- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Tonight's the night we find out whether George W. Bush is a chip off the old block.

Most of the rest of the country couldn't have paid attention to what's going on in Philadelphia this week even if it had wanted to, since the television networks were busy cultivating the vast wasteland and ignoring the hothouse of happy talk the Republicans have cultivated here.

But tonight, for the first time, the nation will be watching, and listening to see whether George W. has what authentic Arkansas folk call true grit. This is his last chance to make a good first impression as the nominee of his party. He can put some authentic distance between himself and the Democratic dauphin nobody really likes if he can replicate the first impression as candidate his father made in New Orleans 12 years ago with the best speech of his life.

This is what the convention has been waiting for, the first high-voltage electricity of the week. The happy-talk convention was enlivened a little on opening night when Laura Bush told the delegates how parents across America plead with her husband to give them a president their children can respect. (The toughest-talking Republican men in town are all women.) Her remarks got under the president's thin skin, as expected, and not even her explanation (wink, wink) that she wasn't really talking about Mr. Clinton cooled the president's ire.

He complained that people are picking on him, and Hillary, too. "Everybody that always hated me all those years and were so mean to me, they've all transferred all their anger to her now. It's almost as if they've got one last chance to beat me."

But this was action far beyond the precincts of Philadelphia. George W. and his men have succeeded, probably beyond their expectations, in holding the convention above the fast-fading Clinton era, knowing that the president himself could not avoid throwing a few rocks their way to remind everyone of the sordid era now about over.

He can continue his stately cruise on the high road with his speech tonight, with the expectation that Mr. Clinton who is indeed the man the delegates love to hate cannot help himself.

In the old days, the days before New Orleans, the identity of who writes the president's speeches was inside baseball, of interest only to the speech writer, his wife (and maybe his children) and a few political reporters. Yesterday the Associated Press filed a short dispatch on the man (Mark Gerson) who wrote the speech George W. will deliver tonight.

The author of that acceptance speech in New Orleans, one of the best since Chester Alan Arthur's (or maybe it was Millard Fillmore's) has a few pithy sentences of advice for George W.:

"The speech has to be good," Peggy Noonan told him the other day in the Wall Street Journal. "A bad one will give you a solid month of bad press and bad jokes. But don't worry too much and overwork it. You know that a great acceptance speech doesn't bring victory; a great acceptance speech gives meaning to victory. It can even give a mandate. Victory is made of other things; usually in politics you find victory in the day-to-day, not in the big moments. More important is a good campaign.

"And part of the campaign, the kickoff of the contest, is the speech. A great acceptance speech defines what a candidacy is so that the candidate and the voters together have the words that explain what the election is about. The candidate internalizes the speech, explains himself to himself with it. When it works, all his stray thoughts, ideas, policies and proposals come together and hold together like a length of strong rope. Like a lasso you can take hold of, and throw out to a crowd."

George W., who has learned a lot from the old man, will avoid using a great applause line he doesn't mean, or one he risks not delivering on, just because it sounds good. His father's line about "read my lips" was one of the greatest lines ever, but he had to repudiate it, or was persuaded by the little-minded toadies surrounding him that he had to repudiate it, and it cost him the second term that he deserved.

After the relentlessly vegetarian diet the delegates have been put on all week in Philadelphia, the governor might be tempted to offer a little of the red meat he served up on his weeklong stride toward Philadelphia and the Republican National Convention. Filet of cauliflower and sirloin of carrot, even garnished with bean sprouts, is pretty thin soup to serve your friends.

But the red meat will be served up later. He doesn't have to remind everyone tonight of the object of their contempt all sublime, the record of lies, deceit, backstabbing, doublecrossing, fraud, perjury and disgrace of the past eight years. What he has to do tonight is to show us the man he says he is.

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