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Excerpts from the President's Visit with His Team
October 13, 2005
Excerpts from the President's Visit with His Team
DAR Constitution Hall
THE PRESIDENT: ...I hope you get as much satisfaction out of serving our country as I do. I think serving America is an incredible honor, and I want to thank you all for serving our country.
I want to thank those of you who have made the government a career. I appreciate your sacrifice. I appreciate your willingness to forego opportunities in the private sector to step up and serve America. And I want to thank those of you who are here because I'm here -- (laughter) -- for being willing to be here.
Our task is an important task. I mean, we've got something to do. I hope you view the opportunity like I do, that I'm not interested in just holding the job. I didn't leave the Promised Land to come up here -- (laughter and applause) -- I see we got a few Texans here. (Laughter.) But I didn't come here just to mark time, and I hope you're not either, see. You've got important jobs to do and my first admonition is, just don't sit there. Take advantage of the moment.
I was just thinking back the other day, man, the last five years have flown by. And I suspect the next three will, as well. So therefore -- I'm talking to myself now -- get after it, make something happen. That's what leaders do. And we're all leaders. We have responsibilities. You can't achieve results, by the way, unless you're willing to set goals. So my first -- I guess the first lesson of this talk is make sure you set goals.
But one of the things I've learned in my time in public life, as well as in the private sector, is the goals better be easy to understand.
...And the thing about setting clear goals that everybody can understand, it makes it easier to measure. And you can't achieve goals unless you're willing to measure. I want to thank my friend, Clay Johnson, and his team for setting up the management agenda. That's a serious part of us all doing our jobs properly. See, the management agenda -- I hope you understand what the management agenda is; if you don't, I'm going to talk to your bosses -- (laughter) -- because they understand I'm paying attention to the management agenda. Which is all aimed at making sure we do our jobs better and achieving results for the American people. That's what we're here to do. We're here to set goals and to get things done to make people's lives better.
Now, I don't see how you can set goals, particularly in this town, if you don't stand by principle. I assure you, I do not make decisions based upon the latest opinion poll and focus group. That's not how I do business. (Applause.) And I don't expect you to, either. I don't expect anybody in my administration to sacrifice principle because the opinion polls might not be just right, or because some focus group just popped out some answer that may run contrary to what this administration is trying to do.
Which means you've got to stand strong for what you believe. And I'm going to tell you some of the things I believe that I hope will guide some of the policies you're working on.
First of all, I believe there is an Almighty, and I believe the great gift of the Almighty is freedom. (Applause.) So if you're working on the freedom agenda, understand that I believe everybody desires to be free. See, freedom is not America's gift to the world -- that's what I've been telling the American people. It's not our gift. We can serve an example for others who look for what freedom means. But freedom is universal. And if you believe in the universality of freedom, then you understand why this administration is trying to make sure everybody has a chance to be free.
Second principle: Free societies lead to peace; free societies yield the peace we all want. Thirdly, there is only one standard of ethics when you're working for the people, and that is the highest standard of all: no lying, cheating or stealing in the government is allowed. (Applause.) It's important to understand who we work for. We don't work for Republicans, we don't work for Democrats, we don't work for independents -- we work for everybody. See, we're here to represent all Americans. If any of you here are thinking that you're here because you're supposed to represent a narrow constituency, you're not doing your job and setting the right kind of goals.
We're here to do our best for every single person who's a citizen of this country, which means we better understand whose money we spend. See, we're spending people's money. And if you understand you're to represent all and to work on behalf of a better nation for everybody, and understand whose money you're spending, it makes you much wiser with the money. And so be sound with people's money. Figure out ways to be efficient with the people's money. Figure out ways how to achieve results in the most cost effective way possible. That's what the management agenda does -- it measures how you're doing your work and how your departments are doing your work.
One of the principles that I try to go by is I understand it's important for people to own something. Oh, that sounds simple; I understand that. But if you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of this country. If you own something, it gives you a chance to help perhaps break a cycle of poverty. You see, I love the idea that more and more citizens are opening up the door where they live saying, "Welcome to my house. Welcome to my piece of property." The more people who are able to say that in America, the better off America is.
One of my jobs is to set big goals. I'm going to talk about some of the goals I have set. I believe that I have a responsibility, as do you, is to deal with problems and not pass them on. It's the easy way politically is to say, this is a little too large, the hill is a little too steep to climb -- why don't we just let somebody else climb it. That's the wrong attitude if you realize you've got only a limited time to serve the American people.
And so one of the issues that I've taken on is the Social Security issue. It used to be called the third rail of American politics. That meant if you touched it, you would not survive. Well, not only has this administration touched it, we've grabbed a hold of it, because I believe a President must deal with problems -- and we've got a problem. And I'm not going to spend a lot of time outlining the problem, I'm just telling you the system is going broke. And if it's going broke, how in the heck can any of us look young workers in the eye and say "keep paying payroll taxes into a system that's going broke"? You can't do that and be honest with the people.
But one of the inherent principles that I've outlined and asked Congress to consider is this concept: Younger workers ought to be allowed to take some of their own money and set it aside in a personal savings account, a personal retirement account they can call their own. The reason why I think it's important is I understand money gets a better rate of return in the private markets than it does when the government holds it. And, secondly, I love the idea of allowing people who may not have an asset they call their own to be able to accumulate their own assets, their own worth, so they can pass it on to whomever they choose.
Ownership is a vital part of the American dream. And the more small business owners we have from all walks of life, the more homeowners, the more retirement plans owned by individuals, the better off this country will be. I believe in the concept of government if necessary, but not necessarily government. That means that government can't do -- be all things to all people. Government can help. We can create environments that encourage entrepreneurship. We can help people who cannot help themselves. But understand that too big a government takes away some of the most important parts of our society; it crowds out individual initiative; it hampers the growth of small businesses; it replaces compassion, which leads to another principle.
Government can hand out money, but government can't put hope in a person's life, a sense of purpose in a person's life. That happens when an individual who cares says, "I love you" and "What can I do to help you?" One of the most important initiatives of this administration is to rally what I've called the armies of compassion. Which means you've got to understand the true strength of this country is not found in our armies or in our bank accounts; it's found in the hearts and souls of our fellow citizens.
I can't tell you how impressive the army of compassion has been when I've been down there to the hurricane sites. I mean, you know, I was in Biloxi, Mississippi, and just walking along the road where there are no houses, and just piles of rubble. It's unbelievable, the devastation.
And, yet, amidst the humidity and angst and the ruin was a little center of the Red Cross feeding the hungry. And it was manned by volunteers from around the country. People who had come down, you know, without a government edict or a law and just said, what can I do, how can I help, what can I do to help a neighbor in need? One of the things this administration will do is to continue to support and rally those who've heard the universal call to love a neighbor in order to help heal the hurt that often exists in our society.
Finally, a principle that we need to go by is, government ought to help usher in what I call the responsibility era, and that is, each of us needs to be responsible for the decisions we make in life. If you're a father, you're responsible for loving your child with all your heart and all your soul. If you're a citizen of this country, you're responsible for contributing to the welfare of your community. If you're a corporation in America, you're responsible for telling the truth to your shareholders, and at the same time, being a good corporate citizen in the community in which you live.
And government is responsible. You can't urge the responsibility era unless we behave responsibly ourselves, which means good stewards of the taxpayer's money and setting clear and measurable goals.
There are some big issues we're facing with, and one of the things I told you last time -- or if you weren't here, told others last time -- is that -- it was the middle of the campaign. I said, look, please don't get distracted by politics; focus on doing your job. And for those of you who didn't get distracted on politics and focused on doing your job, I want to thank you for that.
Obviously, we're not in a political campaign this time, but we're in a time when the press tends to stay focused on things other than what you're doing, probably. And so my message to you today is: Don't get distracted; stay focused on things like making sure our forests are managed better. If you're in
Agriculture Department, and that happens to be your area of expertise, get the job done. Implement healthy forest legislation in a way that says we can be good stewards of the land and protect our forests from catastrophic harm.
If you're working in the Education Department, stay focused on adult literacy, if that happens to be your department. Don't get distracted by the debates over this or debates over that. Get your job done. Set clear goals and make sure the programs that you administer are working. And if they're not working, have the courage and capacity to challenge the status quo.
If you're working in the Interior Department, make sure our parks are accessible and maintained and orderly. After all, remember, one of the principles is, we're working for the people. These parks aren't owned by you or me. They're owned by the people of the United States. And they have the right to drive on roads that don't have pot holes in them; and they have rights to have accessibility to the people's parks.
If you're at the Energy Department, implement the conservation measures. And by the way, even if you're not at the Energy Department, implement the conservation measures. (Laughter and applause.) The surest way we can deal with the disruption in our supplies of gasoline and natural gas is to be wise -- wise users of energy. And it starts with the government setting the example.
If you're somebody working at the State Department, make sure the AIDS program works. One of the principles that I tried to -- not have tried -- have worked on as the President with the State Department is this one, "To whom much is given, much is required." This country of ours has been given a lot. And when we see hurt, we've got to deal with it. I want you to know the United States government is leading the relief effort in Pakistan right now. We're moving choppers to help these poor people that are suffering. Katrina was bad. Pakistan was unbelievable. And, yet, our government is not standing by, but we're helping President Musharraf. Condi Rice just called me -- or recently called me -- a couple hours ago called me. Time is flying. (Laughter.) She had just met with President Musharraf. She's representing the United States of America as the people begin to provide help for the people that are suffering there.
So if you're working on the State Department on hunger or AIDS, get the job done. We don't have much time here. Let's lay the foundation so that we can say, when it's all said and done, job well done; we helped save lives. There's a pandemic sweeping this country -- sweeping this world. And the United States of America is proud to be a leader in helping save lives, and it's up to you to get the job done. So in other words, there's a lot of focus on a lot of things, but we've got important projects going on here, and if you're involved with them, thanks for being involved. Set clear goals. Make sure that we achieve those goals; measure to make sure we're achieving those goals; and if it's not working, do something else, but get the job done.
Now, I want to talk to you about some of the big goals, some of the big issues that are dominating the news that tend to maybe distract you from your job, or maybe makes you think, maybe the President isn't paying attention to what I'm doing. I'm paying attention. I understand there's a lot of important projects going on.
Some of the big things we're trying to do -- I told you the job of a President is to set big goals and not pass them on. Obviously, some of the issues we're dealing with, we didn't ask for. One of the issues that this government is now dealing with is Katrina and Rita. And I'm telling you, the devastation is mind-boggling. It's hard to walk down a beach where there used to be beautiful homes, and there's nothing. It's hard to go to New Orleans, one of the great cities -- if you've ever -- Texans understand what I'm talking about. We used to -- we used to go east from Houston to get lost in New Orleans and hope our parents wouldn't find us. (Laughter.) We always went home, though. (Laughter.)
It's a great city. I said down there in New Orleans, in Jackson Square, I can't imagine the United States without a vibrant New Orleans. But New Orleans is hurting. It's been devastated. Surrounding parishes have been devastated. Cameron, Louisiana doesn't exist except for a courthouse that was built like in the -- maybe 1930s. That's all it is. You know, it used to be city -- shops and homes and stuff. Nothing. Just a courthouse standing there. It's unbelievable.
And so we have a duty. What you're reading about is the government, at all levels, working as hard as we possibly can to get the job done. Oh, I know you saw the reports about how maybe the response wasn't efficient. If it wasn't, it's my fault, from the federal level. And I want you to know I'm going to be working with your respective people to figure out how to do it better.
But rather than getting stuck in the past, I think it's important for all of us to look forward, to help folks, to set the environment for change. We've got laws, and we'll be dealing with the laws. You know, there's a -- I'll tell you one thing. The fact that we cranked out $1.2 billion in $2,000 checks in about a week is a great testimony to people who work at Homeland Security and FEMA. They got money in the hands of people that needed money in an incredibly efficient way. And I want to thank you for that, and I'm proud of the work you have done. And there's more work to do.
My own view is this, if you're interested to know the federal role: I don't think the federal government ought to be telling the people of New Orleans how to rebuild their city. I think the people of New Orleans need to come forth with the vision. They understand the dynamics of the city. They understand the culture.
Now, I think the federal government needs to make it clear that "business as usual" is not accepted, but it's up to the folks to step up, and say, here's -- to not only the federal government, but to the state government, and more importantly, to the people themselves, here is the vision; here's how we see the future of New Orleans. And then it's the role of the federal government, to the extent the law allows us, to step in and help.
Things are changing down there. I mean, it's amazing. First of all, the people's eyes are no longer bloodshot, they're white. You know, people are getting rest. It's a natural progression of shock, anger, dismay, blame, and now renewal. And I think we're headed into the renewal stage. People are getting a little bounce in their step. They're beginning to see there is a tomorrow.
I went to a -- Laura and I went to a school in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Eighty percent of the teachers' homes were destroyed. The principals of the schools homes were destroyed. The high school was destroyed, the middle school was destroyed. And you know what they did? They got the one standing school, a little elementary school, and they built temporary buildings, so they've got the high school, the middle school, the elementary school, teachers in trailers, and they're teaching school. (Applause.)
So the people -- you know, when you get your education system up and running, people get a little bounce in their step; there's a little hope. And slowly, but surely, things are going to advance. The interesting thing about the rebuilding of these areas is this: most of the rebuilding is going to come when the private sector gets after it. And so the job of government is to get out of the way and create incentives.
No, we'll help people. We'll make sure those who are stuck in shelters have got the care they need. We understand that the people got displaced that have got, you know, perhaps mental or drug issues. We'll deal with it. We've got systems set up to help. But the truth of the matter is, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi are going to grow because the private sector and small businesses are going to come back and start rebuilding the lives of those people down there. And as jobs step up, people are going to be heading in.
You know what the issue is going to be a year from now, when I speak to you? If you're an electrician and you want work, go down there. If you're a plumber, and you want to find a job, there's an opportunity for you. And the real challenge is going to be, for those of you who work in the Labor Department, is to help re-train people for the jobs that are going to exist down there for a long time coming. Katrina and Rita affected our economy, but it's a short-term effect. And what's going to happen next year, there's going to be a boom, because people are going to be rebuilding their lives. Government's role is to help. Government, if necessary, but not necessarily government.
I'm also working on the war on terror, and so are you. I wish I could tell you the war was over. It's not over. And it's not over because of two things. One, we haven't completely dismantled the terrorist networks that wanted to hurt us. I want you to remember that after September the 11th there had been numerous attacks around the world. September the 11th was not an isolated moment.
The other thing that you've got to understand is that we're dealing with killers who have got goals. They've set goals, too, and they're measurable, and we know what they are. And they're pretty simple. They want to establish their view of the world in as many countries as possible, starting in the broader Middle East. They've got territorial ambition for their philosophy, which, by the way, is the exact opposite of our philosophy.
Perhaps the best way to describe to you how they think is, think about the Taliban. The regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan was incredibly brutal and backward. There was no such thing as public dissent. If you disagreed with them, you were in trouble. There was no such thing as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It's their view of religion. I believe they've hijacked a great religion to suit their needs. That's what tyrants do, they hijack good ideas and great religions and convert it to meet their goals. Their goal is to drive America and the free world out of parts of the world so they can fill it with their philosophy.
Make no mistake about it, these are not isolated, angry people. They are people who have got designs and goals. They didn't understand -- see, they think democracies are weak. And for those of you who have been a part of the response after September the 11th, thank you. You surprised the enemy. America surprised the enemy. They thought we would run, and instead, quite the opposite has happened. We have laid out a strategy that says we will find you and bring you to justice, no matter how long it takes, no matter how hard the work. That's our call, and that's what we're up to.
The second reason why they still exist is because the freedom agenda hadn't taken fully hold. You see, you can't defeat these people with just finding them and bringing them to justice. There's more work to be done. You've got to defeat the cause. You've got to defeat their ability to exploit hopelessness and despair. You've got to be able to have an alternative to their dark vision. And the greatest alternative to darkness is the light of freedom and democracy. Remember, I told you I'm operating on the principle that freedom is universal, and deep inside everybody's soul is the desire to be free. I'm not saying every Methodist soul. I'm saying everybody's soul, every single body's soul has the desire to be free. That's what I believe. And therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that people who lived in Afghanistan wanted to be free. There's no doubt in my mind that the people who live in Iraq want to be free.
And we acted to get rid of a dictator based upon the best intelligence we had at the time. We made a decision, after 16 United Nations resolutions that said disarm or face serious consequences, for this guy to face serious consequences, and now we have an opportunity to defeat the terrorists and their ideology by letting the Iraqi people have a democracy or encouraging them to have a democracy and live in freedom.
I'm going to tell you something: We're going to succeed in Iraq, no doubt in my mind. (Applause.) There's no doubt in my mind we'll succeed in Iraq. You know why? Because the Iraqis want to be free. And they're going to vote on a constitution.
I want you to remind your friends and neighbors who may be somewhat skeptical about what they're seeing on the TV screens that it wasn't so easy to get our Constitution passed. As I recall -- I think I've got my history right here -- two of the three delegates from New York at the Constitutional Convention stormed out and didn't vote. I know I'm pretty correct on this, that we didn't get it right the first time around on our Constitution. As a matter of fact, we had the Bill of Rights shortly after it was ratified. In other words -- but it's got to be so hopeful for people to realize that the Iraqis are now working on a constitution that is broad-based, that will help unify the country.
Just to share -- it's not a secret, but the strategy in Iraq is two-fold: one, let the democratic process unfold, which it is. There's going to be elections for a permanent government in December. There's constitutional elections next weekend. And at the same time, train the Iraqis so they can secure their country. I mean, after all, if you believe that people want to be free and have the desire to live in a free society, then it's logical to say we'll help you, we'll help you prepare, we'll help you deal with the few that are trying to stop the hopes of the many. And that's what you're seeing.
I'm telling you, the Iraqis are willing to take the fight to the Zarqawis. They understand like I understand, and I hope you understand, the stakes. We cannot let Zarqawi and al Qaeda have a stronghold in Iraq. The way to defeat these people that are trying to set up a caliphate, a dark vision, the way to defeat the people who are trying to hijack a great religion is to spread freedom and democracy, and it's happening.
I'm going to tell you something that's made an effect on me, is my friendship with Koizumi, Prime Minister Koizumi. He's an interesting guy. Elvis is his favorite singer, or was. (Laughter.) Pretty unique for Japanese people, I think. He is
-- he's a lot of fun. His favorite movie is "High Noon." And when I first met him he called me "Cooper." (Laughter.) I wasn't exactly sure what he was talking about, you know? (Laughter.)
There's a lot that comes to our desks, my desk, and therefore your desks. One issue that's come to my desk is North Korea, of course. By the way, a person who is starving his people to death in the 21st century, a person who's got gulags bigger than most any tyrant has ever had -- it's amazing, and it's disturbing to me, and it should be disturbing to you. And it's a fellow who thinks he can end up with a nuclear weapon to try to blackmail the world. And, yet, the strongest partner in peace I have on this issue is Koizumi. When it comes to Iraq, the understanding that democracy can change behavior and lay the foundation for peace, one of the best partners we have is Koizumi. If I need to talk to somebody about the politics of the Far East and want a frank appraisal, it's Koizumi.
Sixty years ago, my dad, as an 18-year-old fighter pilot was fighting the Japanese. I think it's interesting -- at least I find it interesting -- that 60 years, which isn't all that long, frankly -- unless you're 59 and it's, like, an eternity. (Laughter.) This guy's a friend. So what happened? What took place between World War II when Japan was a sworn enemy, and 2005, when the President of the United States, his strongest -- one of his strongest allies and personal friends is the Prime Minister of the enemy? You know what took place? Freedom and democracy took place. That's what happened. It wasn't American-style democracy, it was Japanese-style democracy. (Applause.)
And so what you're watching is what I call, lay the foundation for peace. And those just are not empty words. I believe -- as you can tell, I believe some things strongly, and I'm not changing, by the way, about what I believe -- (applause.) But I believe this, I believe this: I believe freedom is on the march. And I believe 50 years from now, people are going to look back at this era and say, thank goodness the United States of America didn't abandon her principles of human freedom and human rights and human dignity that every person deserves to be free. And I think someday an American President is going to be talking to a group like this and stand up and say, you know what's ironic? One of my best buddies is the democratically-elected leader from Iraq, and we're helping to deal with the peace in the broader Middle East. (Applause.)
...The other thing I'm thinking about besides Katrina, the war on terror, the democracy agenda and the issue at the moment is this economy of ours. And we're strong. We are strong because the entrepreneurial spirit is strong. Part of the principles I described to you is the idea of encouraging ownership and understanding the role of government is limited. In other words, I think the role of government is to create environments where people are willing to make proper decisions of investment, when it comes to the environment, for example.
But we've got a problem, and that is we're dependent on foreign sources of oil. The greatest economy in the world has got an Achilles heel, and that's our energy dependence.
I want to thank those of you who worked on the energy bill. I want to thank those of you who are working in the Energy Department. But we got a long way to dig out of this hole, I'm just telling you. So part of making sure that the environment is strong enough to encourage investment is to diversify away from hydrocarbons, pure and simple. The fastest way to do that when it comes to electricity is to restart a nuclear energy program. It's clean, it's renewable, it doesn't create greenhouse gases. It's a good industry, and it makes sense to do so.
...I believe the cars are going to be different. I think that we'll be able to use hydrogen-powered automobiles within a reasonable period of time.
The problem is "reasonable period of time" is greater than three years. And so, therefore -- and, therefore, those of us who are working here who may not be around in three years have got to lay the foundation for a diversification program, away from the habits of the past. But it's going to come.
...I understand when people go to the pumps and pay $2.89 a gallon, that it's taking money out of your pocket that normally would have been -- when you were paying $1.50. I understand that. The heating bills are going to go up. And that's one of the reasons why I made the decision we're not going to raise the taxes on the people. We got more money coming out of their pockets, and we don't need to take even more. And so, therefore, government has got to be lean and responsible with the people's money. And if you got programs that you're working under that aren't working, let's get rid of them.
...I'll tell you one thing: I put together a fabulous administration, people from all walks of life, people who know what they're doing, people who are smart, people who can walk in the Oval Office and say, you're right, or wrong. You look around at this Cabinet and you look around at the staff, you're going to find some of the finest people that have ever served in the government of the United States of America. (Applause.)
...Imagine a President -- and some have tried it -- "follow me, the world is going to be worse." (Laughter.) That's generally a one-man parade. (Laughter.) That's not -- as somebody who is working with you in this business, somebody who understands we got a limited time here, somebody who wants you to focus on results and the job at hand and get the job done for the American people, you got to know I'm optimistic. I'm optimistic we can overcome any hurdle; I'm optimistic that we can leave behind a better America.
I hope you share that optimism with me, and I hope you also share the great honor it is to serve the American people. God bless. (Applause.)