For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
June 3, 2007
Vice President's Remarks at the Wyoming Boys State Conference
11:02 AM MDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Ron, and thank you for that warm welcome. It's great to be home again, back at Boys State -- 49 years since I sat where you sat. But I couldn't resist the invitation to come down and spend a little bit of time with you all today. It seemed like a good idea. And I'm delighted that I did.
What I thought I'd do is make a few comments, and then open it up to questions and have an opportunity to hear from you and find out what you're concerned about. And I'm happy to get into any subject that you may want to get into.
Of course, as Ron mentioned, I came here in the summer of 1958, as part of the delegation from Casper. I always knew Casper was the best delegation. (Laughter.) And NCHS was always the best high school. But it was the only high school in those days, so we didn't have a lot of competition. But I have been grateful all these years for the time I got to spend at Boys State, what the American Legion Committee was for all of us who attended here. I want to thank them for putting on this event. They've been doing it now for a very long time, I guess since about 1931, on a national basis.
An important thing for all of us to remember, and I'm reminded of by virtue of Boys State, is our duty as citizens. We have an obligation to be informed, to be involved. We are citizens, not subjects, since we live in a democracy. It's very important for us to think about the public interest, as well as our own personal interest.
Active citizenship is a duty, it's not a chore. Getting involved in public affairs, whether it's local, state, or national, takes hard work, it takes discipline, and occasionally it takes sacrifice. But it's also one of the most interesting, exciting, and rewarding ways to spend your time. And along the way you'll meet some of the finest people you'll ever know.
I'll admit to an incurable bias, but I think there's a real advantage to learning about politics and government in a state like Wyoming. It's a small state, it's spread out, so if you get involved in politics here, you'd better like to drive. But it's also a place where people know each other and deal squarely, and that's reflected in our politics. Out here we put a high value on authenticity, on plain-speaking, on civility. That's not to say we don't have disagreements; people aren't afraid to take sides and to argue. But you learn to get things done by making the best case for your point of view, by keeping personalities out of it, and by trying to bring others along to your point of view. We're a two-party state, but not heavily partisan.
That's how I see it today, nearly 50 years after I attended Boys State, and more than 40 years after I first had a political job working in Cheyenne as a intern in the Wyoming State Legislature. That first job came about through activities and work of the state Republican chairman in those days, Stan Hathaway -- many of you may remember -- and then he went on to become governor. Stan paid me $300 for 40 days' work. That worked out to less than a dollar an hour, which was probably about all I was worth -- but I was glad to get it. And that, too, whetted my appetite for politics and public service.
I hope each one of you will keep your interest in politics throughout your years in school and beyond. If you like it, make time for it -- opportunities are likely to come your way. If you work hard, follow through on your commitments, and show yourself to be honest and trustworthy, people are going to notice and they're going to want associate with you.
In my case, as a student in college and grad school, I stayed active on the political side, and before long, found myself working for the governor of Wisconsin, and ended up in Washington, D.C. as a staff member on Capitol Hill, and then at the White House. I wound up as chief of staff for President Gerald Ford, and then came home to run for Congress in 1978. Running for my current job as Vice President in 2000 was a notion that came out of the blue, and, obviously, it was somebody else's idea. I was not a volunteer. But it's been a great honor to serve beside President Bush in a very eventful time in the history of our country.
Last weekend I had the privilege of being the graduation speaker for our military academy at West Point. It was inspiring to hear them take the oath to defend the United States "against all enemies, foreign and domestic" -- and to realize that these were more than just words for these new graduates. There are 978 of them, second lieutenants, and the majority of them in that graduating class will soon be leading soldiers in combat.
It's impossible to witness a ceremony like that and be cynical about this country. The freedoms we enjoy, the rights we exercise, all the privileges of living in this nation -- none of these can ever be taken for granted. We have them because the people who came before us stood up for them, defended them, and when necessary, fought for them. And it's our duty to pass along to the next generation the free, strong, and secure nation that was passed along to us.
All of us must do our part -- and it starts with being active, informed citizens. Each one of you recognizes that, and it's why you've been selected to be part of Boys State. You were born around 1990, and you'll be here long after those of us in the current generation of public servants have gone our way. But I want you to be proud of what you've already accomplished. I want to encourage you to stay on this path. And I want to thank you for all that you do as future citizens and leaders of Wyoming, and of America.
And now I'd be happy to take some questions.
Q My question is, when you were going to Boys State, did you ever think you would be where you are right now, as Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. (Laughter.) And nobody who knew me then would have thought it, either. I got interested in politics partly because when I went to school, Boys State triggered something -- I ended up running for class office back in high school, as president of the graduating class. Then as I went to college, I got interested in politics and government subject matter, and I had the opportunity along the way to do several internships -- is what we call them now; in those days, they weren't that fancy yet.
But as I say, the very first one was that one when I went to work at the Wyoming Legislature. I was still a student at the University of Wyoming then. But I worked that 40-day session in 1965, drove over the hill from Laramie every morning and spent the day in Cheyenne at the State Senate. And then I had another opportunity -- I wrote a paper about that and won a competition, and that led to another fellowship in Wisconsin, working for the governor of Wisconsin. So as I went through my education, going to college and then graduate school, I kept getting these sidetracks into actually doing it. I went to Washington to write a dissertation -- I thought I wanted to be a professor, and I went there to stay 12 months, and I've stayed now nearly 40 years.
But if you're interested, the important thing is there are tremendous opportunities to get involved at all levels. You don't have to be Vice President of the United States to play an important role, or make a major contribution, or get a lot out of it. You can operate at the local level, be active in the school board, run for the state legislature here, and the county commission, be a volunteer in somebody else's campaign. There's lots of ways to get started.
And from my perspective, obviously I think back to when I was 17 years old; I did not have a burning desire to be Vice President of the United States. I hadn't given it any thought, frankly. But what happened to me was I got a lot of opportunities along the way, and I had an awful lot of people help. It's easy to fall into the trap when you get into a job like this, and think that somehow you earned it, or it's yours by right. That's not the case. There were a lot of people I could count, like Stan Hathaway, for example, who gave me my first political job, or Gerry Ford, who took a chance on me -- didn't even know me when he hired me to be his deputy chief of staff in the White House in 1974, and eventually gave me the top job. Or Don Rumsfeld, who has been, until recently, our Secretary of Defense. He hired me to -- he is the one who introduced me to Gerry Ford.
A lot of people along the way who gave me an opportunity and made it possible for me to -- but you can have an enormously rewarding career in politics or public service. You can do it by working for the government. It doesn't always have to be in elective office. There's a big, huge sector out there, and the fact is, the way we govern ourselves is one of the unique and distinguishing features of our civilization, and it takes an awful lot of people on several different levels to make that possible. So just look for the opportunities that come your way. And maybe somebody here will get to be Vice President. After we get through today, you may decide you don't want the job. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The question is, given that 40 years experience, what kind of values or philosophy did I develop and operate by that I might share with you?
I basically developed a great respect for American history. I still read a lot of it. I'm reading a brand new history, coming out on the plane this morning, written by Bill Bennett, the Secretary of Education. You can never read enough American history, I think, in terms of understanding where we came from and how we got here. And I don't think we teach enough history in our schools. I wished I'd taken more of it when I was in school, myself. But you start with that basic fundamental foundation in terms of how we got here, how the country got its start, who the founding fathers were, the Constitution and writing the Constitution, how the West was settled. There's fantastic stories about Wyoming. I would guess if you look back at your family, you can find places where they participated in the major events that have shaped 250 years of American history. All of us have got those kinds of stories someplace in our background.
I also, from a political standpoint, became a Republican because much is -- I think government is very important; I also think it needed to be limited. One of the secrets of our success is to continually -- we have a constant debate about what the government's role is going to be in the society, and to what extent we're going to allow people to make decisions for themselves, the extent to which we have other areas where we decide government needs to be involved, some kind of collective responsibility that can't be addressed as individuals.
One of the things I do as Vice President is to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate. Under the Constitution, when there's a tie vote in the Senate, then the Vice President, and only then, does he cast the tie-breaking vote, decide who wins. I've done that about seven times now in the six years -- six-plus years as Vice President. One of those times was four years ago, in 2003, on the tax bill. We had a major tax bill up, and the President had advocated and worked to get passed a bill that cut taxes for everybody. And it came to a tie vote in the Senate, and I got to cast the tie-breaking vote to cut those taxes.
The reason I felt strongly about that was I believe deeply we have to be very careful not to let government get too big. And to the extent we can keep money in the hands of the taxpayers, the folks who earned it, they'll expand their businesses, create more jobs, expand the economy. And I think that's one of the keys to our success. So there are certain things like that I guess I've learned over the years in terms of what I believe.
I've got a lot of friends who are liberal Democrats, we disagree on an awful lot of issues. But it is important to know what you believe. If you're going to have an impact on events, if you're going to persuade others that your point of view is the correct one, you've got to know what you believe. You can't persuade anybody to do anything if you don't believe yourself in a particular point.
Yes, over here. How is my relationship with Harry Reid? Well, it's better than my relationship with Pat Leahy. (Laughter.) But I won't go into that. I like Harry. But -- of course, he's the leader of the opposition in the Senate. And we get along from a personal standpoint in terms of talking with each other, we get along fine. I have some fundamental difference of opinion with him, and so, occasionally, we get involved in public debate, which is basically healthy. We've got major differences over Iraq, for example, we fundamentally disagree. But I think on a personal basis, it's a friendly relationship -- no bad blood.
Yes, sir, down here.
Q My question is, what was Boys State like when you were our age?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not sure they'd want me to tell those stories. (Laughter.) It was a little bit rowdy, but most of the guys were well-behaved. There were people I met there that -- or attended Boys State with that are friends, that are still friends to this day. Joe Meyer, the State Treasurer now, of course, I see him when I go down to Cheyenne. Joe and I were at Boys State together. We, later on, were roommates out at Laramie when we went to school down there. He was in my wedding when I got married. Those kinds of relationships are enhanced by people you meet here. You will meet people from around the state that, over the years, you'll see again and again. That's one of the nicer features of it.
We got to do -- I think the program is a lot like it is now. We ended up going down to Cheyenne to spend a day, had an opportunity to meet the governor. I don't recall seeing the senators. I think I was the Supreme Court justice, so I got involved with going to the courts. It probably persuaded me not to be a lawyer. But that, by the way, probably enhanced my political career.
But, no, I think it was a lot like it is today. I think the basic outlines of the program and purpose of the program are pretty similar.
Q On a philosophical level, with problems in the election in 2000, and problems in the elections in 1800, like 1824 and 1876, is the electoral college still effective and an adequate means to elect the President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe in the electoral college. I think it is -- I think it works. I think it -- frankly, I think it's to the advantage of a state like Wyoming. In the 2000 election, it was so close that -- I joked when the President picked me to be his running mate that he didn't pick me because he was worried about carrying Wyoming. First of all, he was going to carry it; secondly, it was only three electoral votes, which, to some extent, made his selection kind of unique. Usually you go for somebody from a bigger state, or somebody who can help deliver a state to you. But he picked me. But after all the stories I told about how it didn't matter, he didn't pick me because of Wyoming's electoral votes, it turned out those three electoral votes determined the outcome of the election. If we hadn't had those three votes, it would have gone the other way.
But I think -- the electoral college was developed in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention as part of that compromise of how we would reconcile the conflicts that were built in in those days between the big states and the small states, just as the existence of the Congress and the Senate are compromises. You could argue, for example, why should Wyoming have two senators and California have only two senators? Well, that's the deal we cut 207 years ago. And I think it works pretty well. I'd be leery of tampering with that. And I think the Constitution is, in general, a pretty good document. And if you want to argue for a change, you've got to have some pretty good arguments to be able to persuade people that it ought to be shifted.
But I don't have any problem with the electoral college, actually, and I think it guarantees that a state like Wyoming, with only a half-million population and three electoral votes still counts. We certainly counted in 2000.
Q I was wondering -- I'm not trying to start a debate, or anything, but do you still think that the Iraq war can be won? And do you think we need to institute a draft to get the job done?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, and no. Yes, I think it can be won. And, no, I don't think we need a draft.
I was just over in Iraq the week before last. We've got -- the troops are magnificent. It's as good a force as we've ever fielded, I think, in our history. Dave Petraeus, who is the commander over there now, Army four-star, is one of the very best officers I've ever known. He has got a great crew working with him -- Ray Odierno, who is his number two -- they have got a strategy they're embarked upon now with the surge, the additional brigades that the President ordered in, and the last of those forces will arrive this week. And I think we're making significant progress now in terms of what's happening in Anbar Province. It's out west of Baghdad. We've seen a turn out there that the local population has turned on al Qaida, that the tribal sheikhs have gotten their people actively involved in opposing the al Qaida elements out there that are responsible for the foreign bombers who come in and do a lot of the suicide bombings.
There's been a significant upsurge in recruits in that part of Iraq signing on for the Iraqi security forces. So I think we are making some progress. We've still got a long way to go and it's still a very great problem. But I believe that it's the right thing to do. I think it's very important that we not walk away from Iraq.
I think I could give you a half-hour answer here, but I don't want to go on too long. But there's a couple of points that need to be made on Iraq. We've got a debate now going in Washington over whether or not to support the effort. We had the vote just recently on the war supplemental, the appropriations for the Iraq-Afghanistan operations. That was hotly debated in the Congress. Most of the Democrats opposed it, most of the Republicans supported it, and we got it passed. But this issue will come up again in the fall, I'm sure. It will be debated even more.
But the fact of the matter is Iraq is part of the global war on terror. And you've got to go back and look at what happened on 9/11. We had a period of time there before 9/11, in the late '90s, when Afghanistan had become a safe haven for al Qaida. Osama bin Laden set up shop there, moved there from Sudan in '96. They opened up training camps and trained somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 terrorists in the late '90s in Afghanistan, terrorists that then launched attacks in '98, they took out two of our embassies in East Africa on the same morning, killed hundreds of people, and a number of Americans.
Then in 2000, they attacked the USS Cole off Yemen, nearly sunk a first-class destroyer and killed 17 U.S. sailors. And then, of course, on 9/11, they came into the U.S. and killed 3,000 of our fellow citizens -- all of these people who trained in those training camps in Afghanistan set up by al Qaida back in the late '90s.
We then embarked, after 9/11, on an aggressive posture that said we were going to go after the terrorists wherever we could find them, we weren't going to treat this as a law enforcement problem anymore, which was the way that they had been treated previously, we were going to use our intelligence services and our military forces and our economic power and means to go after those who sponsored terror, that provided safe haven for terror -- and so forth. Went into Afghanistan, cleaned that out, and obviously are in Iraq now. Iraq has become the central front at present.
There is an argument being made by some of my friends on the other side of the aisle that say, well, Afghanistan is a good war, we want to fight that one, but Iraq is a bad war, we don't want to do that. And they act as though somehow you can walk away from Iraq without consequence. You can't. The fact is national boundaries out there don't mean that much when you're talking about a global war on terror. And when you take people and train them in Afghanistan, or anyplace -- a lot of other places out there have got training, too -- and then they take off and go partway around the world -- we've seen attacks by those folks in Afghanistan, originally trained there, not only in New York and Washington, but London, Madrid, in Istanbul, in Algiers, in Morocco, in Tunisia, in Mombasa, in East Africa, in Jakarta, in Bali -- all over the world. It's a global problem.
The worst terrorist we had in Iraq was a guy named Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian by birth; served time in a Jordanian prison as a terrorist, was let out on amnesty. Then he went to Afghanistan and ran one of those training camps back in the late '90s that trained terrorists. Then when we launched into Afghanistan after 9/11, he was wounded, and fled to Baghdad for medical treatment, and then set up shop in Iraq. So he operated in Jordan, he operated in Afghanistan, then he moved to Iraq. He was the lead al Qaida terrorist in Iraq until we killed him last June, just about a year ago. He's the guy who was responsible for blowing up the mosque at Samarra that really precipitated the conflict between the Shia and the Sunni.
That's the kind of problem we're dealing with. To say that you can just sort of walk away from Iraq and everything is going to be okay is foolish. It might have been before 9/11, when we could hide behind our oceans and not worry about what happened in that part of the world, and be safe and secure. But we now know, since 9/11, what happens over there has a direct bearing. And if we were to walk away from Iraq today, all you'd do -- well, several things -- first of all, give them the opportunity to set up the same kind of operation in Iraq that they had in Afghanistan before 9/11.
You would validate the al Qaida strategy. Remember what the terrorists believe. They can't beat us in a stand-up fight. They never have. They think they can break our will. They're convinced they can do that, and they think they've done it before. They look at Beirut in 1983, when a truck bomber, suicide truck bomber launched into a barracks there where our Marines were billeted, and killed 241 Americans. And then we pulled out of Lebanon. And 10 years later, in Mogadishu, in Somalia, our guys got into a scrap there in Mogadishu -- you've seen it in Black Hawk Down if you've seen that movie. And shortly after that, we packed it in and pulled out of Somalia.
You look at what Osama bin Laden says. He says it repeatedly -- they believe they can break the will of the American people and that we'll quit, and that we'll pack it in and come home. And if we do that, all we'll do is a guarantee that they'll hit us again, if not here, someplace else. If they believe they can change the policy of the United States government by killing Americans, they'll keep killing Americans. And that's what they believe.
The issues that are at stake here are enormous. This is a struggle we're going to be involved in certainly as long as I'm alive, and probably as long as you're alive. And we've got to get it right. And we have the capacity to do that. I believe firmly the United States is perfectly capable of winning this conflict. But we've got to have the gumption to stay in the fight and to get the job done. And that means we stay in Iraq until we win. Victory there is getting it to the point where the Iraqis can take care of it themselves, their security forces can handle the security threat and they've got a government that's functioning, that they're capable of handling their own affairs. And I think they can do that.
With respect to the draft, I don't believe we need it. I'm a great believer in the all-volunteer force. It's produced, as I say, I think the finest military we've ever had. And I think if you talk to people serving today, our military commanders, they'll tell you the same thing. It really is a magnificent institution. And we don't need to go to a draft at this point in order to succeed. We keep the machinery available, if it were necessary, but I don't think it will be. I'm sorry for the long answer. (Applause.)
Whoever gets the mike -- you're next.
Q I was wondering what you think a good deed is. I ran this by several others.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What do I think a good deed is? You mean like helping an elderly citizen like myself across the street? (Laughter.) Does that qualify? Okay, all right. Well, I think just -- it would be kind to those around you, lend a hand whenever possible. If you are active in your community or your church or your school. We, all of us, one time or another, need help in life, and be ready to extend that helping hand to someone whenever the cause -- need arises. It will make for far better communities for us to live in.
And Wyoming is like that. That's been my experience.
Q I was wondering what political presidential candidate you support most for the 2008 election at this point?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ah, good question. At this stage I am scrupulously neutral. The President and I have made a decision, I think the right one, that we really need to stay out of it and not express a preference. There may be a point, certainly after the convention when we have a nominee in 2008, I expect to be active in support of my party's nominee, as I'm sure the President will. But before that, for us to get involved, try to pick favorites, probably not a good idea.
There's a lot of competition out there. We've got a lot of candidates in both parties. If anything, the campaign started sooner than it ever has. I see now we've got about 24 or 25 states that are going to hold their primary February 5th, and the whole process has been accelerated. I think it's going to be a fascinating year. And I don't want to discourage anybody from participating. If you've got somebody you like and you want to sign up for them, I'd do it. But as I say, we have scrupulously stayed neutral. And since I think there are a couple of reporters here today, I probably -- better not make any news I hadn't planned on. (Laughter.)
Yes, sir, down in front here.
Q I was wondering what your views on the issue of eminent domain were.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The issue of eminent domain. Well, it's an important concept, obviously. There are some public purposes for which it's essential that the government be able to exercise the power of eminent domain to build highways and so forth. There's a way to do it. You need to make certain that if you are, in fact, taking land or property from someone, that they get adequate compensation, et cetera.
The place where I have a problem and where I think the controversy has been recently is when a governmental unit exercises the right of eminent domain for essentially private purposes, that's not a public purpose -- to build a shopping center, for example, it's a commercial enterprise. That gets into an area where I think you do have to make that distinction between what's a public purpose and what's a private purpose. Be very cautious about how eminent domain is exercised when you -- once you start to move away from doing it for -- essentially for public purposes.
Q I was wondering, going from the bottom of the political food chain to the top, what job has been the most rewarding to you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's an interesting question. They've all had a lot of appeal for one reason or another. Going to work for Gerry Ford in the aftermath of Watergate and right after President Nixon resigned, and becoming chief of staff was a unique -- almost a unique period in American history, from the standpoint of Watergate as the worst constitutional crisis we'd had since the Civil War. And Ford was a very special individual, and I was delighted to see the kind of recognition he got when we had his memorial services here earlier this year when he passed away.
I loved being Secretary of Defense. That was a fascinating job, and to do it at a time, say, back during Desert Storm, when the country was engaged as heavily as we were in that Gulf conflict, it's just a -- it's a unique group of people. It's a huge bureaucracy, but once there's a mission like that, then sort of all of the fluff falls away and everybody gets focused on the mission. And the people you work with, the task they have to perform, the importance of what they do for the nation, that's got to be one of the most interesting jobs in government.
I loved being Wyoming's congressman. I did that for 10 years. I was -- came home and had to run for reelection every two years, and I earned the right to go back there and cast that vote in the Congress. But that was a great job. I enjoyed that. I really thought I was going to spend my career in the House. Al Simpson was my colleague in those days, of course, in the Senate, and I never did take Al on and contest him for that Senate seat -- threatened to a couple of times, but I don't think he was really worried. But the ability to be sort of an integral part of the electoral process was fascinating.
And the last six-plus years now as Vice President, especially during this time, all that we've been involved in, has been a -- it's been a tremendous experience, and a difficult one. The President has had to make some very tough decisions. But again, it's been a privilege to serve. I've enjoyed it, and plan to finish out my tour -- but that will be the end of my tour. I don't plan to run for office again.
MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President, before you accept your last question, on behalf of Boys State, we would like to present you with a Wyoming Boys State pin that is presented to the boys as they graduate, just as a small token of our appreciation for you agreeing to join us today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you -- (applause.)
Well, thank you all very much. And as I say, I hope you enjoy your week here, but I also hope you'll keep up that interest in the public sector and public service and politics in the years ahead, just as a citizen or as an actual participant in the process -- a very, very important piece of business. And I hope you consider yourselves fortunate to be here. It is a privilege to have been selected, and I think it's an experience you'll never forget.
Good luck. (Applause.)
END 11:40 A.M. MDT