CLEVELAND, Ohio – On his seventh trip to Ohio since taking office, President Bush touted his domestic policy agenda, and reaffirmed his vision of what it means to be a compassionate conservative.
"It is compassionate to encourage work and family and values of personal responsibility. It is conservative to understand government can hand out money, but it cannot put hope in people's hearts. And therefore, we should promote the good works of faith-based and community-based programs," Bush told an audience at Cleveland's 80-year-old Playhouse Square Center, the country's second largest entertainment complex.
Attended by 3,000 members of local community groups, the president's visit came four days after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Cleveland's school voucher program under which parents can use tax dollars to finance their children's education in private religious schools.
In his most extensive remarks yet on the high court's ruling, Bush said one of the ways to demonstrate compassionate conservatism is by making sure all Americans get a good education, and he cast the court's ruling as a historic successor to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
"The Supreme Court, in 1954, declared that our nation could not have two education systems and that was the right decision. Can't have two systems, one for African-Americans and one for whites. Last week, what's notable and important, is that the court declared that our nation will not accept one education system for those who can afford to send their children to a school of their choice and for those who can't, and that's just as historic," Bush said.
Bush's budget includes a voucher program of sorts. It would offer a $2,500-per-child education tax credit for families whose children attend private schools instead of failing neighborhood public schools. The five-year, $3.5 billion proposal would also cover books, computers, transportation and supplies.
The president also repeated his vow, which he has made several times in recent days, to bring to justice those corporate executives responsible for the wave of accounting scandals engulfing some of America's largest businesses.
"In order to keep the job base increasing in America, there must be trust. And some have violated the trust," Bush said. "I expect there to be responsibility at all levels in our society, and I intend to fully enforce the law when people cheat on the balance sheets in corporate America."
Also on the table were initiatives on home ownership, welfare, and a major role for religious charities in the delivery of social services.
Monday's trip was also meant as an outreach effort to minority voters who have viewed Bush with suspicion. Black voters supported Bush's Democratic opponent, Al Gore, by a 9-1 margin in the last presidential election. The White House labeled Bush's speech an "inner-city compassion rally."
The event had an unusually intimate feel, with a woman yelling out "love you, Mr. President!" as he took the stage, and others occasionally murmuring "that's right" and "yes" during Bush's remarks.
Appearing with Bush was Gov. Bob Taft, who is facing re-election this year and, if successful, will be able to boost Bush in 2004 in Ohio – the seventh-largest prize in presidential elections.
On Tuesday Bush will make his sixth trip to Wisconsin, which he lost narrowly to Gore. He will again discuss welfare there. Thursday's July Fourth trip will be his fourth to West Virginia, a traditionally Democratic state Bush won in 2000.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.