working with them.
One of the things I point to with great pride, one of the groups -- or some of the groups that were leaving behind, before the President came forward with standards and accountability -- Hispanic kids and African American kids. As an educator, you know about the achievement gap, which is something that we all know has to be closed. All kids can achieve mightily. We have to encourage them to. And what I've been especially heartened as is the early results coming from a study by the great city schools, for example, that shows that all kids are doing better with No Child Left Behind, and that African American kids and Latino children are beginning to catch up. And that is a wonderful thing for our whole society. I will forever proud of George Bush has done in our elementary schools, and I am looking forward to what he plans to do in the next four years, which is bring the same ideas, standards and accountabilities to our secondary schools, so our high schools will also be the best in the world. (Applause.)
Q: Hello, Mr. Vice President. I'd like to welcome you to Meadville. I've lived here my whole life, and I'm proud of it. My question for you today is more of a domestic issue. As our population ages and Americans continue to live longer and longer, we'll obviously see the cost of Medicare, Social Security, and now our prescription drug benefits increase dramatically. So my question is, how do you reconcile this with younger voters like myself who ultimately will bear a tax burden for this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we think obviously we've got an area -- when you look at Social Security and Medicare, I think for the current generation receiving those benefits, they can have a high degree of confidence that they're secure. The funds are there. And I think one of the landmark achievements of the President's first term has been the prescription drug benefit under Medicare that will kick in now in '06. We've already got the prescription -- Medicare prescription drug cards available, and some 40 million Americans will be eligible for prescription drugs benefits under Medicare in the future. And that's important because Medicare used to fund things like heart bypass surgery, but it didn't fund the statins, the drugs that might make it possible for you to avoid it altogether. And we've addressed that problem there, and it's an important one.
But you're right, as you look down the road, both with respect to Social Security and Medicare, and focus on the generation your age, or people in their 20s and 30s, we're going to run into trouble because, in fact, the level of benefits that have been promised exceeds the expected revenue that's currently there -- that will be expected to be there to meet it.
What the President wants to do, and what we talked about in the last campaign, and we'll talk about and work on again in a second term is we think it's important to provide an opportunity for that younger generation to be able to invest in what we call personal retirement accounts. That is to take a portion of the payroll tax at their discretion. That wouldn't be -- they wouldn't have to do it, but if they wanted to, they could, and invest it in approved plans. And you ought to be able to earn a much higher return that you'll get by simply putting into Social Security. This is a long-term proposition. As I say, it's the kind of thing that would apply to somebody in your age group, or my own kids. But we think it offers the opportunity both to give you something that you've got a personal stake in, and that would provide a higher rate of return and help close some of that revenue gap, if you will, that's going to be down the road there 30 or 40 years in the future. We do need to address it. But I think we can.
I've been through the exercise in the past. When I was a congressman back in the '80s, we hit a rough patch there. And at one point, there was a serious question about whether or not we could actually get the Social Security checks out, and we needed to reform the system. And we did. And so -- and it has worked, I think, very well ever since. I think a great many Americans, including my parents, used to depend upon -- rely upon Social Security. And it's absolutely vital for our population. It's a promise and a commitment that was made some time ago, and it will be kept. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President, to keep you on schedule. We have time for one more question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, thank you, John. Somebody back here.
Q: Mr. Vice President, and Mrs. Cheney, welcome to Pennsylvania. I am also from Warren, Pennsylvania. And I had the great honor to serve with the 101st Airborne Division during Desert Storm. And I want to thank you -- (Applause.) And I want to thank you for your leadership then, and I want to thank you and the President for the leadership that you are demonstrating in this global war on terror. My question is, we hear a lot on the day-to-day happening in the war. But can you explain to us the strategic level importance of a free Iraq and a free Afghanistan in the pursuit of the global war on terror, and how that might differ from your competitors, Kerry and Edwards?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Certainly. First of all, let me thank you and also member of the 24th Division over here. Both organizations did great work in Desert Storm and we appreciate very much your service. (Applause.)
The basic strategic objective, obviously, in addition to going after the terrorists, and going after those that sponsor terror and discouraging that kind of behavior clearly by taking care of those who have, in fact, participated in, or supported those kinds of activities, the essential element is to establish democratically elected governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And that's because we believe -- and it's an article of faith with the President and I think he's absolutely right -- that the best antidote to terror is freedom, that free societies don't breed terror, that the kind of dictatorship that we saw both in Afghanistan, under the Taliban, motivated primarily by a very extreme view of the Islamic faith; or the kind of dictatorship Saddam Hussein ran in Iraq, where he also provide a safe harbor for terrorists, and obviously produced and used WMD, that those kinds of developments won't occur if the Iraqi people and the Afghan people have the opportunity to elect their own governments, and to establish regimes that have control over their sovereign territory, that aren't a threat to their neighbors, and don't become the breeding grounds, if you will, for the kinds of folks who attacked us on 9/11. And that's why it's so important -- that last step, and why we're so bullish on what happened in Afghanistan this weekend.
In Iraq, we're pursuing the same general strategy, that is to say we've got a Prime Minister in place now, an interim government. Mr. Allawi was here recently to address a joint session of Congress. They've been in business, the interim government, a little over 90 days. They were -- turned over power to them at the end of June. Now, all the Iraqi ministers -- all of the ministries in the government are run by Iraqis. They've started the process of planning to put together an election. There should be elections in Iraq in January that will elect a constitutional assembly. They'll write a constitution, and then have elections at the end of next year for your first democratically elected government under that new constitution in Iraq. That's the plan and the rough timetable we're on.
It will be difficult from time to time. It's going to be three yards and a cloud of dust. There are no touchdown passes in this business, partly because our adversaries, the remnants of the old regime both in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the jihadists, the terrorists who've been operating alongside them, will do everything they can to disrupt that process. They know that if we're successful in establishing a democratically elected government in a place like Afghanistan, they're going to be out of business. And we intercepted a message earlier this year, for example. It came from Mr. Zarqawi -- Zarqawi is somebody you've heard about. He was running -- he's called an al Qaeda associate. He was running one of the training camps in Afghanistan before 9/11. After we went into Afghanistan, he fled to Baghdad. He operated out of Baghdad then pretty much ever since, oversaw a poisons factory that was operating in Northeastern Iraq producing ricin and such. And he's now the man probably responsible more than just about anybody else for most of the car bombings in Iraq, and he's the man that you will occasionally see on the evening news beheading hostages. He's the worst of the bad actors, I think, in Iraq. He sent a message last -- earlier this year that we intercepted. The message was on its way to senior officials of al Qaeda, bin Laden, and it basically said that if we were able to establish a government that could exercise control over Iraq, that he was out of business. He was going to have to pack his bags and leave the country. And we hope we get him before he has a chance to leave. (Applause.)
But it's so important for people to understand that we know it's hard. What we can't tolerate, what we can't accept as a nation, though, is the naysayers who want to wring their hands and say, well, it will never work. You'll never hold a free election in Afghanistan. Well, we just did. And 10 million Afghans participated in that process. And now you'll hear the same thing about Iraq -- never going to work, can't possibly do it. I think they're wrong. And the President believes deeply in this process. I do, too. I have the privilege 20 years ago of going to El Salvador when we first -- we had the all trouble in Central America back in the early '80s. We had guerrilla insurgencies, we had -- in El Salvador, you had 75,000 people killed. Insurgents controlled about a third of the country, and then we held free elections. I went down as a member of Congress, and an observer of those elections. And it was something to behold the tremendous drive people had to get to the polls and vote, to exercise that right they'd never before had. And it didn't matter -- the guerrillas would come in and shoot up the polling place, and people would flee. And as soon as the guerrillas left, boy, they were back in line again, waiting for a chance to vote. Twenty years ago in El Salvador, it worked. And it's going to work in Afghanistan, and we're going to make it work in Iraq. And there's no better antidote to the problem we're faced with long-term than being able to establish there, in the heart of the Middle East democratically elected governments that will serve as a model for other regimes in the area and offer people for the first time ever an opportunity to the kinds of problems that have been developed over there in years past. And it's that -- it's the President's vision. It's his strategic objective. It's the plan he's put in place. It's the strategy that we're pursuing.
John Kerry says he's got a plan. Has anybody yet heard what John Kerry's plan is? I haven't. (Laughter and applause.)
Final point, and then I'll stop, you asked specifically about the contrast or the comparison with Senator Kerry, George Bush is a man who makes decisions and sticks with them, and carries through on them -- no matter what the pressures of the moment might be, no matter how much criticism or flak he takes, some of us think it's his mother coming through in him. (Laughter.) Barbara is pretty tough, those of you -- and but it's an extraordinarily valuable trait to have in a President of the United States. It's essential. All our great Presidents have had it.
I look at John Kerry and I see a man who voted to send the troops into combat, and then when the question came on the money to support the troops, the $87 billion for the equipment and the resources and ammunition and so forth they needed to prosecute the war, he voted no. And I couldn't figure out for the life of me why he would do that. There were only four senators who did that, voted for committing the troops, and then voted against providing them with the equipment and ammunition and spare parts, body armor, they needed once they got there.
And then it dawned on me what was happening was in the Democratic primaries, Howard Dean, the anti-war candidate was running away with the vote. And he was stealing the march on Senator Kerry, and Senator Edwards -- and they're two of the four who voted yes to commit the troops, and then against funding. And it strikes me that he has over the years made decisions oftentimes as a result or a response to the kind of political pressure that he did then. And of course, the conclusion that leads to is if he can't stand up to the pressure of Howard Dean in the Democratic primaries, how can be possibly be expected to stand up to the likes of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden? It doesn't -- (Applause.)
So I think we've got exactly what we need in a Commander-in-Chief. I am convinced that the nation will be better off and safer and more secure for our kids and grandkids if we stay the course we're on, and that we will honor the sacrifice that so many have been asked to make by completing the mission.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 12:3O P.M. EDT
Richard B. Cheney, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting in Meadville, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/282098