THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, ‘Vice’ President Cheney, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens: America this evening is a nation called to great responsibilities. And we are rising to meet them.

As we gather tonight, hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror, and also in Iraq. By instituting military rule abroad, and providing photo-ops for here at home, they are making my role as war-time President more secure.

Each day, law enforcement personnel and intelligence officers are tracking terrorist threats; analysts are examining airline passenger lists; the men and women of our new Homeland Security Department are patrolling our coasts and borders. Formerly, these functions were performed by people with slightly more funding and much lower political visibility. But, now, it is I that am protecting you, America.

Americans are proving once again to be the hardest working people in the world, often for less than minimum wage. The tax cuts I supported were clearly a good idea, and Paul O’Neill will stop saying otherwise when he realizes we’re serious about framing him for espionage.

Tonight, you members of Congress can take pride in the Democratic proposals you watered down before passing. You're raising the standards for our public schools without giving them the resources to meet those standards. You are giving our senior citizens a prescription drug allowance, without providing access to quality, affordable medication.

Under the administration of my predecessor, our foreign interventions were humanitarian, not defensive, and our economy was strong. Democrats do not have the experience in dealing with terror, failure, and poverty that I have acquired, and if you reelect them, they will be ill-equipped to deal with the nation I have created. It is clear they do not understand foreign policy: all they have done during my term in office is criticize my methods, without ever themselves assuming the role of Commander in Chief.

Our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people. Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11th, 2001 -- over two years without an attack on American soil. Well, except for Richard Reid’s bomb...the fatal anthrax attacks...the Washington snipers...and constant terrorist activities by white supremacists. But be assured, our color-coded alert system remains fully operative, and I personally have practiced sealing the Oval Office with duct tape.

Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to give our homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us. And one of those essential tools is the Patriot Act, which allows federal law enforcement to better share information, to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells, and to seize their assets. For years, we have used similar provisions to catch embezzlers and drug traffickers. If these methods are good for hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting terrorists. And the more we blur the boundaries between those who are entitled to a fair trial and those who may be held in secret, the easier it will be for the FBI to defend our freedom.

Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. (Applause.) Why are people applauding?

America is on the offensive against the terrorists who started this war. Last March, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a mastermind of September the 11th, awoke to find himself in the custody of U.S. and Pakistani authorities. Last August the 11th brought the capture of the terrorist Hambali, who was a key player in the attack in Indonesia that killed over 200 people. We're tracking al Qaeda around the world, and nearly two-thirds of their known leaders have now been captured or killed. Thousands of very skilled and determined military personnel are on the manhunt, going after the remaining killers who hide in cities and caves, and one by one, we will bring these terrorists to justice. I still have not said the name ‘Osama bin Laden’ in public since I was assured we blew our chance to acquire him through diplomacy with Afghanistan. Going after the ringleader is a bad precedent to set, anyway. From letting Enron CEO Ken Lay go free, to blaming others for the lies in my last State of the Union, I have ensured that we will never return to the age of apology.

As part of the offensive against terror, we are also confronting the regimes that harbor and support terrorists, and could supply them with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. The United States and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger. When we find a nation that really has a secret weapons stockpile, I’m sure the U.N. will believe Colin Powell.

The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made Afghanistan the primary training base of al Qaeda killers. As of this month, that country has a new constitution, free elections, full participation by women, and a never-ending civil war. After 9/11, they had offered to be our partners in the war on terror--but they served us much better as a punching bag.

Since we last met in this chamber, combat forces of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Poland and other countries enforced the demands of the United Nations (smirk), ended the rule of Saddam Hussein, and the people of Iraq are free.

Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters. Honestly, they’re the ONLY Iraqis fighting us. Any non-Baathist soldiers you might see are just foreign terrorists, whom I challenge, on the behalf of our troops, to a fight to the death. Since all of Iraq that did not support Saddam supports us, we’ll probably not hit the ten-thousand American casualty mark until just after my reelection.

The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. And America has always been willing to do what it takes for what is right. Last January, Iraq's only law was the whim of one brutal man. Today our coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law, with a bill of rights. It’s going to be a lot less secular, let me tell you that. Expect to see lots more burqas by the end of June.

As democracy, quickly followed by a Shiite dictatorship, takes hold in Iraq, we will quickly withdraw, toughening our anti-terrorism measures to deal with the increased threats this adventure has created. We will not let the threat of further attacks faze us, just as I am not letting the possibly disastrous consequences of an early withdrawal tempt me into hurting my reelection chances by keeping a sufficient force in Iraq.

Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future. And tonight we are honored to welcome one of Iraq's most respected leaders: the current President of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi.

Sir, America stands with you and the Iraqi people as you build a free and peaceful nation. I’m sure if we were letting you speak to the press tonight, you would repeat your calls for the U.N. to replace us. This is what democracy is all about, but please, save it for when nobody’s watching.

Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better. Last month, the leader of Libya voluntarily pledged to disclose and dismantle all of his regime's weapons of mass destruction programs, including a uranium enrichment project for nuclear weapons. Colonel Qadhafi correctly judged that his country would be better off and far more secure without weapons of mass murder. Not that going without weapons of mass murder is the right decision for every country, of course. I have no intention of dismantling the U.S. arsenal of weapons of mass murder, for they are essential as a peaceful deterrent.

Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America. If we say we’re going to attack you, we’re going to attack you, and no concessions will stop us. Not that anything else we’ve said has turned out to be true, but when you’ve got soldiers willing to give their lives, the world is your oyster.

Different threats require different strategies. Along with nations in the region, we're insisting that North Korea eliminate its nuclear program. America and the international community are demanding that Iran meet its commitments and not develop nuclear weapons. America is committed to keeping the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous regimes. If they promise not to construct them, we will leave these “dangerous regimes” in place.

When I came to this rostrum on September the 20th, 2001, I brought the police shield of a fallen officer, my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end. I gave to you and to all Americans my complete commitment to securing our country and defeating our enemies. And this pledge, given by me, has been kept by other people instead.

You in the Congress have provided the resources for our defense, and cast the difficult votes of war and peace. Our closest allies have been unwavering, except for the ones that wavered. America's intelligence personnel and diplomats have been skilled and tireless, except for the ones that resigned in protest. And the men and women of the American military -- they have taken the hardest duty. We've seen their skill and their courage in armored charges and midnight raids, and lonely hours on faithful watch. We have seen the joy when they return, and felt the sorrow when one is lost, although I personally have never attended one of their funerals. I've had the honor of ordering soldiers under my command to smile on camera while standing behind me, and it makes me feel strong.

Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your families to know: America is proud of you. And my administration, and this Congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror. You’re stuck with Army helicopters, though.

I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. That’s how my advisors characterize to me anyone who questions how we are fighting the war. While I do not read the papers or watch the news, I am confident that Karl Rove will inform me of any dissenting viewpoints I should consider.

Some in this chamber, and in our country, did not support the liberation of Iraq, believing that a policy of inspections and containment would keep us safe, weaken Saddam’s regime, and allow us to move in peacefully when he died. Intellectuals. What can I say? Let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. It’s a new policy we’re trying. The Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities, weapons of mass destruction-like objects, drawings of weapons of mass destruction, and tools which could, after some modification, be used for the creation of these scary-shaped things. We are now quietly disbanding the search for weapons of mass destruction, and my refusal to stand by my statement that we had incontrovertible evidence they existed is the surest proof possible that I lied. My predecessor destroyed Saddam’s capabilities in his attacks in 1998, and Saddam was telling the truth in the speeches I described as “mocking the world.” However, since we got to dig up the graves of the Kurds we were complicit in the murder of, I still believe the war, and my deception, was justified.

Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. My handlers tell me the world already loves and respects me, though, so don’t worry.

We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again. Of course, when the human desire for tyranny and oppression needs to to be gratified, we have the men and women of the CIA, although I was disappointed by our recent failure institute a military junta in Venezuela.

As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friend. I mean friends. Friends. Gosh, that wasn’t Freudian.

America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace -- a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom. When it’s in our economic interest to do so, we will invade any country that violates human rights.

In the last three years, adversity has also revealed the fundamental strength of the hold of the power. We have come through recession, and terrorist attack, and corporate scandals, and all you have done is voted us a tax cut. In exchange for $300 a pop, you’ve permitted millions of dollars of largess to those who haven’t felt the recession anyway. Thanks, suckers. You’re paying more for their tax cut, all told, than you’re getting. Your state taxes and other fees are rising, and your benefits are falling. Out of compassion, you’re helping Ken Lay get back on his feet after the devastating events of 2001.

All skills begin with the basics of reading and math, which are supposed to be learned in the early grades of our schools. Yet for too long, for too many children, those skills were never mastered. By passing the No Child Left Behind Act, you have made the expectation of literacy the law of our country. We're providing more funding for our schools -- almost half of what I promised.

Now, some unfinished fiscal business. When Republicans in Congress and I put together our tax cut package, we made it appear as though, given good economic conditions, it would not cause a deficit. We did this by setting the tax cuts to expire this year, which, given our projections, we could just barely afford. As it happened, the economy was not robust enough to survive our stimulus, and we ended up with a recession and a deficit. The recession, except for our lack of jobs, is ending, but if we make the tax cuts permanent, we will destroy our last vestige of fiscal conservatism and ensure that the budget will not be balanced at least until I leave office.

Our agenda for jobs and growth must help small business owners and employees with relief from needless federal regulation, and protect them from junk and frivolous lawsuits. Corporations should not be legally prevented from poisoning your food or manufacturing unsafe cars, and if they do break the law, they should not be held accountable. With no legislative or judicial controls, corporations can boost their profit margins by doing whatever they want.

Do you know I used to call the CEO of Enron “Kenny Boy?” I almost made him my special guest tonight, but my advisers say he’s unpopular for some reason. Didn’t you guys enjoy those blackouts? I don’t get it.

With my policies, we will cut the deficit in half in five years. You heard me. Even if I win reelection, my most optimistic scenario has my successor responsible for dealing with half of my mess. I’ll be talking more about responsibility near the end of this speech.

Tonight, I also ask you to reform our immigration laws so they reflect our values and benefit our economy. Workers will be allowed to enter the United States if they already have a job offer. As roughly 0% of indigent immigrants enter the U.S. this way, I’m sure this will cut down on the illegal immigration problem, which I will do nothing else to address.

The half-a-loaf health-care plan I passed is enough to make me feel good. Any attempt to expand it to fully cover people who actually need it will be vetoed. Any further health-care initiatives I start will be solely to the benefit of industry, which benefits the economy, which will many of you afford life-saving surgery. So I’m really on your side. I’m keeping life-and-death decisions in the hands of private accountants, as promised. Medicine is no place for democracy.

We are living in a time of great change -- in our world, in our economy, in science and medicine. Yet some things endure -- courage and compassion, reverence and integrity, respect for differences of faith and race. I recently appointed, after a bitter struggle, a good man and a fine judge named Charles Pickering. His compassion was never more fully demonstrated than when he intervened to lessen the sentence of a man convicted for burning a cross on a black person’s lawn. Pickering excused the incident as a “drunken prank.” I timed Pickering’s appointment to coincide with Martin Luther King Day. The values we try to live by never change, at least not in my family.

Here’s where I talk about responsibility. One of the worst decisions our children can make is to gamble their lives and futures on drugs. For one thing, they’re risking ten-year jail sentences, and I call on Congress to exact even harsher penalties. Already, drug use in high school has declined by 11 percent over the last two years. We know this, because 11 percent fewer students checked the “I am using illegal drugs” box on our questionnaire. In my budget, I proposed new funding to randomly collect student’s urine. The aim here is not to punish children, but to send them this message: We love you, and we don't want to lose you. And have you considered joining the military?

I believe children use recreational drugs because they see athletes using performance-enhancing drugs, and that they have unprotected sex because we teach them about condoms. One need only look at my own children and siblings to see how much I understand about helping children make the right decision. While my daughters have been binge-drinking, my little brother contracted herpes, and my niece has been abusing drugs, I feel the situation would be much worse without my Christian influence, and I will bring this wisdom to the government. My cultural legacy will be summed up in one word: self control.

There is a recent trend in court decisions towards allowing churches to define marriage. These activist judges believe that the government has no right to decide who can marry and who cannot. This is foolish. The government should be the sole arbiter of which religious rituals have validity.

This is not the only way I seek to exert government control over religion and culture. With my faith-based initiatives funding, churches who wish to remain competitive will have to conform to federal guidelines for aid. It may not happen in my term of office, but rest assured: we will break down the wall between church and state, allowing the government to shepherd the souls of its citizens.

Here’s where I repeat my annual tradition of proposing a liberal, humane-sounding initiative. As before, I will be promising very little money to fund it, and then later I will quietly gut the program, undermine it through policy changes, or simply never deliver the money. This year, I’ve picked aid for released convicts. We’re turning record amounts lose to prison overcapacity anyway, we might as well give them some welfare money.

I am still, however, the 9/11 President. Domestic issues are irrelevant; I am the only one who can protect you. To prove it, here’s an inspirational story.

I've been witness to the character of the people of America, who have shown calm in times of danger, compassion for one another, and toughness for the long haul. All of us have been partners in a great enterprise. And even some of the youngest understand that we are living in historic times. Last month a girl in Lincoln, Rhode Island, sent me a letter. It began, "Dear George W. Bush. If there's anything you know, I, Ashley Pearson, age 10, can do to help anyone, please send me a letter and tell me what I can do to save our country." She added this P.S.: "If you can send a letter to the troops, please put, 'Ashley Pearson believes in you.'"

As Ashley knows, if little girls everywhere stopped believing in our troops, they’d disappear in a puff of smoke. The best way we can help our soldiers is by believing with all our might that they are winning, and no change in policy is necessary.

My fellow citizens, we now move forward, with confidence and faith. Our nation is strong and steadfast. The cause we serve is right, because it is the cause of all mankind. The momentum of freedom in our world is unmistakable -- and it is not carried forward by our power alone. We can trust in that greater power who guides the unfolding of the years. And in all that is to come, we can know that His purposes are just and true. Karl Rove, my political consultant who guides my every move.

© Aaron Weiner 2004

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