Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at a Columbia business Monday, defending the economic and national security policies of the Bush administration and saying its greatest achievement was effecting a “fundamental shift” in the nation’s response to terrorism.
Cheney, with his wife, Lynne, in attendance, spoke to a group of workers and supporters (at an invitation-only event at a warehouse of Boone County Millwork, a division of Boone County Lumber. The trip was Cheney’s sixth to Missouri this year. His remarks focused heavily on issues of national security and terrorism. He also touched on renewable energy, the estate tax, medical malpractice liability and education policy.
Against a backdrop of the American flag and a sign reading “Yes, America Can!” Cheney cited Boone County Lumber as an example of the positive effects his administration’s policies have had on the economy. He said the owners, Brad and Greg Eiffert, had “a great story to tell about the business.”
When Brad Eiffert introduced Cheney he mentioned the connection between his business and the administration’s policies. “Thanks to President Bush and their economic policies, our business is growing,” he said. “This administration understands that helping small businesses succeed keeps the economy moving and puts people to work.”
Cheney trumpeted Bush’s tax cuts, saying, “It’s the American people that create wealth in our society.” The crowd cheered when he said, “It’s important to keep government out of the way.”
“The president’s policy works,” Cheney said. “Those tax cuts are working — don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”
In a news conference at the Boone County Democratic Headquarters before Cheney’s appearance, Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell criticized the administration’s economic policies, saying it has overseen the outsourcing of 1.2 million jobs.
“Cheney isn’t spending time in towns where the major factories have closed or hard-working Missourians are being laid off,” Maxwell said.
On the topic of national security, Cheney spoke of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on several occasions.
“Some people suggest that the use of strength provokes terrorists,” Cheney said. “I don’t think so. It’s the perception of weakness that provokes terrorism.”
Cheney said the United States was lax in its activities against terrorism in the years before Bush became president. He aggressively defended Bush’s policy of pre-emptive military action.
“It is vitally important that we pursue a policy that lets us reach out and address these problems in Afghanistan and Iraq and wherever they may be in the world with our military forces so we don’t end up having to address them here at home with our police, with our firefighters, with our medical personnel on the streets of our own cities,” Cheney said.
Cheney spoke optimistically about the progress in Iraq, calling Saddam Hussein “one of the worst dictators of the 20th century” and praising the leaders of the interim Iraqi government.
Cheney used the second half of his visit to answer questions from audience members, including one woman who asked Cheney what he thought was the administration’s greatest achievement.
He cited the “fundamental shift in our attitude as a nation from what it was before 9/11 to what it is now.”
“For years we had sort of a turn-the-other-cheek, law-enforcement approach to terror,” Cheney said. “We used to accept that the terrorists and the states that host the terrorists are separate. In effect, the president said: ‘If you are a terrorist-sponsoring state or if you provide safe haven for terrorists, you are as guilty of their acts as the terrorists themselves.’”
Another audience member brought up the recent Supreme Court Pledge of Allegiance case.
“We believe, the president and I believe ... that we are one nation under God, that the American people ought to be able to say ‘one nation under God’ when they pledge allegiance to the flag,” Cheney said. He added that he was unsure of what Kerry and Edwards’ position on the pledge is, but said their stand “could change tomorrow.”
Out of sight from the building on Vandiver Drive, a group of about 80 gathered to protest Cheney’s visit and the administration’s policies. Some carried signs reading “Too many have died” and “U.S. Out, U.N. In.”
“This administration has been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, engaged in wars of aggression, and more than 1,000 of our GIs, our kids, have lost their lives,” said Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, which organized the protest.
The protesters were kept a few blocks away from Boone County Millwork. “The growing trend is that you have free speech, just as long as those people you’re trying to affect don’t hear you,” said Dave Raithel, Boone County coordinator for Democratic House candidate Linda Jacobsen.
Inside the warehouse, however, the feeling was much different. As the approximately 350 attendees of Cheney’s speech began to exit, the crowd expressed satisfaction and approval with what he said.
“I thought it was wonderful, really just super,” Macon resident Marlene Maulsby said.
Maulsby, who sported a Bush-Cheney pin, added that she particularly liked Cheney’s discussion of the post-Sept. 11 America and the war on terror.
Cheney acknowledged the importance of Missouri in the upcoming presidential election, calling it a “key state.” This election, he said, could shape the course of history.
“I think this is going to be one of the most important elections in my lifetime,” Cheney said.
— Missourian reporter Noreen Siddiqui contributed to this report.