January 9, 2004
President Bush Addresses Members of His Team
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Thanks for coming. (Applause.) Man. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
Thank you for the -- thanks for the nice round of applause. I appreciate the warm welcome. I appreciate members of my Cabinet being here. What they heck are you doing here? (Laughter.) I put together the finest Cabinet of any President. (Applause.)
I one time was giving a speech and my mother was in the audience and I said, "I picked the finest Vice President in the nation's history, Dick Cheney." And she said, "Not so fast, Buster." (Laughter.)
A President is judged by a lot of things. But one of the most visible ways that people judge a President is by the nature of the people who he surrounds himself with. And this administration has worked hard to attract people who serve our country by remembering a few basic principles.
One, we are the servants of the people, that we're here to represent the American people, that we understand whose money we spend. We don't spend the government's money in Washington, D.C., we spend the people's money. And we have an obligation, as the servants of the people, to be wise with their money.
We've asked people to serve this government, and you've made great sacrifices, and I want to thank you for that. You could be doing a lot of easier things probably, and a lot of jobs where you get better recognition. So I want to thank you for making this sacrifice. But more importantly, I want to thank you for setting high standards. You see, there is only one standard in this administration, complete, total, ethical behavior. (Applause.) So thanks.
And I appreciate Andy Card. Andy Card is a fabulous Chief of Staff. He's done a great job of managing a lot of really capable people.
Rather than give you a kind of a long-winded speech, which I kind of like to give -- (laughter) -- what I thought I'd do is take you a walk around the Oval Office, and perhaps that will serve as inspiration for what we're all doing.
If you've never been in the Oval Office, it's oval. (Laughter.) You can't hide in the corner. I mean when you're in there, you're in the seat of power. And that's why this administration treats the Oval Office as a shrine to democracy. I like to -- (Applause.)
I remember when a delegation of Iraqi women came to see me -- and by the way, they walked in the Oval Office and the first woman that came in burst out in tears of joy. I kind of can be a crier myself, and so there I was hugging an Iraqi woman with tears of joy, because she had tears of joy. But I was glad to meet them there. And the first thing that popped out of my mouth when I was talking, I said, "We're here in the Oval Office, and by the way, the office is bigger than the person. And so when you work for democracy and freedom in your country, make sure you put institutions in place that are bigger than the individuals."
A President will be a lousy President if he, and eventually she, doesn't realize that the office is bigger than the individual.
And so if you were ever to come in the Oval Office, I want you to recognize that the office itself represents something bigger than people, bigger than an individual.
The first thing you'd notice there, I think, is a rug. It turns out each President designs his own rug. Being the delegator that I am -- and I think if you were to ask any Cabinet officer and/or member of my administration he'd say, President Bush is a good delegator. Well, I delegated the design of the rug to our fabulous First Lady. (Applause.) Her taste is better than mine. (Laughter.)
But as a Chief Executive Officer should, I gave her some go-bys. I said I want people, when they walk in this office, to feel optimistic. Whereas, I didn't want the rug to be foreboding, I wanted it to be open and light and bright. And so when you come in there, you'll see that the rug looks like the sun, the rays of the sun. And that's how I feel. As a matter of fact, that's how any leader of an organization should feel. You shouldn't be leading an organization if you don't see the world as a better place. Imagine me standing up in front of the country and saying "Follow me, the world is going to be worse." (Laughter.)
I don't have to fake it though. I believe so strongly in what America stands for that there is no doubt that so long as we take the lead in matters of peace and freedom, the world will be a better place. (Applause.)
The President gets to put pictures on the wall, paintings they call them -- pictures in Crawford, paintings in Washington. (Laughter.) Let me describe some of the artwork that we have on the wall.
First, there's a lot of paintings from Texas. The San Antonio Museum of Fine Arts loaned us the picture of the Alamo, of course, and Scenes of West Texas, the fabulous painting from my friend Tom Lee, an El Paso citizen. And by the way, Laura's mom was raised in El Paso, and El Paso has always had a special place in her heart as a result of it. Tom Lee -- it's a West Texas painting, scene. It's that part of West Texas where there's actually relief. The part of West Texas where Laura and I were raised, there's nothing but flat. This is a place where there's mountains.
Here's what he said, he said "Sarah and I live on the east side of the mountain. It's the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It's the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that is gone." That's what that piece of artwork said to Tom. It says to me every day I went in there. It kind of mirrors what I was talking about, about the rug.
But the Texas scenes, there's a scene of a blue bonnet scene. It looks like our ranch. You can imagine sometimes I longingly look at that and kind of try to project myself into the middle of our ranch. I love to go there. As a matter of fact, shortly Laura and I are flying down to Crawford, and then I'm going to go on to Mexico to represent our country -- I know the Secretary of State is going to join me there -- for a very important meeting in our own neighborhood. We're talking to the leaders in our neighborhood. Good foreign policy starts with making sure relations are good with vital countries such as Mexico and Brazil and Colombia and the Central American countries and on and on.
But anyway, I like to look at that painting because it serves as a contrast to life in the bubble. Although I will tell you that when I used to go for a jog -- now a brisk, old man walk -- there are four John Deer gators, and a massive SUV, and three other Secret Service people on foot. So it's not exactly as if you're out in the wilderness by yourself. But nevertheless, it serves as a nice contrast. (Laughter.)
But the Texas paintings are important. First of all, let me just put it to you this way, when you're the President and when you're the leader of any other organization, particularly in high pressure jobs that we have here in Washington, you don't have time to figure out who you are. So you better know who you are when you get to the Oval Office. And in many cases, the jobs that you have, there is no time -- if you're representing the people and are serving of the people, your job shouldn't be a therapy session. (Laughter.) You need to have the right values and instincts.
I came from Texas and I'm going back to Texas. I'm here on a temporary basis. Many of you are here on a temporary basis to serve. Therefore, that says a couple of things to me. Don't forget who you are. Secondly, don't get captured by the high-powered ways of Washington. The best servant is the humble servant. Don't get your values corrupted by the power of our nation's capital.
The pictures of Texas on the wall, to me, remind me of who I am, just little old Barbara Bush's son. (Laughter and applause.) And that's the way I hope you are, too. If you're raised right you've got basic values that stand you in good stead when the heat gets on. In the job of the Presidency, there's a lot of decisions and a lot of pressures you can imagine. It's really helpful to know who you are. And I hope you feel that same sense of awareness of your background and your raising as you make important decisions and implement policy on behalf of the American people.
There are two Presidents on the wall. I should have put three, but people would have thought that, you know, it would have been obvious if I'd have put 41 on the wall. (Laughter.) So I just keep him etched in my heart.
The first George W. hangs over the fireplace. (Laughter and applause.) That would be your George Washington.
The other President is Abraham Lincoln. I chose Lincoln because I think he's the President who's greatest -- country. It turns out David McCullough came to see me in the Oval Office. He said -- I told him I thought Lincoln was the greatest President. He said, "No I think after you read my book you'll think George Washington was the greatest president." So I'm looking forward to reading his book. But right now, as I stand here, I think Abraham Lincoln was the greatest President. (Laughter.)
And the reason why is -- for a couple of reasons. Obviously, the emancipation of slaves was a tremendous accomplishment. It was a really important decision he made. I think there's another reason why he was a great President, as well, is because understood the importance of keeping the United States united.
If you read about Lincoln's thinking during what must have been an incredibly difficult presidency, he thought, how do I best keep the country together? He had a vision. Those of us in positions of responsibility must see clearly that which is important. Keeping the United States united was a part of his vision, and he worked to that effect.
Upstairs in the White House -- it's what's called the Treaty Room -- in the living quarters, there's an office called the Treaty Room. It turns out that's where the ending the war with Spain was signed between the United States and Spain, although there's not one Spaniard in a portrait that hangs over the desk. It turns out to be President McKinley and some French people signing on behalf of the Spaniards. (Laughter.) Anyway, that's why it's called the Treaty Room. (Laughter.)
But there's a picture of Lincoln talking to his generals and admirals about how to make sure that, as the South craters, the North effects a peace that keeps the country together. And that is a great contribution to America.
As a matter of fact, that's an important job of the President. It's a lesson for all Presidents to work to unite the country. Because you can't achieve big objectives for a great country unless the country is united, which leads to another role of the President and all of us involved in government, and that is to achieve big things -- not to set little bitty goals, but to set big goals. That's really my job. Your job is to work with me to achieve those goals.
And so, first of all, we work hard to unite the country to achieve the goals. The goal -- and two goals I want to share with you right quick. One, of course, is peace and freedom. For those of you who are wearing our nation's uniform and who are here, thank you for being on the front line of serving our country to achieve peace and freedom. (Applause.)
The administration must work hard to unite the country behind this objective. War is hard on people. I understand that. But we're working hard to explain to the American people the threats to our security, the fact that we're in a war -- the new war of the 21st Century. Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld do a really good job of articulating as plainly as we can, as honestly and openly as we can, the threats to our country, and why we make the decisions we make.
Part of unifying the country is understanding that not everybody will agree, and that's fine. As a matter of fact, we welcome dissent in America, because that's one of the great hallmarks of our country, the ability for people to express themselves in open ways.
My job, as well as other members of the Cabinet, is to remind our country that we are still at war. Interestingly enough, in the Oval Office, as well, is the bust of Churchill loaned to me by Tony Blair's government; Lincoln, a bust of Lincoln; as well as a bust of Eisenhower. Those three were in there prior to September the 11th, 2001. But what's somewhat ironic is that these are three war Presidents -- three people involved with war.
And we're at war now. And therefore, part of my mission and goal is to protect the American people. It is the most solemn duty of any President -- is to never forget the lessons of the immediate past, in our case, September the 11th, 2001, and to do everything we can to secure the homeland. The best way, of course, to secure the homeland is to stay on the offensive against those who would do us harm. (Applause.)
And we're doing that. A lot of your fellow federal workers are in the dark recesses of the world, seeking out those who would harm the American people, or for that matter, anybody else who loves freedom like we do.
Part of the challenge we face is to convince the American people that threats that, before September the 11th, looked like they could be contained, must now be looked at in a different light. Threats that before September the 11th could be bottled up, or we could pick and chose whether to deal with them if we wanted to, had to analyzed in a different fashion after September the 11th. And that's because it became apparent to all, in such a horrible way, that oceans no longer protect us from harm's way. And so that's why we've laid out certain -- certain kind of rules of the game of freedom now. If you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as a terrorist, or if you feed them -- and then held to those rules, made sure that people understood that when we say something, we mean it, that we speak as clearly as possible, and that we deal with threats early before it's too late.
We did that in Afghanistan. We did that in Iraq. There is no doubt in my mind America is more secure and the world is better off without the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. (Applause.)
The war on terror is a different kind of war. And successes will look differently to you. A success in the war on terror happened peacefully recently. Moammar Ghadafi decided that he no longer wanted to posses weapons programs, weapons of mass -- programs that would produce weapons of mass destruction. And so he changed. He's now voluntarily -- voluntarily letting in the IAEA, plus others -- the United States and Great Britain -- to see the weapons that he voluntarily disclosed and is now voluntarily destroying.
The war on terror is a different kind of war. And this great country of ours is achieving different kind of victories in the war on terror. And those victories will come with the peaceful disarmament of Libya, or the arrest of Mr. Hambali. He's a known Indonesian terrorist who ordered the bombings of innocent citizens, or Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, the chief executive officer of the al Qaeda network. Slowly but surely, because of will and strength and determination, and because the American people are united behind the cause of security and freedom, we're winning the first war of the 21st Century. (Applause.)
And for those of you involved with the Department of Homeland Security, thank you, as well, for being on the front line of this war. As I said, the best way to secure the homeland is to go on the offensive, I meant that. And we are. But there's nothing better than a good defense, too.
And we have taken -- think about what this administration has accomplished. And I want to thank you all for working so very hard on it. A lot of different agencies were folded together into one new agency, which is a major management issue. It's a significant task, and yet it's being accomplished. Secretary Ridge and Deputy Secretary Loy, and the team at the Homeland Security are doing a really good job of streamlining process, of making the new agency more efficient by doing our duty.
For those of you involved in the homeland security, I want to thank you for doing your duty, which is to make sure the federal assets, in combination with state and local assets do everything we can to protect our people from people who hate us because of what we stand for.
Another great goal of the country, by the way, is to make America a better place. It's important to keep us united to do that. It's hard to think about better when you're divided. It's hard to be thinking positively when you're warring with yourself. And I got to tell one of the most disappointing things about Washington, in all candor, is there's just too much politics here. (Laughter.) It's a political town, but it's -- (Applause.) It's a political town, but you can take this politics a little far. (Laughter.) Which leads to kind of a zero-sum attitude: We can't work together because somebody will look good or somebody will look bad.
And this administration must continue to work hard to keep the process out of this senseless politics. I heard Andy talk about the '04 campaign. I want you doing your job. I don't want you doing your job for political reasons. I want you to do your job for what's right for the country. Forget politics. (Applause.)
If the people want us back, they'll let us come back. If they want to send us home, they'll send us home. But if you're interested in coming back, the best way to do so is just do your job. Get results done. Focus on the management agendas.
And one of the biggest things we've got to do is to make America better. I mentioned to you -- and I just want to rattle off some of the accomplishments that we have done, the legislative accomplishments. But they require implementation, which you all are in the process of doing. We passed an economic relief package, called tax cuts. And they're working. The economy is growing. (Applause.)
The No Child Left Behind Act, for those of you in the Education Department -- (applause) -- I appreciate you implementing that important law. We passed a Medicare reform. And for those of you at HHS, thank you for working on that. (Applause.) This is an international initiative, but it pertains to home, but it also speaks to the heart of the American people, we got an AIDS initiative that's leading the world in providing medicine for millions who suffer from AIDS in the continent of Africa. (Applause.)
We're working on expanding home ownership. We're working on Healthy Forests. There's a lot of issues this administration has accomplished. I want to thank you for working on them. Now let's get them done. America is better off because of the work. America is better off because we have focused on results, not on politics. And that's what we got to continue to do throughout this year.
If you keep walking around -- so Lincoln -- my point on Lincoln was, Lincoln enables Presidents to set big goals. I can't imagine -- we are the predominate power in the world today because we're a united country. And by the way, with that power comes tremendous responsibilities, and -- because our country stands for such wonderful ideals. When America steps into the world with those ideals in the forefront of our mind, the world becomes better, more free, more decent, more compassionate, more healthy, more educated, more fed. And that's the America I love to lead.
The next painting is called, A Charge To Keep. There was a wonderful novel written. (Laughter.) Some said fiction, others say nonfiction. (Laughter.) It's called, A Charge To Keep I Have. They said I wrote it. I didn't. Karen Hughes wrote it. Anyway -- (laughter) -- this painting is in my -- the presidential office, it was loaned to me by my friend Joe O'Neill, from Midland, Texas. He and Jan actually introduced Laura and me in their backyard when we were eating barbecue.
It's an interesting story, I think it is, at least, and I guess, you're going to have to think it is since I'm telling it. (Laughter.) I get inaugurated as the Governor of Texas in 1995, and at the inaugural church service, because Laura and I are Methodists, we sang a Charles Wesley hymn called, A Charge To Keep I Have. And right after the church service, O'Neill, the guy who introduced Laura me, calls and says, I've got a painting based upon that hymn.
And we'd been kind of trying to figure if it was going to be on the walls of the Governor's office in Texas. I didn't think it would fit. As a matter of fact, there wasn't hardly any space left. It turned out it fit perfectly. And it's -- it hung on my wall there, and it now hangs in the President's office. It's a horseman. It's a Colorado-type painting. It's a Western painting by W.H.D. Koerner, a horseman charging up what appears to be a very difficult trail. You know that at least two horsemen are coming with him. There may be three or four or a thousand. You just don't know. But you know it's a tough hill to climb. It's based upon a hymn that says each of us should serve a cause greater than ourself. Obviously, being a religious hymn, it is to serve the Almighty.
Now, it is essential that you understand I know the difference between my job as President and my job as a human being. My job as President is to herald the fact that our country welcomes people of religion and no religion, that you're just as American whether you agree with scripture, or don't agree with scripture. You're just as an American whether you're a Muslim, a Jewish person, a Christian, or just don't give a hoot about religion at all. That's the greatness of our country. It's essential that Presidents forever keep the country great by welcoming the freedom of any individual to choose his or her religion, or nonreligion.
For me personally, however, religion is an important part of my life. So I look at that painting in two ways. One, I call -- (applause) -- I look at the painting as George W. and say, I want to do my Master's will. That's what it says in the Charles Wesley hymn, "Oh, to do my Master's will."
The Oval Office is -- there's a lot of history in the Oval Office. I would like to sit with other Presidents, just ask them how often they prayed in the Oval Office. It's a -- it's a sanctuary in many ways. It's -- believe me it's a wonderful place to ask for guidance and strength and patience.
George W., the President, looks at the painting and says, how do we best capture the American spirit, and to call people to serve? How do we ask people to make this country a better place by saving lives one person at a time? And that's another reason where a President must work to keep the country united, because a united country is one more likely to respond to the call to love your neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself.
What you are doing in serving our government is setting a good example. And I want to thank you for that. You're setting the example for others who say, gosh, what is it like to work at the federal government? Well, by setting a good example, perhaps, that will inspire somebody else to decide to make the sacrifice and to work on behalf of the American people. So thank you for that.
As well, all of us must work hard to convince people through our own leadership and our own aspiration to take time out of their busy lives to make a difference in one person's life. One of the great hallmarks of our country, one of the distinguishing features of America, I think the Secretary of State would affirm this, as we travel around the country, I try to look, as best I can, and captured inside the bubble that I am, for distinctions.
But I got a pretty good read on people's antennae. I've got -- I can read the body language and get a sense for values. One of the things that distinguishes us from other places is the willingness of our citizens to become involved in a civil -- civic life of their communities, whether it be a Boy Scout leader, coaching a Little League team, or being involved with a faith-based prayer program that reaches out to somebody in need, or being a part of a program that tries to change people's hearts to help them whip alcohol or drugs, or just going to see a shut-in. The strength of this country is the fact that we are such a compassionate people. And a President must understand that. And I hope you all understand that, as well. And our job is really to capture that spirit. That's what I call the American spirit of service.
I remember right after September the 11th I used to say, a patriot is -- a patriot is somebody who will put the nation's uniform on, of course. But a patriot is also somebody who goes and feeds food to the hungry, or helps provide shelter for the homeless. And that's what that painting says to me, serving something greater than yourself in life, is not only important for the President, but it's also important for the President, as well as you all to call on others to do just the same.
Finally, there is a fabulous desk in the Oval Office -- at least the one I picked is fabulous. It's the one that other Presidents have sat behind. It's ornate. It's beautiful. Franklin Roosevelt used it. He put the door -- there's a little door in front of the desk that he put there to cover up his infirmities. It just reminds of how far we have come as a society where in the '30s, 1930s, they could hide their infirmities. I get a knee injury, it's impossible for me to hide that. (Laughter.) I choke on a pretzel and you think the world has come to an end. (Laughter and applause.) '
But frankly, it's a good sign to know that our society has evolved beyond the days of -- where somebody felt inadequate because they happened to be in a wheelchair. At that desk, sat John Kennedy. And out of the door, that Franklin Roosevelt put on the desk, popped John John Kennedy, in the most famous Oval Office photo. People come in there and you say, gosh, you remember the picture of John John Kennedy putting his head out of his daddy's desk when he's looking out at the South Lawn? Everybody remembers that. I hope everybody remembers it now. (Laughter.) But it's a famous picture.
The reason I tell you this, it's amazing to sit at a desk where others have sat. It just reminds me, I'm not it. And neither are you. (Laughter.) We're just a part of a long heritage. (Applause.) We're just a part of a long line of people who've served our government. And I hope that makes you proud, because it makes me proud. (Applause.)
So that's pretty much the Oval Office. It's the kind of place where people stand outside the door and say, I can't wait to get inside, I'm going to tell him what for. (Laughter.) They walk in this place, the first words out of their mouth are, Mr. President, man, you're looking good today. (Laughter.)
And that's why it's important that I have people around me that if I'm not looking so hot, they say, Mr. President, I don't care if you're standing in the Oval Office, or you're in Crawford, you're not looking so good. (Laughter.) I need honest advice, and I get it from my Cabinet. And I get it from my team. I hope my Cabinet can say the same about you all. I suspect they do.
I want to end with one other story about the Oval Office. I think it's speaks to the greatness of our country, the willingness for all of us to set big goals, to think big, to have a clear vision. It's a Vladimir Putin story. It's a story that I've told often. It struck me as so unusual.
As you may remember, I decided that we were going to get rid of the ABM Treaty. The ABM Treaty was this treaty that codified hatred between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it was a treaty that prevented us from developing systems necessary to prevent tyrannical dictators from holding the world hostage with weapons of mass destruction. It was just a lousy deal. It might have been good at the time. It actually kind of kept things in balance for a while. But we were new. This administration was new. And I was tired -- I wasn't tired, I just didn't want to get locked into the past mindset.
And so I meeting with Vladimir Putin, head of the Russian Federation. I told him, I said, look, we're through with the ABM Treaty.
He tried to say, no.
I said, no, no, it's -- I told people when I was campaigning we were going to get rid of it. It's over with. Now let's figure out how best to get out of it.
So I invite him back to come to the Oval Office. And I think Colin and I, or some of us went, had gone to St. Petersburg in the meantime, and went to the Museum of Atheism, and -- what was the Museum of Atheism during Stalin's time, and Putin's childhood, in the largest cathedral there in St. Petersburg. So here's a fellow that had grown up in an environment where the churches had been converted to museums of atheism. As a matter of religion was -- Stalin had tried to stamp out religion. Impossible to do, by the way, but he tried to do it.
And Vladimir is coming to tell me how best, in his judgment, we both now can withdraw from the ABM Treaty. And I was glad to help him out. One of the things a President has got to do is be mindful of the other, the pressures on other leaders. And I was trying to be as sensitive as I could. And so he was coming to tell me.
And it was a beautiful day in the Oval Office. And the sun was pouring in, and I suspect he was somewhat nervous. And the door flies open, and the first word's out of the Russian's mouth, the Russian leader's mouth was, my God.
It's a powerful office. It's my honor to hold it. Thank you. (Applause.)