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The State of the Union Address
Bush Highlights War on Terrorism, Boosting Economy

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Jan. 29, 2002 -- Unfolding his blueprint for a relentless war against terror and a rebirth of economic vitality, President Bush told a joint session of Congress Tuesday that "the state of our union has never been stronger."

Bush addresses Congress

President Bush delivers State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress Jan. 29, 2002.
Photo: Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited

State of the Union History

• Jan. 8, 1790: George Washington delivers the first "Annual Message" to Congress in New York City's Federal Hall.

• Nov. 22, 1797: John Adams continues the tradition in Philadelphia's Congress Hall.

• Nov. 22, 1800: Adams becomes the first president to deliver the annual message in Washington, D.C.

• Dec. 8, 1801: Thomas Jefferson sends his address to Congress in written form. That tradition continues until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson delivers his message in person.

• Jan. 6, 1947: Harry Truman delivers the first televised "State of the Union Address."

• Jan. 4, 1965: Lyndon B. Johnson shifts the address from midday to evening to attract a larger television audience.

• Jan. 28, 1986: Ronald Reagan postpones his speech to Congress after the space shuttle Challenger explodes on the morning of the scheduled addresss.

Sources: U.S. Senate, Avalon Project at Yale Law School

The 43rd president's initial State of the Union address followed a dramatic first year in office punctuated by the Sept. 11 attacks, the assault on Afghanistan and the sudden vulnerability of the American economy.

He offered as remedy a spending plan that he conceded will send the nation into a new era of federal budget deficits. "While the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high," he said. "Whatever it costs to defend our freedom and our country, we will pay."

"We will win this war, we will protect our homeland and we will revive our economy," Mr. Bush vowed.

Buoyed by bipartisan roars, the president delivered a fierce challenge to foreign regimes supporting terrorism, singling out North Korea, Iran and Iraq as potential threats. He declared such nations "an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world." He added later: "Evil is real and it must be opposed.

"All nations should know America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security," he added.

Mr. Bush reiterated his belief that major spending increases are necessary to bolster the military -- including a pay raise for the rank and file -- and to improve homeland security. He said the nation can achieve those goals without repealing the tax cut approved before the events of the past months eroded the nation's budget surpluses.

"Time and distance from the events of Sept. 11 will not make us safer unless we act on its lessons," he said, outlining a four-pronged approach to homeland security that focuses on bioterrorism, emergency response, border security and improved intelligence gathering.

The president touched on social needs such as medical insurance and said recent education reform legislation was "a good start." He made a new call for civic participation, asking all Americans to devote a portion of their remaining lives to serving their communities and each other.

Turning to the floundering economy, which he acknowledged was in recession, Mr. Bush said: "When America works, America prospers. So my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs."

"We must act at home with the same purpose and resolve we have shown overseas," he said. "We will defeat this recession."

But the war against terror remained uppermost in the mind of a man who many believe found his footing as president in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. He introduced the interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who sat next to first lady Laura Bush in the audience, and declared: "America and Afghanistan are now partners against terror."

Pursuing that thread, Mr. Bush said: "Our discoveries in Afghanistan showed us the true scope of the task ahead. Our war against terror is only beginning."

Warning: "tens of thousands of trained terrorists are still at large," Mr. Bush added: "These enemies view the entire world as a battlefield... and we must pursue them wherever they are."

U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO), the House minority leader, delivered a largely appreciative Democratic response, saying: "As Americans, we need to put partisanship aside." Gephardt focused on unemployment, raising the minimum wage and "corporate abuse," as embodied by the Enron scandal unfolding on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Bush did not mention Enron by name in his speech, but said "corporate America must be made more accountable to employees and shareholders and held to the highest standards of conduct."

The president's approval ratings in recent polls have topped 80 percent. But the ability to pass his agenda may be undermined by the Enron scandal, which has drawn increasing scrutiny from Congress and the public.

And the Sept. 11 aftermath and stumbling economy are projected to bring back budget deficits. Beyond Gephardt's words of reassurance, Democrats blame the budget reversal on Mr. Bush's previous tax cuts-- and they wonder where the money will come from to finance the war effort and homeland security.

Previous NPR Coverage

listen Citizens of Gettysburg, Pa., share their expectations for the speech with Linda Wertheimer.

listen The Tavis Smiley Show previews the speech.

listen Four Americans discuss the state of their union.

listen Cokie Roberts sees the Enron scandal hanging over the State of the Union speech.

listen John Ydstie looks back at President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first wartime State of the Union address.

Other Resources

The White House.

Watch and read previous State of the Union addresses.