KANSAS CITY -- Taking to the road just 72 hours after returning from his grueling trip to Asia, President Bush yesterday defended the accomplishments of the trade mission and angrily told a major farm organization to ignore "those prophets of doom, those frantic politicians who say we are a second-class power."
"Don't listen to all those gloom-sayers around this country saying that we are a nation in decline. We are, once again, the respected leader of the entire world. We are going to make the life of every single American better," he said in a highly-charged speech to the national convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
But Mr. Bush pointed to few specific accomplishments of the 12-day journey to Australia, Singapore, Korea and Japan. And a number of people attending the convention complained later that he appeared to have achieved little to help American agriculture.
Indeed, Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, plowed through a litany of complaints about administration policies in a speech shortly before Mr. Bush arrived at the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium.
In the aftermath of a wave of criticism of the trip that rose even before he left Japan Friday, Mr. Bush sought to cast his critics, whom he did not name, as those who would run down the United States. The initial reaction came mostly from congressional Democrats but also from some of the business executives who accompanied him to Asia. Also joining in the criticism has been conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan, who is challenging Mr. Bush for the GOP presidential nomination.
Calling open markets "the key to our economic future," Mr. Bush said:
"Empty-headed rhetoric won't get us there. Hard work, savvy, experienced negotiation and confidence in ourselves will get us there -- proud and strong. We won the Cold War, and we will win the competitive wars. We'll do it on the merits and we are going to do it the American way -- through grit, through determination and through quality."
He added: "What I want to get is more fair access to the other guys' markets -- and that's exactly what we got," the president said. But, he added in an acknowledgment of less-than-total success: "Not everything that we wanted. But we made progress."
His speech, in what was officially a non-partisan address, met with a skeptical audience.
"It was all window-dressing and that sort of thing, because of the [president's poor public opinion] ratings. He was trying to make points, and for me it didn't work," said Donald Stephen, who farms 1,000 acres of wheat in Martinsville, Ill.