George W. Bush State of the Union
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, members of Congress, fellow Americans: Four months ago, I came before you in this chamber to soothe a frightened nation in the early hours of a new uncertain century. Our hearts still ache, and our fists are still raised. But tonight, America’s cause, and Good’s triumph, are secure. My fellow citizens, the state of our union is strong—almost as strong as my approval ratings.

The attacks on our nation changed all of us. We pray more and bicker less, worry more and earn less, drink more and travel less. But no one has been transformed more than your president. Tonight, I stand before you as a new man, ready to build a new nation.

Our first task is to finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and root terror from its cave in hearts and nations around the globe. Our enemies must never misunderestimate us again.

In the words of Fleetwood Mac, don’t stop thinking about that terror. Now it’s time for Al Qaeda to go the way of Al D’Amato, so that years will go by and no one will remember whether it’s still with us.

This is the last of 48 State of the Union addresses that Senator Strom Thurmond will be present to hear. I can think of no better way to honor his memory than for us to agree upon a new group of people who shouldn’t expect civil rights any time soon. The terrorists should have no doubt about our resolve, and no illusion about whom they’re dealing with. As we said during the Florida recount, we will bring our enemies to justice, or we will bring justice to our enemies; we win either way.

In these past few months, the U.S. military again has shown that we can beat anyone, anywhere, anytime. I know that throughout my campaign, you heard me say that the last administration had hollowed out our military and run our forces into the ground. I’m glad our fighting men took those words in the spirit I intended, as a pep talk like the one I gave the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

No beard could spare Afghanistan the sting of freedom’s terrible swift sword. Now it’s Iraq’s turn to feel justice’s cold shoulder. I love my parents dearly, but my mother couldn’t cook and my father didn’t know how to finish the job. Tonight, let us say to Saddam Hussein: 43 is not your lucky number.

We will work with our allies to rebuild the caves and capitals we destroyed, because it takes a village to do nation building. The U.S. will be as dogged in pursuit of peace as in prosecution of war. I will not rest until the Mid-East is as free of terror as the Midwest. My administration has promised to support a Palestinian state, but if Arafat doesn’t rein in Hamas, he’ll be lucky to get Alabama.

I want the world to know this about the United States: Our word is our bond. When we sign a treaty, we’ll live by it, whether we care about saving the world from global warming and germ warfare or not. We are a nation of laws, not lawyers.

We will continue our quest for a national missile defense system, because today the world is more dangerous than ever. But we won’t use the system until it works, we’ll keep track of every cent it costs, and we’ll do our best not to turn relations between Russia, China, and the U.S. into a high-stakes game of rock-paper-scissors.

Of course, it will do America no good to be strong abroad if we are not safe at home. Time after time, you’ve patiently watched my Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge put the nation on high alert without explanation. On the way over here, Tom asked if I would pass along another nationwide alert this evening.

The other day, I got a touching letter from a fourth-grade girl in Billings, Montana. Actually, I have no idea what the letter said, because the White House now burns all incoming mail. But I do know what was in that girl’s heart. She wanted me to know that her prayers are with me — and she wondered why every time she sees one of us on TV she can’t sleep at night.

I wish I could assign that little girl her own Secret Service detail. I wish I could tuck her into bed every night in an undisclosed, secure location. I wish I could write her a comforting note, if her parents would let her near the mail. So tonight, let me say to her, and to Americans young and old who are lying awake in terror: In the words of Monsters, Inc., we scare because we care. You don’t have to be afraid of monsters any more. From now on, we’ll make sure the monsters are afraid of you.

Osama bin Laden is not the only man to learn what it’s like to be alone in the dark. Tonight, for the first time in the history of State of the Union Addresses, the vice president’s chair behind me stands empty. So let us join tonight and say, “Cheney, we hardly knew you!”

Tonight I propose a Constitutional amendment to give the president two vice presidents, so I can have one with me at all times. The other can be kept in the now-vacant Social Security lockbox.

Up until now, my administration has devoted most of its resources to protecting America’s most vital assets: the White House, the Capitol, the Second Amendment. My budget chief Mitch Daniels has said our motto is billions for tax cuts, not one cent for domestic defense.

No more. From this day forward, I will do whatever it takes and spend whatever it takes to make America safe — even if it means we bust more terrorists than unions. A strong nation demands a strong national government.

Tonight, we must take back something else the terrorists tried to take away from us: our economic strength. A million Americans have lost their jobs since September 11. In fact, about two million more Americans are unemployed than when I was elected. At this rate, if you give me the chance, I could wipe out in my eight years all 22 million jobs that Bill Clinton helped create in his.

First, to my friends in the business community and this chamber: the next time I ask for a stimulus plan, don’t send me one designed to stimulate your pals on K Street. Before September 11, it wasn’t clear whether I would have to sign a campaign finance reform law. Now our economy needs it even more than our political system. So tonight I say, by all means, send me McCain-Feingold. But let’s also pass a five-year moratorium on corporate tax bills, and cut out the middleman.

Second, I want to reach across party lines and speak to Democrats in both houses. My friends, you may not want to admit it, but I like to spend on popular programs as much as you do. I’ll put on a good show to appease your House Republican colleagues, but if the American people really want it, I never say no. So I beg you, don’t get me in a bidding war, because I’ll always give in, and the country can’t afford it.

Third, now that I have tried it both ways, I have decided that I’d rather be president with a huge surplus than with budget deficits as far as the eye can see. Before we passed that tax bill this spring, I said the surplus wasn’t the government’s money; it was the people’s money. Now I’d like to ask rich people to give that money back. Congress should freeze the cuts in the estate tax and upper brackets, and use the money to put us back on course to pay down the national debt. To any wealthy American who thinks that like Franklin Roosevelt, I am a traitor to my class, I say: You’ll make it all back when the market opens.

That is my plan to restore prosperity. We don’t need more Republican tax cuts, or more Democratic spending programs. We need to restore the virtuous cycle of electing two-term Presidents.

In these tough times, our politics, too, must change, to keep the nation together. It is wrong for either party to try to profit from America’s pain. That is why I have asked Vice President Cheney to sit down with the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, and work out a sound bipartisan energy plan. If we’re not careful, our most precious resources can vanish in the blink of an eye and leave behind irreparable damage. I know that Democrats feel about the Arctic Wildlife Refuge just as strongly as Dick and I feel about Enron.

I will continue to do my part to change the tone in Washington by naming buildings in honor of Democrats, not just Ronald Reagan. Later this week, I will name the new Republican Congressional Campaign Committee building after Gary Condit.

But you have to do your part, too. For too long, our politics has been built on a pyramid of promises. But on September 11, and in the months since, the American people have shown they deserve better. So tonight, for once, I am not going to ask you to go shop at the mall, or put the kids on a plane and fly to Disney World. I want to summon you to a higher calling: to give something back to your country. Senator John McCain — like me, a war hero — has introduced a bill with Senator Evan Bayh to give one million Americans the chance to do citizen service. I urge Congress to pass that bill and send it to my desk by Presidents’ Day.

Public servants are our true heroes, and we are blessed to have one of them sitting in the First Lady’s box with us tonight. When a five-year-old boy who spoke no English lost his mother to tragedy, he was there. When a guy in his fifties was on the verge of losing everything, he was there. He’s not just a hero; he’s my brother, Jeb Bush, and I ask you to give him the chance to be my hero again.

My friends, the hour is late, but in God’s almighty war with evil, it’s still early. We have made progress, but our mission is not complete: to win the war on terror, and build an even greater nation once we’ve won it.

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Bruce Reed served as chief of staff to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden from 2011-2013. He was director of the Domestic Policy Council during the Clinton administration from 1996 to 2001.