Following the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, here are a few memories off the top of my head:
- The photo of Jenna and Barbara at their dad’s Inauguration, beaming proudly through the wind and rain.
- The passage of the Bush tax cuts in May 2001, most of which President Obama endorsed and extended.
- The President’s August 2001 speech on stem cell research, which advocated “aggressive federal funding of research on umbilical cord, placenta, adult and animal stem cells, which do not involve the same moral dilemma” as research on human stem cells.
- Being evacuated from the Pennsylvania State Capitol on 9-11.
- Driving through the Appalachian mountains three days later to Shanksville, where United Flight 93 had been brought down.
- Doing research for a Flight 93 memorial address with First Lady Laura Bush and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge the following Monday.
My rule was, if it made me cry, it went in the speech. Two anecdotes qualified. First was a story about the students of Sylvia Circle Elementary School in South Carolina, who sent 500 peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to the 9-11 rescue workers because “peanut butter and jelly sticks together like you guys have stuck together to help America.”
Second was an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which quoted four-year-old Laura Beth Kulbacki, who wondered how the terrorists could hate a whole country of people they didn’t even know. “Why don’t we just tell them our names?” Laura said. After the event, the First Lady called our office and asked for a copy of the piece. She then quoted the story on Sixty Minutes. Two months later, President Bush mentioned it in a speech, adding, “We can’t tell them all our names, but together, we can show them our values.”
- Listening to NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw angrily denounce the terrorist who sent an anthrax-laden envelope to his assistant.
- Sitting by Gifford Pinchot Lake and reading “Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War” by Judith Miller, in preparation for my job at the newly created U.S. Office of Homeland Security, headed by Gov. Ridge.
- Writing the speech in which Secretary Ridge unveiled the new color-coded homeland security threat-level system.
- Standing in the back of the room as U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison told reporters that families should store food and water and use duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect themselves from a chemical, biological or radiological attack. Watching Fox News’s Carl Cameron nearly jump out of his skin with follow-up questions.
- Writing a charity roast joke for Secretary Ridge in which he touted the Department of Homeland Security’s “greatest initiative: color-coded duct tape.”
- Watching the television at the Department of Homeland Security on Nebraska Avenue as the President ordered troops into Iraq.
- Watching the television at a bar in Adams Morgan as the “shock and awe” bombing campaign began and telling my friends, “I don’t have a good feeling about this.”
- Applauding the President’s signing of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, the fulfillment of an important campaign promise.
- Applauding the passage of the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). A study found that PEPFAR has saved 1.2 million lives in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world.
- Hearing the U.S. Marine Corps band play at the White House Christmas Party. Bucket list, folks.
- Listening to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean peddle a conspiracy theory about the U.S. selling chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein. Telling my friend Nicolle on the Bush re-election campaign that there’s no way Howard Dean will ever win the nomination (but predicting that Dick Gephardt would — oh well).
- Watching Howard Dean’s post-Iowa “scream” speech, which ruined his candidacy. I think I let out a little scream of joy myself.
- Gazing at the framed roll call vote at the U.S. Department of Education marking the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. Reading and math scores for fourth-graders rose to record levels, urban school districts made the fastest academic gains, and the “achievement gap” narrowed significantly.
- Waking up to learn that Congress passed the first federal school voucher program for children trapped in Washington D.C.’s troubled public schools. Another great day for education.
- Watching the 2004 State of the Union Address from Signatures bar on Pennsylvania Avenue, owned by Jack Abramoff. No, I did not accept any free food or drink.
- Hosting a party for the first debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry. The party went well. The debate, not so much.
- Driving through Erie County, Pennsylvania, knocking on doors for President Bush’s re-election while listening to Jay-Z’s “Black Album” and Kanye West’s “The College Dropout.” We won.
- Hearing Kanye West say on national TV that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Mr. West would later be called a “jackass” by America’s first black president, Barack Obama.
- Waking up in an Army tent in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and knocking red ants off my arms while assisting in the recovery effort following Hurricane Katrina. On the road to New Orleans I saw multi-storied buildings with their sides sheared off by the storm. I also felt the warm, horizontal sheets of rain from Hurricane Rita, which further damaged the area.
- Walking the hills of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to knock on doors for the 2006 mid-term elections. We lost.
- Taking a job with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) just in time to watch the housing bubble pop. Learning about “NINJA” subprime loans (“No Income, No Job, No Assets”). The Federal Reserve finally banned so-called “liar loans” — God knows why they were ever allowed.
- Watching July 4th fireworks from the rooftops of the Education and HUD buildings and the South Lawn of the White House.
- Writing jokes for President Bush’s appearance on a game show in support of an Iraq war veteran contestant. “I’m thrilled to be on Deal or No Deal with you tonight,” the President said. “Come to think of it, I’m thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days.”
- Taking the Metro to the National Mall with what seemed like the rest of the world to witness the Inauguration of President Obama. Watching his daughters, Sasha and Malia, beaming proudly through the wind and cold.
- The “jar of heinies.” That’s all I’m going to say about that.
John K. Herr is a Washington D.C.-based speechwriter and standup comedian (stage name “Herricane”). He has written for three governors and four Cabinet secretaries, and wrote jokes for President George W. Bush. He can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or follow him on Twitter (@jherricane).