`Freedom on the march'

Bush defends his command

Election 2004

The Republican Convention

September 03, 2004|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - President Bush presented himself last night as a battle-tested commander in chief with the strength and will to protect the country against terrorism.

But he also sought to portray himself as a man on an unyielding mission to turn the hurt of the Sept. 11 attacks into a period of hope for democracy in oppressed corners of the world and for empowerment and prosperity for more Americans.

In a speech that mixed messages of optimism with ominous warnings for terrorists plotting around the world, the president told flag-waving delegates at his party's convention that he has guided the country through immensely difficult times - making decisions that were not always popular - and that they should not give up on him midway.

"To everything we know, there is a season," Bush said. "A time for sadness, a time for struggle, a time for rebuilding. And now we have reached a time for hope. This young century will be liberty's century. By promoting liberty abroad, we will build a safer world. By encouraging liberty at home, we will build a more hopeful America."

He was interrupted at various points by friendly chants of "four more years" and "viva Bush" and also by hecklers, one of whom yelled, "Bush lies, people die." She was hustled out of the hall by security.

Bush, sounding familiar themes, said he envisions "an ownership society" in which Americans have a smaller tax burden, more options for health coverage, more leeway to plan their pension plans and a smoother path to finding a good job.

Speaking in the heart of the city that was emotionally devastated on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush sought to confront head-on critics who call him arrogant on the world stage or who say he rushed the nation to war in Iraq under false pretenses, costing the lives of nearly 1,000 American soldiers since hostilities began.

"We have fought the terrorists across the earth - not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake," Bush said. He added that terrorists who are "fighting freedom with all their cunning and cruelty" should "be afraid, because freedom is on the march."

As his party has done all week, angering some New Yorkers who saw tragedy being mingled with politics, Bush immediately pointed to the attacks on the World Trade Center's twin towers, just three miles from the convention, that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

"We saw tragedy arrive on a quiet morning," he said, observing later in the speech, "For as long as our country stands, people will look to the resurrection of New York and they will say, `Here buildings fell, and here a nation rose.'"

The speech, while seeking to project a forward-looking vision, offered few bold new proposals, beyond expanding some education programs, establishing new grants for struggling neighborhoods to rebuild and tax credits for homeowners. He proposed establishing a new bipartisan tax commission to advise the Treasury Department on ways to simplify the federal tax code.

The language Bush directed at his opponent, Democrat John Kerry, was muted and less personal that the vitriolic attacks of the previous night when Vice President Dick Cheney and Georgia Sen. Zell Miller, a disillusioned Democrat, ripped into Kerry's Senate record and history as a war protester, deeming him unfit for the presidency.

But while Bush left it to others to attack, he sought to draw an unmistakable contrast between himself and the Massachusetts senator, painting Kerry - as he has been doing every day on the campaign trail - as a man who is indecisive and wedded to big government and taxes.

Bush did take a swipe at Kerry for having criticized the president's decision to go to war in Iraq without the support of major U.S. allies.

"In the midst of war, he has called America's allies, quote, `a coalition of the coerced and bribed,'" Bush said. "That would be nations like Great Britain, Poland, Italy, Japan the Netherlands, Denmark, El Salvador, Australia and others - allies that deserve the respect of all Americans, not the scorn of a politician."

Bush last night brought back a "compassionate conservative" theme that was a centerpiece of his 2000 campaign, but which went largely forgotten once he took office and became a tough-talking war president.

Some of the ideas he put forth amounted to a re-introduction of parts of his original agenda that petered out in the face of resistance in Congress, or because he was focusing on foreign policy. He brought back his plan to overhaul Social Security, saying Americans should be able to invest a portion of their withholdings, an idea savaged by critics who said they would end up gambling their money on Wall Street.

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