An upbeat pitch for a second term

Analysis

Election 2004

The Republican Convention

September 03, 2004|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - For a Texas politician, George W. Bush has had some of his best, most indelible presidential moments in New York City.

Three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, in the smoldering ruins of the twin towers, he foreshadowed the retaliatory strike on Afghanistan by grabbing a bullhorn and vowing that "the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon."

The next month, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch when the World Series came to Yankee Stadium. It was a strike.

Last night, from atop a raised, round podium that his longtime media adviser likened to a baseball mound, Bush delivered a re-election pitch that put an upbeat spin on the nation's anxieties and warned against changing leaders in a dangerous time. If he didn't throw a shutout, he did well enough to head into the final stretch of the campaign on a winning note.

Bush's message: His strategy to fight terrorism "is succeeding" and the nation has come too far to risk a change at the top.

"You know where I stand," the president said in a stay-the-course speech that thrilled supporters, though it contained no major initiatives for a second Bush term.

With signs pointing to another tight finish at the ballot box, Bush described the 2004 election as a choice that will "determine how America responds to the continuing danger of terrorism."

Bush vs. Kerry

He contrasted himself with Sen. John Kerry, repeating familiar campaign attacks on his opponent as a tax-and-spend Democrat who lacks Bush's commitment to backing U.S. troops in Iraq and finds needless complexity where the president sees clear choices.

"There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat," Bush said, referring to the senator's vote against an $87 billion measure for military operations in Iraq.

Keeping heat on his rival, He described Kerry, in derisive tones, as "a politician" masquerading as a candidate of conservative values.

Before a flag-waving convention crowd that has cheered all week the president's leadership in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush drew on memories of his visit to Ground Zero. And though he did not refer, as he has recently, to "miscalculations" in the Iraq war, he sought to put an optimistic face on the difficulties America faces in the post-9/11 world.

"Now, because we have made the hard journey, we can see the valley below," he said. "We will build a safer world and a more hopeful America, and nothing will hold us back."

Bush did not address in great detail the economic anxieties that many voters feel or opposition to the conflict in Iraq, which briefly intruded when anti-war protesters shouting, "Bush lies, people die," were hustled from the arena.

Anyone looking for the fresh vision of the future that Bush's campaign had promised came away disappointed. The domestic agenda he outlined, at considerable length, amounted to little more than recycled proposals from his current term.

Bush renewed his call for an overhaul of the tax system. But what he actually proposed, according to the White House, is another bipartisan commission study.

Images of Sept. 11

Reviving memories of the period after Sept. 11, when Bush met the challenge of leading a stunned nation, was the whole point of bringing the Republican convention to this city.

The president was introduced by a video featuring images from the World Trade Center disaster and footage of his visit to rescue workers at the site and his World Series pitch, which prompted chants of "USA, USA, USA" as he emerged in the hall.

Bush, who began and closed his remarks by invoking Sept. 11, cast himself as a resolute leader in the mold of President Harry S. Truman.

"I believe the most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people. If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch," he declared, to an approving roar from the Madison Square Garden crowd.

If anyone missed his point, Bush repeated a reliable applause line from his stump speech.

"I wake up every morning thinking about how to better protect our country," he said. "I will never relent in defending America, whatever it takes."

The Bush you know

Near the close, Bush turned confessional, as he sought to reinforce one of the strengths of his candidacy - a personal likability that, along with the powers of his office, is one of his advantages against Kerry.

"In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don't agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand," Bush said, adding: "You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too."

The president, who sometimes comes across as cocky, remarked, "Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called `walking.'

It was one of the few light touches in a workmanlike speech that Bush delivered in a confident manner. Aiming more at his conservative base than moderate swing voters, he sent his supporters home from New York in an elated mood.

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