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 Home > News & Policies > July 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 21, 2004

President's Remarks at the 2004 President's Dinner
The Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

7:30 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Gosh, thanks for the warm welcome. It is really good to be with you all tonight. There's nothing like being the President at the President's Dinner. (Laughter.) And with your help, I look forward to being your guest next year, as well. (Applause.)

I want to thank Tom Reynolds, who is my good friend, for his kind introduction. I appreciate the organizers of this fantastic dinner. Thank you all for coming. We're here for a really good cause, and that is to make sure Denny Hastert remains Speaker of the House, and Bill Frist Majority Leader of the Senate. (Applause.) It's not only a worthy cause, it is an important cause. The stakes of the country depend upon their leadership, their continued leadership. Plus, they're really good people.

I'm sorry that Laura is not with me tonight. I know. She is -- she's camping. (Laughter.) But you know something? I am one lucky man that Laura said yes when I asked her to marry me. (Applause.) She's a great First Lady -- there's a lot of reasons why I think I ought to be given four more years, but perhaps the most important one is so that Laura will be the First Lady for four more years. (Applause.)

I want to thank George Allen and Lamar Alexander for representing the Senate at this dinner. Thank you for your strong leadership. And I appreciate Bob Ney, as well, and Tom Reynolds for representing the House at the dinner, and helping to raise the money. (Applause.) These men did a fine job. I also am proud to recognize my fellow Texan -- the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay. Thank you for coming, sir. (Applause.)

I appreciate all the dinner hosts who are here at the table. It kind of looks like the old politburo. (Laughter.) Doesn't act like the old politburo.

I want to thank all the members of the Congress who are here. I'm proud to work with you. And thank you for representing our country with such dignity and class. (Applause.)

I want to thank Secretary Ann Veneman, Secretary Elaine Chao, Secretary Tommy Thompson, for coming tonight, and thank you for being such good Cabinet members in my administration. (Applause.)

I appreciate John Popper for lending his talents tonight. And I love the voice of Sara Evans. (Applause.)

As we meet tonight, there are a little over 100 days until an historic election, and the campaigns are hitting full-swing. In recent days, I've been in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Minnesota and Wisconsin and West Virginia and Iowa and Missouri. Everywhere I go, the crowds are big, the enthusiasm is high, the signs are good -- we are on our way to victory. (Applause.)

My opponent has been spending some time with his base, as well -- at a recent gala with his hollywo9od friends. (Laughter.) Evidently, things got a little out of hand. My name came up a few times. (Laughter.) And now the Senator refuses to release a tape of that whole enchanted evening. (Laughter.) Could be that his friends, whom he said conveyed the "heart and soul of America," actually embarrassed themselves and the candidate. (Applause.) I have a different theory. You see, the tape shows a meeting of all those unnamed foreign leaders that the Senator says have endorsed him. (Applause.)

Now he has a running mate. Some people say that Senator Edwards was chosen in part because of his boyish good looks. After all, People Magazine once named John Edwards the "sexiest politician." One of my administration's great goals for a new term is to get Dick Cheney on that list. (Laughter and applause.) In the meantime, I value the Vice President's experience in government, his expertise in national security, and his sound judgment. (Applause.)

It's now been three and a half years since the Vice President and I took office. We've faced significant challenges. WE have met them head-on. I believe it's the President's job to confront problems, not to pass them on to future Presidents and future generations. (Applause.) Because of our actions, America is becoming a safer and stronger and better country. (Applause.)

Four years ago, our economy was headed into recession, and the stock market was in decline. So we passed historic tax relief for families and small businesses. Because we acted, our economy since last summer has been growing at the fastest rate in nearly 20 years. (Applause.) Because we acted, America has added more than 1.5 million new jobs since last August. (Applause.) Because we believe in economic freedom and left more money in the people's hands, America is a stronger country. (Applause.)

My opponents look at all this progress and somehow conclude that the sky is falling. Whether their message is delivered with a frown or a smile, it is the same old pessimism. And to cheer us up, they propose higher taxes, more federal spending, and economic isolationism. But that's the surest way to end economic growth and put Americans out of work. This nation is on a rising path, and with four more years we'll achieve more growth, new and higher-paying jobs, and greater opportunity for all of our citizens. (Applause.)

Four years ago, too many of our public schools were stuck in a cycle of mediocrity and excuse-making -- with children often shuffled from grade to grade, year after year. So we insisted on high standards and accountability, local control of schools, and now children across America are showing real progress in reading and math. And America is better for it. (Applause.)

Four years ago, our Medicare system was falling behind modern medicine. Many seniors were not getting the drugs they needed. Because we have updated Medicare and passed prescription drug coverage for our parents and our grandparents, America is a better place. (Applause.)

Four years ago, some of the finest, most effective charities in our country were viewed with suspicion or even hostility by our government, just because they ware faith-based charities. Because we have ended discrimination in government contracting, the armies of compassion are transforming more lives in our country, and America is better for it. (Applause.)

In each of these areas, we are keeping our promises, we are doing our duty. Because of our actions, our economy is stronger, our schools are better, our country is safer. We have turned a corner, and there's no turning back. And in the weeks ahead, I will lay out an agenda worthy of this advancing and confident country.

The American economy is creating good jobs. Now we must move forward, and make America even more job-friendly, by keeping taxes low. (Applause.) More job-friendly by making regulations reasonable and fair, and opening up new markets around the world. To keep our economy growing, we must pass a comprehensive energy plan, to make America more energy-independent. (Applause.)

We will help more Americans get training at our community colleges for the jobs of the future. We'll protect workers and entrepreneurs from junk lawsuits that threaten to close the doors of too many small businesses and factories. (Applause.) You cannot be pro-small business and pro-trial lawyer at the same time. (Applause.) You have to choose. My opponent has made his choice, and he put him on the ticket. (Laughter and applause.) I've made my choice I will continue to work with Congress to end the junk lawsuits that hurt small businesses and threaten jobs all across our country. (Applause.)

Across America, teachers and parents and principals are now working hard to raise the standards at our elementary schools, and to see that every child can read by the 3rd grade. Now we must move forward and make certain that our high schools are doing their jobs, as well. Every high school diploma must mean that our graduates are prepared for jobs, for college, and for success. (Applause.)

The quality of health care in America is one of our great achievements. Now we must move forward to expand access to care, and to keep important health decisions in the hands of patients and doctors, not in government bureaucrats'. (Applause.) We need to make health care more affordable by making health insurance available to more Americans, by harnessing the power of information technology, and by limiting the costly and abusive litigation that threatens health care in America. (Applause.) America needs medical liability reform. No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit. (Applause.)

Our country has made a lot of progress in ending dependency on government. Now we must move forward to strengthen work requirements that lead people from welfare to stable jobs. We need to encourage marriage and the family ties that improve the lives of our children. (Applause.) During the next four years, we'll help more citizens to own their health plan, to own a piece of their retirement, to own their own home or their own small business. We'll usher in a new era of ownership in America, with an agenda to help all our citizens save and build and invest, so every person owns a part of the American Dream. (Applause.)

This broad agenda we will carry into the new term comes from a basic conviction: Government should never try to control or dominate the lives of our citizens. Yet government can and should help citizens gain the tools to make their own choices and to improve their own lives. When men and women have a sound education, and the skills to seize new opportunities, and the security of health care, they will achieve great things for themselves and for our nation. There is no greater force for good in this world than the energy of free people. (Applause.)

Our opponents have a very different agenda. Senator Kerry has spent almost 20 years in the federal government, and he's concluded that it just isn't big enough. (Laughter.) He proposed nearly $2 trillion in additional federal spending, and we're just getting started. But he hasn't told us how he plans to pay for it all. I think we can guess. He has a history of voting to raise taxes. But we're going to make it clear to him that would be the wrong medicine for America's improving economy. (Applause.)

He and his running mate consistently oppose reforms that limit the power of Washington and place trust in the individual. They share the same old Washington mind-set -- they will give the orders and you pay the bills. But we've gone beyond that way of thinking, and we're not going back. (Applause.)

America's future also depends on our willingness to lead in the world. On a September morning, the world changed. And since that day we have changed the world. (Applause.) Before September the 11th, al Qaeda terrorists were plotting and moving across borders with little fear. Today, two-thirds of al Qaeda's known leaders have been captured or killed, and America and the world are safer. (Applause.)

Before September the 11th, the security of the American homeland was in grave danger. Our government was not organized to meet the new threat. We transformed our defenses; we created a new Department of Homeland Security. We rallied the world to pursue terrorists abroad and strengthen our laws to act against terrorists at home. We're using the Patriot Act to track terrorist activity and break up terror cells. We're using intelligence and law enforcement better than ever before. The mission of the FBI is now focused on preventing terrorism. In a vast and free nation such as ours, it is impossible to guarantee perfect security. But I can assure you, many fine professionals in intelligence and national security and homeland security and law enforcement are working around the clock; they're doing everything they can to protect us. And because of their vigilance, America is safer. (Applause.)

Before September the 11th, Afghanistan served as the home base of al Qaeda, which trained and deployed thousands of killers to set up terror cells in dozens of countries, including our own. Today, Afghanistan is a rising democracy, an ally in the war on terror, and America and the world are safer. (Applause.)

Before September the 11th, Pakistan was a safe transit point for terrorists. Today, Pakistani forces are aggressively helping to round up terrorists, they're an ally in the war on terror. America and the world is safer. (Applause.)

Before September the 11th, in Saudi Arabia, terrorists were raising money, and recruiting and operating with little opposition. Today, the Saudi government is taking the fight to al Qaeda, and America and the world are safer. (Applause.)

Before September the 11th, Libya was spending millions to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Today, because America and allies have sent a strong and clear message, the leader of Libya has abandoned his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and America and the world are safer. (Applause.)

Before September the 11th, the ruler of Iraq was a sworn enemy of America. He was defying the world, and firing weapons at American pilots enforcing the world's sanctions. He had pursued and used weapons of mass destruction. He threatened his neighbors. He subsidized the families of suicide bombers. He had murdered tens of thousands of his own citizens. He was a source of great instability in the world's most volatile region That's why, even before September the 11th, the policy of our country was regime change in Iraq. After September the 11th, the risk that Saddam Hussein could have used weapons, or could have shared his capability to produce them with terrorists was simply too great.

We went to the United States Congress, which overwhelmingly agreed; then to the United Nations Security Council, which unanimously demanded a full accounting of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. When he again refused to comply, and continued to systematically deceive the weapons inspectors, we made the decision to remove him from power. (Applause.)

Although we have not found the stockpiles of weapons that our intelligence showed would be there, we were right to go into Iraq. (Applause.) With Saddam Hussein in prison, America and the world are safer. (Applause.)

We still have important and difficult work to do. Our immediate task is to work with friends and allies around the world, to continue aggressively pursuing the terrorist and foreign fighters in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and elsewhere. You can't talk sense to the terrorists. You cannot negotiate with terrorists. We must engage these enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq and around the world so we do not have to face them here at home. (Applause.)

The conditions for success in Afghanistan and Iraq are now coming together. These two nations are now governed by strong leaders, committed men, people who want peace and freedom for their people. The people of Iraq are taking more and more responsibility for their own security. They want to live in a free society. Men and women in Iraq want their children to grow up in a peaceful world. Schools and hospitals are being reopened. Citizens' lives are improving. Both nations are on the path to elections.

The people of those countries can count on America and our coalition. When we acted to protect our own security, we also promised to help deliver them from tyranny, to restore their sovereignty, to set them on the path of democracy. And when America gives its word, America keeps its word. (Applause.)

Over the next four years we will continue to defend our homeland, we'll continue to defeat the terrorists abroad. Yet, in the long run, our safety requires something more. We must work to change the conditions that give rise to terror in the Middle East: the poverty, and the hopelessness, and the resentments that terrorists too often exploit. Life in that region will be far more hopeful and peaceful when men and women can choose their own leaders, when the people can decide their own future. A free and peaceful Iraq, a free and peaceful Afghanistan will be powerful examples to their neighbors. Free countries do not export terror. Free countries do not stifle the dreams of their citizens. By serving the ideal of liberty, we are bringing hope to others, and that makes America more secure. (Applause.)

By serving the ideal of liberty, we also serve the deepest ideals of our country. Freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world. (Applause.)

Our men and women in the military are serving the cause of freedom. They're taking great risks on our behalf. At bases across the country and the world, I've had the privilege of meeting with those who defend our country and sacrifice for our security. I've seen their great decency and their unselfish courage. And I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, the cause of freedom is in good hands. (Applause.)

We must make sure our troops have the very best. Last September, while our troops were in combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq, I proposed supplemental funding to support them in their missions. The legislation provided funding for body armor and other vital equipment, for hazard pay, for health benefits, for ammunition, for fuel, for spare parts for our military. In the Senate, only a small, out-of-the-mainstream minority of 12 senators voted against that legislation. And two of those 12 senators are my opponent and his running mate. (Applause.)

Senator Kerry tried to explain his vote by saying, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." (Laughter.) End quote. Now he's offering different explanations. Last week, Senator Kerry said he was "proud" that he and his running mate voted against the funding for the troops. Then he further said the whole thing is a "complicated" matter. There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat. (Applause.) Leaders need to stand behind our military, and back them up 100 percent. And that's what I will do every day that I am your President. (Applause.)

America is leading the world with confidence and moral clarity. We put together a strong coalition to help defeat the terrorists. There are over 60 nations involved in the Proliferation Security Initiative, nearly 40 nations are involved in Afghanistan, some 30 nations involved in Iraq. We'll continue to build our alliances; we'll continue to work with our friends for the cause of security and peace. But I will never turn over America's national security decisions to leaders of other nations. (Applause.)

This nation is prosperous and strong; yet we need to remember that our greatest strength is in the character of our citizens. Our nation is strong because of the values we try to live by: courage and compassion, reverence and integrity. We're strong because of the institutions that help to give us direction and purpose: our families, our schools, our religious congregations. These values and institutions are fundamental to our lives; they deserve the respect of our government. (Applause.)

We stand for institutions like marriage and family, which are the foundations of society. (Applause.) We stand for a culture of life in which every person counts and every person matters. (Applause.) We stand for judges who strictly and faithfully interpret the law, instead of legislating from the bench. (Applause.)

And we're building a culture of responsibility here in America. The culture of this country is changing from one that has said, if it feels good, do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else, to a culture in which each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make in life. (Applause.) If you are fortunate enough to be a mother or father, you are responsible for loving your child with all your heart and all your soul. (Applause.) If you're worried about the quality of the education in community in which you live, you are responsible for doing something about it. (Applause.) If you're a CEO in corporate America, you're responsible for telling the truth to your shareholders and your employees. (Applause.) And in this new responsibility society, each of us is responsible for loving our neighbors just like we'd like to be loved ourselves. (Applause.)

For all Americans, these years in our history will always stand apart. There are quiet times in the life of a nation when little is expected of the leaders; this isn't one of those times. None of us will ever forget that week when one era ended and another began. On September the 14th, 2001, I stood in the ruins of the Twin Towers. It's a day I'll never forget. There were workers in hard-hats yelling at me, "Whatever it takes." A fellow grabbed me by the arm -- I can't remember if he was a policeman or fireman -- and he said, "Do not let me down."

As we all did that day, these men and women searching through the rubble took it personally. I took it personally. I have a responsibility that goes on. I will never relent in bringing justice to our enemies. I will defend the security of our country, whatever it takes. (Applause.)

In these times, I've also been a witness to the character of this nation. I've seen the unselfish courage of our troops. I've seen the heroism of Americans in the face of danger. I've seen the spirit of service and compassion renewed in our country, in the quiet love of neighbor for neighbor. We've all seen our nation unite in common purpose when it mattered most.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have come through much together. We've done the hard work. We've made our nation better and safer. We've turned the corner in extending freedom throughout the world. We're expanding opportunity here at home. And now, we move forward with confidence. During the next four years, we will spread opportunity to every corner of this country. We will pass the enduring values of our country to another generation. We will continue to lead the cause of freedom and peace, and we will prevail.

May God bless you all. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. God bless our great country. (Applause.)

END 8:05 P.M. EDT