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What was missing from the Bush speech to Congress

By Lawrence W. Reed
web posted October 3, 2001

On September 20, 2001, a joint session of the U.S. Congress and millions of citizens here and abroad heard a powerfully eloquent address from the President of the United States. It was strong, firm, confident, and memorable. It will surely rank as one of the best any chief executive ever gave on the Hill. It filled all but perhaps a few with pride and hope that our president will succeed in vanquishing an evil foe. If it had been baseball, it would have been a triple.

George W. BushBut at the risk of sprinkling on the parade a bit, allow me to venture that had just two additional points been made, the speech would have been a home-run with bases loaded. They concern federal spending and civil liberties, and it's still not too late for George Bush to use other opportunities to incorporate them into his overall strategy. I present them here, as I would have ghostwritten them if only the White House had called:

"My fellow Americans, times of emergencies are times for prioritizing. Just as you in your home or business must reorganize your affairs when crisis grips, so must the federal establishment. We will not repeat the 'guns and butter' mistake of the Johnson years when Washington thought nothing of fighting a major war and ballooning its domestic spending at the same time. That produced 30 years of deficits, soaring inflation, and a bloated government we're still trying to pay for. We're not going to fight a major war and pretend that it's free or that everything else in the budget is just as important.

"Moreover, I intend to safeguard the federal surplus and even more importantly, to safeguard the pocketbooks of all you hard-working citizens whose unflagging sacrifices are already paying the bills of the most gargantuan central government in American history.

"Accordingly, I am announcing tonight that this war--whatever its costs--will be paid for dollar for dollar by reductions in other areas of government spending. To make it real, let me offer a few examples.

"Lots of artists are on the federal dole. Don't get me wrong. I love art. Some of my best friends are artists. But in wartime, art ain't priority #1. It ain't even priority #1 million. I will demand of Congress that all subsidies to the arts and the National Endowment for the Arts be abolished. To my artist friends who will have to seek sustenance elsewhere, here's my advice: Take a page from the Girl Scouts. Sell cookies. If you can't do that, here's a novel idea: Sell your art! All you have to do is find a buyer other than Uncle Sam. You've got a whopping 275 million prospective customers out there, so hit the bricks. You can do it, I know you can! And to all other Americans, let me assure you that there will still be plenty of art to go around. Washington didn't buy any of it in the 1940s and even at the height of World War II, America was as culturally and artistically advanced as any nation on the planet.

"That's just for starters. We're going to eliminate the more than $80 billion identified by the Cato Institute as outright corporate welfare. And we're going to stop dishing out taxpayer money to bankroll big-government lobbies and a zoo of pork barrel projects. We'll even stop the foreign aid we've been giving to Taliban-run Afghanistan and a long list of other unsavory regimes. And since there's essentially nothing to show for the billions spent annually by the federal Department of Education, we're going to take an axe to that bureaucracy as well--and put the schools back in the hands of state and local folks just like you.

"So I ask for your support as we get our priorities in order here in Washington. Government's most important function--indeed, the single most legitimate one under the Constitution--is to keep the country safe. All else pales by comparison. Now, let me address another critical matter.

"Our civil liberties are as important as our economic freedoms. They go hand in hand. They are an indispensable pillar of our civilization, and I am loathe to compromise them to fight any battle. The document intended to secure those liberties and those freedoms is the Constitution, and I aim to show the world that both it and we are strong enough to win a major war without scuttling it.

"We may push the envelope in temporarily restricting certain civil liberties in the short-term. We will endeavor to keep such intrusions minimal and within the confines of the Constitution. They will be aimed at protecting life and property and the rights of all Americans in a difficult time. They will not be indiscriminate, unreasonable, or unproductive of the end objective. They will not be permanent. Among the measures by which I want the American people to ultimately judge how my administration deals with this crisis is the preservation and strengthening of our civil liberties. Will we be at least as free when all is said and done as we were before all this started? If not, my administration will have failed a mighty important test of any leader of a free people.

"The terrorists may hate us for our freedom, but they will not succeed in making our government bigger and our freedoms smaller. They are not going to succeed in bankrupting any of us, and we will not allow them to impose huge and permanent burdens on a free citizenry. We will win this, and it will truly be-in every sense of the term-a victory for freedom."

Say it, George, please. If you do, you can really hit the terrorists where it hurts and give them nothing that would allow any of them to ever claim a victory.

Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.

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