Sept. 11, 2001, was a glorious morning on Capitol Square in Richmond. The day before, I had been in Manhattan, next to the World Trade Center, but on the morning of the terrorist attack I was back in the Governor’s Mansion witnessing the attack on television.
I shared the same horror and disbelief as all Americans — and the added frustration that earlier official warnings of America’s high-risk exposure to terrorist attack had gone unheeded, with no sense of urgency.
During the previous three years, I had served as chairman of the Congressional Advisory Commission on Terrorism and Homeland Security, appointed by President Bill Clinton. Our commission was already on record with two reports to the president and Congress warning of our nation’s high risks.
The World Trade Center had already been attacked several years before, and as New York endured its second attack, our home state of Virginia suffered its first with the attack on the Pentagon in Arlington.
As governor at that difficult time, my mission was to activate our defenses, provide support for our local responders and communicate with our citizens to reassure them. My top priority was to work closely with the federal government to provide a steady hand, compassion and support to our citizens as we worked to repair the commonwealth’s damaged economy.
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We formed the Virginia Post-Attack Economic Response Task Force to help businesses regain their footing. We expanded training programs for unemployed workers and modernized emergency response systems. We upgraded ports and improved detection for bioterrorism. We worked to reopen Reagan National Airport to get our travel and commerce moving again.
Congress extended our national commission following the attack. We made nearly 150 recommendations. Congress and federal agencies adopted 125.
Communication between federal and state agencies improved. Our intelligence and police forces work together better. No major terrorist attack has succeeded in our country in the decade that has followed. Yet for all these accomplishments, much remains to be done.
The American public needs to receive better information about response plans now in place and more guidance about its expected role in such a response. The public must share ownership in this ongoing challenge because attacks on this country will surely be attempted again.
The truth is, we are all in this together, and working collectively to meet this challenge can help build a shared mindset that we can overcome other great challenges in a renewed process of bipartisanship and national unity.
The truth is the new century poses a host of enormous challenges for America.
Terrorism continues to be a threat. International dangers abound. Cyber threats are growing. And the standard of living that we want to pass to our children and grandchildren is threatened by the way we are running our economy. Unemployment remains above 9 percent, and other indicators are bad.
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America’s national security and ability to meet all challenges are inextricably linked to the strength of its economy. America is always safer when our economy is strong. Safety and prosperity each require the other.
The partisan spectacle in Washington, D.C., is miserably failing to promote jobs and economic growth, and this is making America weaker. We need real growth to inspire our citizens and give hope to the jobless.
Those who say American’s best days are behind us and that we should settle for second best and a diminished future are wrong. If we act, I assure you America’s best days are ahead.
Genuine growth will require a change in the way we do business in Washington, D.C. This will require a Code of Growth, against which we measure our tax laws, and business regulation.
Small business owners should not be demonized as "millionaires and billionaires." They should be empowered to succeed and to employ people to get to that success. The change we must have will require changes in law and taxation. It will require reductions in federal spending and job-killing regulations. It will require wholesale changes in the way we do business.
In the long run, the best tribute to the many who have fought for this country — and those who have fallen for us, including victims of terrorism — is to restore the economic health of our country. Only there do we find the path and strength to real safety and security of our nation and its people.
I am an optimist with huge confidence in the nature of our society: Americans have always responded to their challenges, and we will again. And this is the best lesson of the 9/11 attack. The future is ours because of our history and tradition of success, of wealth creation, of freedom and because of our sense of justice.
America will continue in the 21st century to lead the way. We will continue to provide safety for ourselves and our friends. We will light the beacon of liberty for the world in the 21st century.
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