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Bush: Freedom can change habits of people in any nation

WASHINGTON (BP)–All nations, President Bush said, are capable of implementing a peaceful democracy.

“There is a certain attitude in the world, by some, that says that it’s a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world,” Bush acknowledged during his first news conference since being re-elected. “… [I’ve talked] about our vision of spreading freedom throughout the greater Middle East, and I fully understand that that might rankle some and be viewed by some as folly.

“I just strongly disagree with those who do not see the wisdom of trying to promote free societies around the world.”

The president, speaking from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington Nov. 4, reiterated his stance that the best way to ensure long-term security in the United States in the war against terrorism is to make liberty available to all who will embrace it.

He recalled criticism from opponents who said Afghanistan was not ready for elections, and he said the Afghan people proved otherwise.

“There was deep skepticism … because there is an attitude among some that certain people may never be free, they just don’t long to be free or [are] incapable of running an election,” the president said. “And I disagree with that, and the Afghan people, by going to the polls in the millions, proved that this administration’s faith in freedom to change people’s habits is worthy.”

Bush said if leaders reject the belief that people can be free and can self-govern, then the two-state solution in Israel suddenly “becomes a moot point.”

“You cannot lead this world and our country to a better tomorrow unless you … have a vision of a better tomorrow,” the president said. “And I’ve got one, based upon a great faith that people do want to be free and live in democracy.”

With the campaign behind him, Bush said he looks toward uniting America in a common cause of fighting a common enemy — terrorism. The president recalled the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks when people joined in bipartisan efforts to display the country’s strength.

“Right after September the 11th we worked very closely together to secure our country,” he said. “There is a common ground to be had when it comes to a foreign policy that says the most important objective is to protect the American people and spread freedom and democracy. … It’s not a Republican issue. It’s a Republican and Democrat issue.”

In his news conference, the president also addressed his agenda for domestic issues such as job creation, education, tax reform and Social Security. He said there is currently no vacancy on the Supreme Court, and he will deal with a vacancy when one occurs.

“And if people are interested in knowing the kind of judges I’ll pick, look at the record,” Bush said. “I’ve sent up a lot of judges, well-qualified people who know the law, who represent a judicial temperament that I agree with and who are qualified to hold the bench.”

When pressed with questions about changes in his Cabinet and White House staff, Bush said he has made no decisions but is thinking through the matter. He mentioned that people who fill those positions spend hours away from their families and must be careful not to burn out.

“Obviously, in terms of those who want to stay on and who I want to stay on, I’ve got to make sure that it’s right for their families and that they’re comfortable, because when they come to work here in the White House, I expect them to work as hard as they possibly can on behalf of the American people,” he said.

Bush answered a question about his own family when a reporter asked about his father’s reaction to the son’s re-election. He said his father had flown back to Houston by the time John Kerry conceded the election.

“So I never got to see him face-to-face to watch his, I guess, pride in his tired eyes as his son got a second term,” Bush said. “I did talk to him and he was relieved. I told him to get a nap. I was worried about him staying up too late. … ’92 was a disappointment, but he taught me a really good lesson, that life moves on. And it’s very important for us in the political arena, win or lose, to recognize that life is bigger than just politics.”

When asked about the religious divide that seems to have surfaced during the election and about what he would say to those who are concerned about the role of a faith they don’t share in Bush’s policies, the president said he recognizes the differences.

“My answer to the people is, I will be your president regardless of your faith, and I don’t expect you to agree with me necessarily on religion. As a matter of fact, no president should ever try to impose religion on our society,” he said.

“The great tradition of America is one where people can worship the way they want to worship, and if they choose not to worship, they’re just as patriotic as your neighbor. That is an essential part of why we are a great nation,” Bush said. “And I am glad people of faith voted in this election. I appreciate all the people who voted.

“I don’t think you ought to read anything into the politics, the moment, about whether or not this nation will become a divided nation over religion. I think the great thing that unites is the fact you can worship freely if you choose, and if you — you don’t have to worship,” the president said. “And if you’re a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, you’re equally American. That is such a wonderful aspect of our society, and it is strong today and it will be strong tomorrow.”

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  • Erin Curry