President Bush and Mickey Mouse joined forces Monday to celebrate the Bush Administration's points of light program, which honors volunteer action.
The famous mouse and his boss, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael D. Eisner, served as hosts as Bush saluted "the American spirit--the greatest natural resource of this, the greatest nation in the entire world."
Mickey Mouse, Eisner and Bush were joined on stage at Disney World's Epcot Center by nearly all of the 575 winners of the point of light award, a recognition handed out daily by the White House to draw attention to the contributions volunteers make to their communities.
The points of light program has come under criticism, even from some of the award winners, during a period of federal budget cutbacks that have reduced funding for some of the very programs being honored. The critics argue that volunteer action cannot replace the necessary role of government in solving the problems of homelessness, alcoholism, drug abuse and other social ills.
Bush said he recognizes that "all the world's woes cannot be solved by voluntary service.
"Our society can't survive without an efficient, compassionate government that can preserve people's liberties, that can establish a rule of law vital for civilized life and that can do its part to help those in need in many, many ways," the President said.
"We also know the importance of a vibrant economy and the jobs and opportunities it creates," the President said. But, he added, legislative remedies and commerce "cannot provide the soul that society needs.
"Real people also must be prepared to respond to real problems around them. And they must extend the hand of friendship to neighbors, offer their time and concern to those who have fallen upon bad times," he said.
In a speech that drew inspiration--and quotations--from both Walt Disney and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bush said that each of the honorees has shown that "you don't have to give up your job or throw off your family responsibilities to help people."
The celebration, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of Disney World here, was punctuated by fireworks against a cloudy midday sky, banner-waving dancers, 100 Boy Scouts carrying American flags and musicians playing trumpets, drums and cymbals. A flock of white pigeons was released at the end of the program.
As the honorees from around the country proceeded--some quickly, some sheepishly, a few in wheelchairs, one led by a guide dog--in two lines to their red, white and blue seats on stage, the "Voices of Liberty and World Dancers"--young men and women in red, white and blue outfits--performed in front of them.
Eisner, a founding member of the private Points of Light Foundation, said that the program has "the power to transform America," as he saluted the honorees, "the first wave of a powerful new army of American heroes."
The point of light award draws its name from a phrase in the speech Bush gave when he accepted his party's presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in 1988. In it, he called for the creation of a "kinder, gentler nation" and likened the work of community volunteers to "a thousand points of light" in the sky.