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In his first State of the Union address last night, President George W. Bush spoke powerfully and passionately about our great nation. He recalled the great strength and courage we have shown in the wake of the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11th and looked forward to the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead of us.
As it should be, the primary focus of the president's speech was national security. The foremost duty of the federal government, as the Constitution informs us and the Federalist Papers remind us, is to provide for the common defense. In his first -- and our nation’s first -- State of the Union Address (then known as the “Annual Message”), President George Washington wrote, “Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined.”
President Bush took steps to ensure that the common defense will be provided for, seeking a substantial increase of $50 billion in funding for our armed forces. A stronger, better-prepared, better-equipped military is the first line of defense for America in the 21st century. The second line of defense is the new Office of Homeland Security, directed by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, for which the president sought necessary funds to prepare for -- and prevent -- future attacks. Citing technology as a powerful ally in this fight, the president promised to improve our nation's intelligence gathering and sharing ability and to secure our borders -- against terrorists and against drug smugglers.
The president also gave indications about the next steps to be taken in our war on terrorism. President Bush argued clearly and compellingly why we cannot rest after eliminating the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. They are but one manifestation of organized terror, a terrorist underworld that is scattered in nations around the world. They still seek to do us harm, and they must be stopped. Other terrorist groups -- and other nations that sponsor terrorism -- comprise an "axis of evil" that "threaten[s] the peace of the world." The president rightly warned that "America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security." By promising "not to wait on events while dangers gather . . . not to stand by as peril grows closer and closer," he pledged to protect America and her allies from weapons of mass destruction and those who would use them against us.
Of course, the condition of the American economy is a matter of concern, too. In the wake of the economic recession of early 2001 -- a downturn exacerbated by the terrorist attacks -- the president promised to take steps to bring the economy back to its full strength. The president proposed making permanent -- and, more importantly, accelerating -- the tax rate reductions passed last year. He also called for the accelerated phase-out of the death tax, so that families can keep more of what they save, and encouraged investment in factories and equipment. Advocating unemployment benefits for those suffering in the aftermath of September 11th, the president moved to help those in need now. The president understands rightly that the goal of economic policy is economic growth within the private sector. And this economic growth can be the key to both reducing debts and deficits and creating jobs: "When America works, America prospers."
The president also encouraged the Senate to pass Trade Promotion Authority, another key to energizing the American economy. In addition to the aforementioned uses in protecting our nation, the technology sector remains the future engine of our economy. And we believe the president knows this and that he will address this issue in due course.
Empower America also commends House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) for calling for a high-level "economic growth summit" among leaders of both parties and the Bush administration. And we were delighted to hear Mr. Gephardt say that the values of the Democratic party include "tax cuts that promote growth and prosperity for all Americans." We look forward to his efforts to "simplify the tax code and grow our economy."
The president spoke about many other issues currently facing our nation. He argued persuasively in favor of continuing the success of welfare reform. And he also reiterated his desire to mobilize the "armies of compassion" in order to bring America closer together and closer to realizing her full potential. The president stated that September 11th ushered in "a culture of responsibility," replacing "If it feels good, do it," with "Let's roll." Both anecdotal evidence and surveys indicate that Americans feel more united than ever in the wake of September 11th. By turning this sentiment into action, we can take steps to improve the situations of the most vulnerable among us. Last night, the president provided the leadership necessary for that to happen.
The president took due credit for the successes of his first year in office. The tax law enacted last year provided Americans workers with much-needed tax relief. While most people in Washington have written off Social Security reform in the wake of September 11th, the president showed last night that he remains committed to saving Social Security by bringing it into the new century through the creation of personal retirement accounts. And he cited the bipartisan education bill passed last year, while promising to continue improving America's education system through improved teacher quality and student achievement. The president knows that last year's bill was only the first step in substantive education reform. But with a president who is committed to "leaving no child behind," Empower America believes that progress will be made.
Perhaps the most important part of the president's speech was his stirring defense of the values of Western civilization, the values of America, the values shared by humanity everywhere. These values include "liberty and justice . . . . the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance." These are the ideals upon which our own nation was founded, but they are ideals that represent the deepest aspirations of all mankind. And they are ideals that, when made concrete, will lead to a "lasting peace." Rejecting the ideas of cultural and moral relativism, the president championed these ideals as "nonnegotiable demands of human dignity," ideals that are "right and true and unchanging for people everywhere." As he said this, Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan, nodded in assent. Empower America has long stood for a foreign policy that protects human rights and encourages democracy and democratic values. With President Bush at the helm, America has a chance to achieve what he called "a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."
The president once again demonstrated to the American people that he is a trustworthy, dedicated, and gifted public servant. He is exactly the man whom America needs to lead the country at this moment in time. And Empower America looks forward to working with him -- and with Congress -- to make progress on the goals he has set out for us.