America has always led by example. So who among us will set this example? Which of our citizens will lead us in this next American century? Everyone who steps forward today, to get one addict off drugs. To convince one troubled teen-ager not to give up on life--to comfort one AIDS patient--to help one hungry child.
We have within our reach the promise of a renewed America. We can find meaning and reward by serving some purpose higher than ourselves--a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light. It is expressed by all who know the irresistible force of a child's hand, of a friend who stands by you and stays there--a volunteer's generous gesture, an idea that is simply right.
The problems before us may be different, but the key to solving them remains the same: it is the individual--the individual who steps forward. And the state of our union is the union of each of us, one to the other: the sum of our friendships, marriages, families and communities.
We all have something to give. So if you know how to read, find someone who can't. If you've got a hammer, find a nail. If you're not hungry, not lonely, not in trouble--seek out someone who is.
Join the community of conscience. Do the hard work of freedom. That will define the state of our union.
Since the birth of our nation, "We the people" has been the source of our strength. What government can do alone is limited--but the potential of the American people knows no limits.
We are a nation of rock-solid realism and clear-eyed idealism. We are Americans: We are the nation that believes in the future. We are the nation that can shape the future.
And we've begun to do just that--by strengthening the power and choice of individuals and families.
Together, these last two years, we've put dollars for child care directly in the hands of parents, instead of bureaucracies. Unshackled the potential of Americans with disabilities. Applied the creativity of the marketplace in the service of the environment, for clean air. And made home ownership possible for more Americans.
The strength of a democracy is not in bureaucracy. It is in the people and their communities. In everything we do, let us unleash the potential of our most precious resource--our citizens. We must return to families, communities, counties, cities, states and institutions of every kind the power to chart their own destiny, and the freedom and opportunity provided by strong economic growth. That's what America is all about.
The Nation's Economy
I know, tonight, in some regions of our country, people are in genuine economic distress. I hear them.
Earlier this month, Kathy Blackwell of Massachusetts wrote me about what can happen when the economy slows down, saying, "My heart is aching, and I think that you should know--your people out here are hurting badly."
I understand. And I'm not unrealistic about the future. But there are reasons to be optimistic about our economy.
First, we don't have to fight double-digit inflation. Second, most industries won't have to make big cuts in production, because they don't have big inventories piled up. And third, our exports are running solid and strong. In fact, American businesses are exporting at a record rate.
So let's put these times in perspective. Together, since 1981, we've created almost 20 million jobs, cut inflation in half, and cut interest rates in half.
Yes, the largest peacetime economic expansion in history has been temporarily interrupted. But our economy is still over twice as large as our closest competitor.
We will get this recession behind us, and return to growth--soon. We will get on our way to a new record of expansion and achieve the competitive strength that will carry us into the next American century.
We should focus our efforts today on encouraging economic growth, investing in the future, and giving power and opportunity to the individual.
We must begin with control of federal spending. That's why I'm submitting a budget that holds the growth in spending to less than the rate of inflation. And that's why, amid all the sound and fury of last year's budget debate, we put into law new, enforceable spending caps--so that future spending debates will mean a battle of ideas, not a bidding war.
Though controversial, the budget agreement finally put the federal government on a pay-as-you-go plan--and cut the growth of debt by nearly $500 billion. And that frees funds for saving and job-creating investment.
Now, let's do more. My budget again includes tax-free family savings accounts; penalty-free withdrawals from IRAs for first-time home buyers; and, to increase jobs and growth, a reduced tax for long-term capital gains.