On the Stump: George W. Bush at the NAACP
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you all very much.
Well, Herb, I’m glad they picked you. And I’m glad you introduced me. It’s a great honor to be here, and I can’t think of a better introducer than a fellow Texan.
I’m honored to be here with Chairman Bond, President Mfume, members of the board of directors, the executive committee. I want to thank you all for your warm welcome. I’ve been looking forward to this, I really have, I’ve been looking forward to coming to tell you something. (Applause)
I’m reminded–I’m reminded–I’m reminded of what the great Jackie Robinson once said when President Kennedy did something that upset him. Jackie Robinson said that he was sure the president was a fine man, but he reserved the right to change his opinion. And for those of you who support me–I see a couple here. (Applause)
Maybe more than a couple. (Applause)
I hope you won’t change your opinion. (Laughter)
And for those of you who don’t, I hope at least you take Jackie’s position as your own and give me a chance to tell you what’s on my heart. (Applause)
I recognize the history of the Republican Party and the NAACP has not been one of regular partnership.
But our nation is harmed when we let our differences separate us and divide us. So while some in my party have avoided the NAACP, and while some in the NAACP have avoided my party. (Laughter)
I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to be here. (Applause)
I’m here because I believe there’s so much that we can do together to advance racial harmony and economic opportunity. Before we go to the future, we must acknowledge our past. For our nation, there is no denying a truth that slavery is a blight on our history and that racism, despite all the progress, still exists today. Recognizing and confronting our history is important. Transcending our history is essential. We’re not limited by what we have done or what we have left undone. We’re limited only by what we’re willing to do. (Applause)
Our nation must make new a commitment to equality and upward mobility to all of the citizens.
This is a great moment of national prosperity, but many still live in prosperity’s shadow. The same economy that is a miracle for millions is a mystery to millions as well.
From the beginning of this campaign, I have said that prosperity must have a purpose. The purpose of prosperity is to ensure the American dream touches every willing heart. And we cannot afford to have an America segregated by class, by race, or by aspiration.
America must close the gap of hope between communities of prosperity and communities of poverty. We have seen what happens–we’ve seen what happens when African-American citizens have the opportunity they’ve earned and the respect that they deserve. Men and women once victimized by Jim Crow have risen to leadership in the halls of Congress. (Applause)
Professionals and entrepreneurs have built a successful and growing and ever stronger African-American middle class. It must be our goal to expand this opportunity, to make it as broad and diverse as America its success — America itself. And this begins by enforcing the civil rights laws. (Applause)
Discrimination is still a reality, even when it takes different forms. Instead of Jim Crow, there’s racial redlining and profiling. Instead of separate but equal, there is separate and forgotten. Strong civil rights enforcement will be a cornerstone of my administration. (Applause)
And I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations. (Applause)
Several months ago I visited Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, where African-Americans confronted injustice and white Americans confronted their conscience. In 43 years, we have come so far in opening the doors of our schools. But today we have a challenge of our own. While all can enter our schools, many–too many, are not learning there.
There’s a tremendous gap of achievement between rich and poor, white and minority. This, too, leaves a divided society.
And whatever the causes, the effect is discrimination.
My friend Phyllis Hunter, of Houston, Texas, calls reading the new civil right. Equality in our country will remain a distant dream until every child, of every background, learns so that he or she may strive and rise in this world. No child in America should be segregated by low expectations, imprisoned by illiteracy, abandoned to frustration and the darkness of self-doubt. (Applause)
There’s reason for optimism in this land.
A great movement of education reform has begun in this country — built on clear principles– to raise the bar of standards, expect child can learn, to give schools the flexibility to meet those standards, to measure progress and insist upon results, to blow the whistle on failure, to provide parents with options to increase their option, like charters and choice, and always remember the goal of education is to leave no child behind. I believe in these principles, and I’ve seen them work. I’ve seen them turn around troubled schools in my state, schools labeled by the world at risk. At risk means you’re not supposed to learn.
But we’ve challenged that in the state of Texas. I’ve seen these schools and principles bring new hope, inspiring new confidences and ambitions. And I’m especially proud in my state that we’re… our minority students are improving faster than almost any other state in the union. And I’m especially proud of this fact, that African American fourth graders in the state of Texas have better math skills than any other students… African American students in any state in the United States of America. (Applause)
And we make this progress at the national level. The central part of my agenda, for example, is to challenge and change Title I, to make sure we close the achievement gap, to make sure that children are not forgotten and simply shuffled through the system. Under my vision, all students must be measured. We test. And low-performing schools, those schools that won’t teach and won’t change will have three years to produce result, three years to meet standards, three years to make sure the very faces of our future are not mired in mediocrity. And if they’re not able to do so, the resources must go to the parents so the parents can make a different choice.
You see, no child–no child should be left behind in America. (Applause)
See every child can learn. Every child can learn. And every child in this country deserves to grow in knowledge and character and ideals. Nothing in my view is more important to our prosperity and goodness than cultivated minds and courageous hearts.
As W.E.B. Du Bois said a century ago, Either the United States will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States. Education is the essential beginning, but we’ve got to go further.
To create communities of promise, we must help people build the confidence and faith to achieve their own dreams. We must put government squarely on the side of opportunity.
There’s a higher and older tradition in my party. Lincoln argued that every poor man should have a chance. He defended a clear path for all. He financed colleges and welcomed immigrants, promoted railroads and economic development. Through the Homestead Act, he gave countless Americans a piece of land for a start in a life.
I propose a new prosperity initiative that reflects the spirit of Lincoln’s reforms, a plan to remove obstacles on the road to the middle class. You see, instead of helping people cope with their need, we will help them move beyond it. And here’s some of the ideas of the new prosperity initiative–just some of the thoughts. We must provide a family health credit that covers 90 percent of the cost of basic health policy for low-income families. We must make it possible for more people to become homeowners in this great land, to own a part of the American dream. We would allow low-income families to use up to a year’s worth of Section 8 rental payments to make a down-payment on their own home, then use five years of those payments to help with the mortgage. (Applause)
We’ll start an American dream down-payment fund, matching individual savings to the down-payment for a home. Behind these last two proposals is a simple belief: I believe in private property. I believe in private property so strongly I want everybody to have some. (Applause)
Education helps the young. Empowerment lifts the able. But there are those who need much more: children without role models; young people captured by gangs, addiction or despair.
Government can spend money, but it cannot put hope in someone’s heart or a sense of purpose in someone’s life. This is done by caring communities, by churches and charities that serve their neighbors because they love their god. Every day they prove that our worst problems are not hopeless or endless. Every day they perform miracles of renewal.
What we need is a new attitude that welcomes the transforming power of faith. In the words of a writer who visited the Mount Haven section of Bronx, “The beautiful old stone church is a gentle sanctuary from the terror of the streets outside.”
In city after city, for the suffering and hurting, the most powerful passageway is the door of the house of God. We’re going to extend the role and reach of charities and churches and synagogues and mosques, mentors and community healers in our society.
As president, I will rally the armies of compassion in neighborhoods all across America.
I’ll lift the regulations that hamper private and faith-based programs. I’ll involve them in after-school programs and maternity group homes, drug treatment programs and prison ministries. And I have laid out specific incentives to encourage an outpouring of giving in America.
Here’s one example: More than 1 million children have one or both parents in prison. These are the forgotten children, almost six times more likely to go to prison themselves. And they should not be punished for the sins of their fathers. We should give grants to ministries and mentoring programs that offer support and love and concern for these children. Let us bring hope and help to these other innocent victims of crime.
I’m not calling for government to step back from its responsibilities, but to share in them. We’ll always need government to raise and distribute funds, to monitor success and set standards. But we also need what no government can provide, the power of compassion and prayer and love. (Applause)
These are some of my goals for America to help make opportunity not only a hope and a promise, but a living reality.
The NAACP and the GOP have not always been allies. I know that. But recognizing our past and confronting the future with a common vision, by doing that, I believe we can find common ground. It won’t be easy work, but a philosopher once advised, when given a choice, prefer the hard.
We will prefer the hard, because only the hard will achieve the good. That’s my commitment, and that is our opportunity.
Thank you for having me, and God bless America.