Praise for a president

First lady describes Bush as `loving man'

Election 2004 -- The Republican Convention

September 01, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- First lady Laura Bush said her husband "didn't want to go to war" in Iraq but felt obligated to keep Americans safe, as she joined movie-star-turned-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in paying tribute to President Bush's compassion and character on the second night of the party convention.

After an opening session Monday that focused almost exclusively on the president's war and anti-terrorism agenda, Republicans harked back last night to the "compassionate conservative" rhetoric Bush used as a candidate in 2000, emphasizing his values and his social policy initiatives, including his education and health care plans.

The night after former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani called Bush "rock solid" on fighting terrorism, Mrs. Bush set out to soften her husband's image, calling him "a loving man with a big heart."

The president, speaking to the convention via satellite from a campaign stop in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, introduced his wife after their 22-year-old twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, made joint remarks to the convention about their parents.

"She's been a voice of calm and comfort in difficult times," the president said as a softball team played in the background and crickets chirped. "America would be fortunate to have her in the White House for four more years."

Mrs. Bush, who has stepped up her role on the campaign trail this year, defended Bush's decision to wage war with Iraq, saying, "My husband didn't want to go to war, but he knew the safety and security of America and the world depended on it."

She sought to put a human face on the tough talk and bellicose posture Bush adopts when he talks about the war, recounting having spent "quiet nights at the dinner table" with him and watching him pace on the White House lawn as he contemplated whether to invade Iraq.

"I knew he was wrestling with these agonizing decisions that would have such profound consequence for so many lives and for the future of our world. And I was there when my husband had to decide," Mrs. Bush said.

"I'm so proud of the way George has led our country with strength and conviction."

Bush is scheduled to arrive in New York City today and visit firefighters and supporters in the working-class neighborhood of Elmhurst, Queens. His appearance is to be piped to oversized screens throughout the convention hall.

Before Mrs. Bush spoke, Schwarzenegger brought his outsized personality and trademark body-builder bombast to the convention floor in support of the president.

"To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don't be economic girlie men!" said the former Mr. Universe, to giant cheers from the crowd, which waved big blue "Arnold!" signs.

"Under President Bush, and Vice President [Dick] Cheney, America's economy is moving ahead in spite of a recession they inherited and in spite of the attack on our homeland."

Echoing the phrase made famous by the killer cyborg he played in the film The Terminator -- "I'll be back" -- Schwarzenegger said: "America is back -- back from the attack on our homeland, back from the attack on our economy, and back from the attack on our way of life. ... We are back because of the perseverance, character and leadership of the 43rd president of the United States: George W. Bush."

Schwarzenegger, who was born in Austria and came to the United States at age 21, made a direct appeal to other immigrants, saying that Bush and Republicans would enable them to have the same opportunities he did:. "I want you to know how welcome you are in this party."

A supporter of gay rights and abortion rights, Schwarzenegger also spoke to moderates who might feel alienated by the party's conservative slant. "Maybe -- just maybe -- you don't agree with this party on every single issue. I say to you tonight that I believe that's not only OK -- but that's what's great about this country. Here we can respectfully disagree and still be patriotic -- still be American -- and still be good Republicans."

Republicans added Gen. Tommy Franks, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, to tonight's speaking line-up, in a bid to bolster Bush's national security credentials.

Cheney is scheduled to speak tonight, sharing billing with Sen. Zell Miller, a retiring Georgia Democrat who condemned his party in a recent book, A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.

Schwarzenegger's speech came during an evening when Republicans sought to spotlight the diversity of their party by handing prominent speaking roles to Education Secretary Rod Paige and Maryland's Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, both of whom are black.

Paige, who noted that he attended segregated schools as a youngster, defended Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education measure, which Democrats and some state and local education officials call a burdensome set of requirements that the president has failed to fund adequately.

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