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Bush Talks on 75 Anniversary of Constitution Signing

Aired September 17, 2002 - 08:34   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: You mentioned the president will be on the move shortly to the Rose Garden, where he'll talk about a number of initiatives related to the teaching of history in classrooms across America, and this of course comes as a time when the debate on Iraq is very heated. As you know, there are some prominent Democrats out there who aren't buying -- hang on, I hear the president is ready to take to the podium.
Let's go to that first.

The president will be preceded to the podium by David McCullough (ph), the world renowned historian who's written the definitive biographies of John Adams and President Truman.

Before we get to that, though, as we await the president's arrival there, we're going to check in with Jeff Greenfield, who's going to talk a little bit about the climate in which the president will be making this address on education.

You've got the Iraqis basically saying they are going to allow inspectors back in. No one is sure the conditions under which they would be allowed back in, and the White House pretty much saying this is just messing with and manipulating the U.N.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: And it just shows you that if the Democrats thought they were in a box before this, it makes their position ever harder, because nobody wants to talk about politics. It sounds like you're playing politics of war, and yet there is a midterm election coming up, and a midterm election being fought on the atmosphere of an impending conflict with Iraq. It's a very different midterm election than one fought on domestic issues.

And while nobody likes to talk about the politics of it, if we have time, I want you to hear what President bush said about Democrats who may be saying, let's delay a congressional resolution on Iraq until the U.N.

Here's what the president said late last week.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I'd explain to the American people. I'd said, vote for me, and oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for somebody else to act.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GREENFIELD: Now, that comment produced a response by Senator John Kerry, who not so coincidentally is one of the Democrats who was seriously thinking of running for president.

Here's what he said two days in response to the president:


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think it's a slap in the face. It's almost a contradicotry move to one the hand go the United Nations, say we want you to act multilaterally, and then come back and do as the president did the other day, and say he doesn't see how anybody can run for election, saying, wait on another body.


GREENFIELD: Now what's significant about Senator Kerry, he is one of the many Democrats, who 11 yeas ago, when the first President Bush asked for a congressional resolution backing his use of force against Iraq voted no. All but 10 Democrats voted against that use force resolution. That's a vote you think maybe Senator Kerry might want to have back. Becasue in recent months, he has been taking a more assertive position no foreign policy.

So the Democrats at one of the same time, Paula, are saying we have some questions about this Iraq policy.

My question is, semi-educated guess is if it comes to a vote, the overwhelming majority of Democrats will be for the president, and the scuttlebutt of what they'd really like to do is get this resolution resolution passed in about two days, so they can then see how this plays out, the Iraqi offer, whatever it is, and have the election fought out much more on domestic issues, which they're much more comfortable with.

ZAHN: Before we go on, we wanted to show you the scene at the Rose Garden now. We've been given the two-minute warning, Jeff, from the White House. The president's speech about to state, where he's also going to talk about not only the importance of teaching history in classrooms across the country, but also the importance of civic education. The Iraqis this morning have basically come out and said the president's response or the administration's response yesterday suggests that they really aren't really aren't interested in weapons inspections. They are only interested in regime change in Bagdhad.

GREENFIELD: You know what I think the most interesting consequence of this was, is look at France. France is a key player in this whole question of how many allies the United States is going to be able to get with them.

Because of this announcement, the French seem to be saying, we want two resolutions in the U.N. First, we'll allow weapons inspectors. Then we'll see what happens. And then, if they don't cooperate, we'll talk about a use of force resolution.

The United States definitely does not want two different resolutions. So if this move by the Iraqis, whether -- you know, however bad faith it may be, helps that make the coalition that the United States wants more dicey. That's a diplomatic victory for Iraq, and again, what does it do to the Democrats.

Remember, there is a peace wing within the Democratic Party, in places like Iowa, New Hampshire; Paul Wellstone running for re- election in Minnesota, where there's a strong peace within the Democratic Party. What does he say? Does he says, let go with the president? Or does he say, let's give the Iraqis time.

Whatever he does, it puts him and other Democrats in a very tricky political situation.

ZAHN: Just a quick thought as we await the president's arrival here.

They're standing up, Jeff, and I know it's not for you, so the president must be turning the corner here.

Let's watch.

As this fierce debate continues over Iraq, how important is it for the president to sort of change the page today and talk about domestic issues?

GREENFIELD: No, I think quite the contrary. Look, if you want to be cynical, and you have to be careful about being too cynical, it is in the interest of the president's party to keep the conversation focus on Iraq, because it puts the Democrats on the defense, and the domestic picture for Republicans is not -- we're in the Rose Garden -- it's not nearly as rosy as it might have been a year and a half ago -- $5 trillion in wealth gone, the unemployment rate is up a percentage and a half.

I don't think that there is a particular interest on the President's part to turn that page, particularly because, as I say, Democrats want to accuse the Republicans of playing politics. The executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has all but said that Karl Rove was playing a role in this, the president's political director, but they don't seen attacking the president for playing politics, because they're afraid that's going to get them in political trouble.

This is a very, very uneasy situation for Democrats, and I don't know why the president, or the Republicans particularly, would want to turn that for them.

ZAHN: Just going to pause for a second to remind folks that are just joining us that the president is expected to make an address and talk about some initiatives that he is 100 percent behind, and that is the teaching of civic education in classrooms across the country, the importance of history, hence the appearance there of David McCullough, the gentleman on the right, a world-renown historian.

We should make it clear that we're not sure whether the president will take questions at the end of his speech, but we're going to hang around with him until then because obviously, reporters would love to pepper him with a number of questions about the change overnight from the Iraqis.

GREENFIELD: One of the books that David McCullough is his biography of John Adams, which sold upwards of one million hardcovers, which is pretty impressive for a 700 page book about one of our founding fathers, but it reminds us that one of the things that the framers, the founding fathers, talked about in the Declaration of Independence was a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. That is why they wrote the Declaration of Independence in part, to appeal to the world, and it's one of the reasons, I think, why the President surprised some people by saying, you know, we are not going to snub the U.N., we want the United Nations to come on board.

We want to make the case before the United Nations of why we think it is so important to go in and change the regime in Iraq. So there is actually a kind of connection between what the framers thought that the United States was going to be, at least a moral leader in the world on the side of Democracy, and the rhetoric of the president in making this case now.

ZAHN: I doubt that we will hear that rhetoric in today's speech.


ZAHN: Well, let's find out. Let's listen to the president. Thanks, Jeff.

BUSH: Thank you all very much. Welcome to the Rose Garden. Thanks for getting up so early.

I do want to appreciate David McCullough. It's an honor to be introduced by David McCullough. I appreciate his contribution to our nation. He's made history come alive for millions of Americans. He's encouraged the teaching of history in our classrooms. He's made a lasting contribution to our nation, and we're grateful for that contribution.


It is fitting that on the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, the three branches of our government are represented here.

Here in America we see a broad renewal of American patriotism, and this is something to give thanks for. It really is. And it's something we must build on. To properly understand and love our country, we must know our country's history.

Today I'm announcing several initiatives that will improve students' knowledge of American history, increase their civic involvement and deepen their love for our great country.

I appreciate so very much Lynne Cheney -- well, the fact she married a great vice president, for starters -- that she loves history. She has written books to encourage our children to understand history. Today she's hosting a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution at the vice president's house. She kindly invited Laura to go.

I appreciate Justice Anthony Kennedy for coming. Not only is he a great Supreme Court justice, he cares about the community in which he lives. He's worked with the American Bar Association on what they call a dialogue on freedom, an initiative to foster discussions in our nation's classrooms about American civic values. Thank you, Justice Kennedy, for that.


Delayed applause is better than no applause.


I appreciate so very much our Secretary of Education, Rod Paige. Rod is a straightforward fellow. He cares deeply about our children. When we say no child should be left behind, he means it. He's doing a great job.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming.


I do want to thank the members of Congress who are here. I'm especially pleased that Senator Kennedy and Senator Gregg from the Senate have come. These two strange bed fellows worked together to pass one of the most comprehensive education reform plans in our nation's history. They care deeply about our country. I'm honored that you two are here.

And also, two fine members from the House of Representatives, Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner and Congressman Tim Roemer. We're honored that you're here. Thank you for coming, and thank you for your deep concern about our country and its future.


BUSH: I want to thank Bob Cole for being here. He's the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. I thank John Carlin, who's a national archivist. And Kathy Gorn, who's the executive director of National History Day. I thank Leslie Lenkowsky, who's the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. I appreciate my friend Stephen Goldsmith, who's the chairman of the board of directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service for being here.

And thank you all for coming.

In this last year of American history, we witnessed acts of sacrifice and heroism, compassion and courage, unity and fierce determination. We have been reminded that we are citizens with obligations to each other, to our country and to our history. These examples are particularly important for our children. Children reflect the values they see in their parents and in their heroes, and this is how a culture can be strengthened and changed for the better.

During the last year our children have seen that lasting achievement in life comes through sacrifice and service. They have seen that evil is real, but that courage and justice can triumph. They've seen that America is a force for good in the world, bringing hope and freedom to other people.

In recent events our children have witnessed the great character of America. Yet, they also need to know the great cause of America. They are seeing Americans fight for our country. They also must know why their country is worth fighting for.

Our history is not a story of perfection. It's a story of imperfect people working toward great ideals. This flawed nation is also a really good nation, and the principles we hold are the hope of all mankind. When children are given the real history of America, they will also learn to love America.

Our founders believed the study of history and citizenship should be at the core of every American's education. Yet, today our children have large and disturbing gaps in their knowledge of history. Recent studies tell us that nearly one in five high school seniors think that Germany was an ally of the United States in World War II. Twenty- eight percent of eighth graders do not know the reasons why the Civil War was fought. One-third of fourth graders do not know what it means to Pledge Allegiance to the flag. Graduating seniors at some of our leading colleges and universities cannot correctly identify words from the Gettysburg Address or do not know that James Madison is the father of the Constitution.

This is more than academic failure. Ignorance of American history and civics weakens our sense of citizenship. To be an American is not just a matter of blood or birth.

We are bound by ideals, and our children must know those ideals. They should know about the nearly impossible victory of the Revolutionary War, and the debates of the Constitutional Convention. They should know the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, and how Abraham Lincoln applied its principles to fight slavery.

Our children should know why Martin Luther King, Jr. was in a Birmingham City jail and why he wrote a magnificent letter from that place. Our children need to know about America's liberation of Europe during World War II and why the Berlin Wall came down. At this very moment Americans are fighting in foreign lands for principles defined at our founding. And every American, particularly every American child, should fully understand these principles.

The primary responsibility for teaching history and civics rests with our elementary and secondary schools, and they've got to do their job. The federal government can help. And today I'm announcing three new initiatives spearheaded by the USA Freedom Corps and designed to support the teaching of American history and civic education.

The first initiative is called "We the People." It will be administered by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which will encourage the teaching of American history and civic education. The program will provide grants to develop good curricula, hold training seminars for school teachers and university faculty, sponsor lecture series in which acclaimed scholars like David McCullough will tell the story of great figures from American history, and enlist high school students in a national essay contest about the principles and ideals of America. We will use technology to share these important lessons with schools and communities throughout America.

The federal government conserves and protects some of our greatest national treasures, and we need to make them more readily available to Americans and their schools in local communities.

Our second initiative is called "Our Documents," an innovative project that will be run by the National Archives and the National History Day. It's a project that will use the Internet to bring 100 of America's most important documents from the National Archives to classrooms and communities across the country. It will provide lesson plans and to foster competitions and discussions about these defining moments in our history.

The students and their teachers will see documents on-line in their original form; well known documents such as our Constitution or the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They will also see other important, but less widely available documents, such as the Lee Resolution, which first proposed independence for American colonies, and Jefferson's secret message to Congress regarding the exploration of the West.

Third, early next year we will convene a White House forum on American history, civics and service. We will discuss new policies to improve the teaching of history and civics in elementary and secondary schools and in our colleges and universities. We will hear from educators and scholars about ways to better monitor students' understanding of American history and civics, and how to make more of our great national treasures, how to make them more accessible and more relevant to the lives of our students.

American children are not born knowing why they should cherish American values. A love of democratic principles must be taught. A poet once said, "What we have loved, others will love and we will teach them how." We love our country and we must teach our children to do the same. And when we do, they will carry on our heritage of freedom into the future.

Thank you all for coming.


ZAHN: You just heard the president make a pretty strong indictment for education in the United States, cited a number of statistics about how woefully unprepared students are in America. He cited some statistics about kids not understanding what the pledge of allegiance means, not understanding why the Civil War was fought, and basically, Jeff, pointed to the rather pathetic situation in terms of understanding and history in this country, at a time, of course, when he's spearheading a program to take more civic education and history into the classroom.

GREENFIELD: This has been true forever. You -- after Sputnik was launched in the late 1950s we deplored Americans' ignorance about matters technical, but the fact is America, possibly because we're a relatively new nation, and we think , as Ronald Reagan used to say, we can begin the world over again, we are one of the most incurious people about history that there is. Every history teacher I've known has deplored it and you can go into American universities and find honor students who cannot located the Civil War in the correct half century.

So on the other hand we're the strongest countries in the world and we've taken on everybody else so I suppose if you were a cynic you could say maybe you don't have to learn that much about history. I don't tend to believe that, as I have told my children over the years. It is - we are a very -- we are a country extremely, extremely indifferent to the study of history. And as we get into a situation where it might be helpful to know under what circumstances saying great countries succeed and fail, as they go into war, maybe that someday is going to jump up and hurt us.

ZAHN: If you're wondering about the timing of this speech, this is of course part of a series of appearances today at patriotic events held at the White House in honor of the 215th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

Thanks, Jeff Greenfield, for covering so much territory for us this morning.


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