- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

PHILADELPHIA All we wanted was to get out of Dodge in time. One more day and we thought we would be joining Jerry Ford in hospital. We were about to go into insulin shock.

How much more sugar could a warm body take?

Then George W. Bush, who had signaled all week that he saw himself as therapist-in-chief, the healer with a purpose, the great uniter, who aspires not to be a happy warrior but a cheerful conciliator, threw us a Nolan Ryan curve ball.

Reporters had been told at midafternoon that he would try to heal the "wounds" opened on Wednesday night by Dick Cheney. The most memorable line would be something like this: "We will use these good times for great goals. We will confront the hard issues, threats to our national security, threats to our health and retirement security before the challenges of our time become crises for our children. And we will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country."

Nice enough words. But words without real specifics, and above all words without the fire and thunder, words without the promise of blood and grit that everybody here was waiting to hear.

But instead we got the rouser nobody expected, demonstrating that he really is a chip off the old block, and if last night's acceptance speech fully the equal of his old man's tour de force at New Orleans 12 years ago is an example of what is to come, he is Al Gore's worst bad dream after all.

Almost from the moment he began, with a tribute to the founding fathers (Ben Franklin was here, Thomas Jefferson was here, and of course George Washington or as his friends called him, George W."), it was clear that this would be a long, long night for Al and his mentor in the White House.

Dick Cheney had got the task on Wednesday night of serving up a little red meat, but George W. saved some of the reddest for himself. "Clinton-Gore," he said, have "coasted through prosperity," and he noted what some of us have been saying for years, that the path of least resistance is all downhill, and Bill Clinton, Al Gore and their friends are the greatest of all the downhill racers.

Paying tribute to his father's generation, arguably (and without persuasive disputation) the best generation since the cream of North and South fought out the inevitable in the Civil War, he conceded what the Children's Hour at the White House never could, that "our generation" has the opportunity to reclaim the values that would demonstrate that it had grown up before it grows old.

If anyone doubts that this is a different party, he should calibrate the applause lines. When George W. paid tribute to Martin Luther King and the civil-rights revolution, the applause from the floor roared back in affirmation. When he decried "the soft bigotry of low expectations," the easy racism of the opportunistic rabble-rousers on the left, the applause was equally deafening.

The delegates who had despaired of seeing and hearing anything beyond the sugar and spice that had been the diet of this convention could hardly believe what they were hearing. Finally there was all the mocking of Al Gore than even the most hardened of delegates could want (the only thing the man who leads the party of FDR has to offer is fear itself").

There were one or two false notes. What could he have meant when he said: "I don't have a lot of things that come with Washington experience. I don't have enemies to fight. And I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect."

Can he really believe that? That he has no Washington enemies to fight? That he has no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years? Washington is full of people who are sharpening knives this morning against the day he arrives, who can't wait to cut his throat. Can the Texans around him be so naive as to think they can transform the angry partisan culture of the nation's politics to ladies' tea-room gentility in the few weeks left between now and November 8?

George W. has the touch of the old-time Methodist revivalist (the best there ever were), testifying without apology to the ACLU or anyone else to "grace, I've seen it; peace, I've felt it, and forgiveness, I've needed it."

When he vowed that a president himself must be responsible for his own behavior, and promised that as president he would put his hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office, "so help me God," the delegates to this convention roared in affirmation, satisfied at last that this was worth the trip to Philadelphia.

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