By Eric Mader
A Disassociated Press Report, Washington, January 22, 2004
U.S. President George W. Bush made a defiant defense of his policies Tuesday and urged Americans to stick with his leadership in a State of the Union address that provided highlights of his administration's accomplishments during its first four years.
"We have not climbed this high over the carnage of 9/11 to falter now and leave our work unfinished," Bush said in the chamber of the House of Representatives before a joint session of Congress.
Only five minutes into his speech Bush addressed the issue of his decision last year to lead the country to war by referring to the fact that weapons inspectors in Iraq had found "dozens of instances of cases where Iraqi officials clearly were thinking about beginning to try to plan activities related to programs that could have been used to develop weapons of mass destruction."
Bush also linked the war in Iraq with the war on terrorism by citing evidence that two men who had once seen Osama bin Laden in a parking lot in Yemen were known in 1998 to have traveled through Iraq on their way to Kazakhstan.
The president described his nation as "confident and strong," ready to face the challenges ahead of it and willing to believe just about anything that sounded like it would make for a good movie plot.
"America faces a choice," Bush said to the partly sycophantic, partly grimacing crowd of representatives and Washington bigwigs. "We can continue to snip pieces out of the Constitution or we can turn back to the old policies of respect for privacy and due legal process. We can boldly move ahead with our systematic erasure of environmental protection laws or we can go back to talking about vague ideas like biodiversity and forests and lakes."
At a time when Democrats battling for their party's presidential nomination are lobbing attacks against him, Bush defended his domestic policies by pointing out that Halliburton was a perfectly respectable company and that the vice president had worked for it for years.
Bush also called for a renewal of the widely criticized Patriot Act that increased law enforcement powers in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Several Democrats drew a hawkish sneer from the president by applauding when he mentioned that the act was set to expire next year. Many Democrats feel the act unnecessarily encroaches on civil rights.
At one point in his speech, noticing that Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, was shaking his head in disagreement, Bush departed from his prepared text and called out: "Alright, Kennedy. What's your problem over there? If you don't like what I'm saying I suggest we meet by the bicycle racks after this little shindig is finished. Whaddya say?"
At these words Vice President Dick Cheney was seen to move for the first time during the proceedings. Slowly raising his head in the manner of the Frankenstein monster and staring gravely at the offending Democratic senator, Cheney said: "Yeah, Eddy. At the bicycle racks. Just you and me and George."
Bush also addressed criticisms his administration has received for its more unilateral foreign policy style. Calling critics "liberal wimps and half-breeds" he pointed out that America had by far the largest military in the world and that in any case there was little that other countries could do if they disagreed with his policies.
"As the prophet Isaiah wrote: 'There is one rule for the lion and one for the squirrel,'" Bush said. "We Americans are the lion. The French and Germans and Russians are squirrels. The Russians used to be lions, but now they're squirrels. They're squirrels with nuclear weapons, but basically squirrels even so. I sometimes wonder about the Chinese though. They're not exactly squirrels, but since there's only one lion now and we are the lion, they can't be the lion too. So we're still unsure what to call the Chinese, but we will find an answer just like we always do."
After the rounds of applause and handshakes following his address, President Bush and Vice President Cheney were seen scouting around the halls for Edward Kennedy, who had reportedly fled the scene with his aides.
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