Bush said the challenges facing the nation should unite both political parties.
"I am a proud member of my party," Bush said. "Yet, as we act to win the war, protect our people, and create jobs in America, we must act first and foremost not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans."
Bush called on Congress to approach domestic issues in "the same spirit of cooperation we have applied to our war on terrorism."
Embracing a New Ethic
Bush said the horrifying events of Sept. 11 forced the nation to look into a mirror, and better itself.
"We were reminded that we are citizens, with obligations to each other, to our country and to history. We began to think less of the goods we can accumulate, and more about the good we can do," he said.
"For too long our culture has said, 'If it feels good, do it.' Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: 'Let's roll,'" Bush added, calling to mind the words used by Todd Beamer, a passenger who apparently led the revolt against the terrorist hijackers — ultimately bringing the plane down in rural Pennsylvania.
Officials believe hijackers intended to smash the plane into a Washington, D.C., target, perhaps the Capitol.
Bush said Americans should embrace that new ethic by committing two years — 4,000 hours over a lifetime — to public service, and launched a new umbrella organization for volunteerism, called "USA Freedom Corps." The program would incorporate the existing AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs.
Bush did not mention Enron, the giant energy trading company that holds the dubious honor of being the largest bankruptcy in American corporate history. Enron has been a big political contributor to Bush as well as to most members of Congress from both parties.
But the president did say Washington needs to protect 401(k)s and pension plans of American workers. Many of Enron's workers lost their retirement savings when the company declared bankruptcy.
"Employees who have worked hard and saved all their lives should not have to risk losing everything if their company fails," Bush said, adding that stricter accounting standards were also needed to help keep corporate America more accountable. Enron's auditor, Arthur Andersen, is under scrutiny for shredding a number of documents.
In his response, Gephardt echoed the president's call to cast aside partisanship to solve the nation's problems, and did mention Enron by name. He emphasized the need for a universal pension program to protect employees from another Enron-type failure.
Gephardt proposed an "economic growth summit" at the White House next month for leaders of both parties to discuss the creation of jobs and simplification of the tax code.
Karzai, Hoffa in Audience
The address lasted 48 minutes, with numerous breaks for applause and ovations.
Among the honored guests attending the speech were Afghan interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. Hoffa's union supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a component of Bush's energy plan.
Bush also thanked the flight attendants who helped thwart would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid.
Framed by the events of Sept. 11, expectations ran high for a strong performance by the president. This was his third speech to Congress — and his first State of the Union address.