- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

NEW YORK — Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani yesterday told the Republican National Convention that President Bush’s reaction to September 11 revealed he was “a great leader” whom the country needs in the White House for a second term in a dangerous time.

Mr. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, two of the country’s most widely admired Republicans, praised Mr. Bush’s handling of the war on terror on the opening night of a four-day convention to renominate the Bush-Cheney ticket.

The Republicans ignored warnings by Democrats not to speak too much about September 11, making the attacks and Mr. Bush’s handling of the crisis the overriding theme of the night.

The former mayor, who rose to national prominence for the way he led and comforted his city after nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, said Mr. Bush shares the vision and resolve of two of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.

“Winston Churchill saw the dangers of Hitler when his opponents and much of the press characterized him as a warmongering gadfly,” Mr. Giuliani said. “Ronald Reagan saw and described the Soviet Union as ‘the evil empire’ when world opinion accepted it as inevitable and belittled Ronald Reagan’s intelligence.

“And in times of danger, as we are now in, Americans should put leadership at the core of their decision,” he said. “George W. Bush sees world terrorism for the evil that it is, and he will remain consistent to the purpose of defeating it while working to make us ever safer at home.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, leading his party’s rapid-response team, mocked the comparison of Mr. Bush with Britain’s steely prime minister throughout World War II.

“The idea of Rudy Giuliani comparing George W. Bush to Winston Churchill reminds me of a certain Churchill quote, that, after the last four years, most certainly applies to George Bush: ‘He’s a humble man with much to be humble about,’” Mr. McAuliffe said.

The theme of the convention’s first day, “A Nation of Courage,” was reflected by all of the night’s speakers and in a tribute to those who suffered a fiery death just blocks from the convention floor in Madison Square Garden.

Several speakers made references to Mr. Bush’s visit to the rubble of the World Trade Center, when he shouted into a bullhorn a promise to exhausted firefighters and rescue workers that the terrorists “would hear from all of us soon.”

Mr. Giuliani told of the shock he felt as he looked up at the North Tower of the World Trade Center and saw people jumping more than 100 floors to their deaths.

“At the time, we believed we would be attacked many more times that day and in the days that followed,” Mr. Giuliani said. “Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then-Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, ‘Thank God George Bush is our president.’ And I say it again tonight, ‘Thank God George Bush is our president.’”

The first extended reference to that day was made by New Yorker Tara Stackpole, whose husband, Timmy, “was a fireman who ran through the doors of the World Trade Center, but did not walk out.”

“He was a patriot, a tremendous spirit,” she said of a man who spent three years recovering from severe burns before being cleared to return to the job he loved exactly six months before September 11.

“Timmy is my hero,” she said. “I am honored to share him with you, just as I am proud to lend America my oldest son, Kevin, who is headed to Iraq with his Navy unit. America must never forget the sacrifices of September 11 or those that are made every day by our sons and daughters in the military service.”

Deena Burnett, whose husband was among those who fought the terrorists on United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, and Debra Burlingame, whose brother Chic was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, also delivered speeches.

Their short tributes to their loved ones were interrupted numerous times for thunderous applause, and all three women choked emotion back as they spoke.

Mr. McCain, a Vietnam War hero, focused on Mr. Bush’s leadership of the military in the war on terror, saying the president “has been tested and has risen to the most important challenge of our time, and I salute him.”

The Vietnam War, over for more than 30 years, has cast a long shadow over the presidential campaign.

The group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth say Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry exaggerated his combat record and crushed troop morale by publicly accusing the military of war crimes when he returned to the United States.

The accusations by the Swift Boat group have damaged Mr. Kerry’s standing in the polls, especially among veterans, and led to renewed attacks by Democrats on Mr. Bush’s avoidance of combat duty by serving in the Texas Air National Guard during the war.

Mr. McCain made it clear that what matters now is how Mr. Bush has led the war on terror.

“The president is the first to observe, most of the sacrifices fall, as they have before, to the brave men and women of our armed forces,” said Mr. McCain, who put aside any bitterness from losing the presidential primary to Mr. Bush four years ago. “We may be good citizens, but make no mistake, they are the very best of us.”

“I salute his determination to make this world a better, safer, freer place,” he said. “He has not wavered. He has not flinched from the hard choices. He will not yield. And neither will we.”

Mr. McCain was introduced with the theme of the Indiana Jones adventure movies, fitting his maverick persona, and sent the crowd into a cacophony of cheers and boos by taking a swipe at filmmaker Michael Moore.

Talking about how Mr. Bush made the “difficult decision” to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Mr. McCain said the choice Mr. Bush made “was between war and a graver threat.”

“Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” Mr. McCain said. “Not our critics abroad, not our political opponents and certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker.”

Before he could finish the sentence, Mr. McCain was drowned out by the noise of delegates who knew he was talking about the creator of the anti-Bush film “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Starting again, Mr. McCain said: “Certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam’s Iraq was an oasis of peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children held inside their walls.

“We couldn’t afford the risk posed by an unconstrained Saddam in these dangerous times,” he said.

Although the convention is expected to be light on attacks on Mr. Kerry, Mr. Giuliani’s speech went after the Democratic candidate for inconsistency and waffling.

“In 2002, as he was calculating his run for president, he voted for the war in Iraq. And then just nine months later, he voted against an $87 billion supplemental budget to fund the war and support our troops,” Mr. Giuliani said.

“He even, at one point, declared himself an anti-war candidate. Now, he says he’s pro-war. At this rate, with 64 days left, he still has time to change his position at least three or four more times.”

Mr. Giuliani then went for another laugh line.

“Maybe this explains John Edwards’ need for two Americas — one where John Kerry can vote for something and another where he can vote against the same thing,” he said.

The convention featured a little splash of celebrity star power last night when former New York Giants’ defensive back Jason Sehorn and his wife, actress Angie Harmon, took the podium to introduce Medal of Honor winners from past wars who support Mr. Bush.

“Some say that playing football takes courage — but it’s just a game,” Mr. Sehorn said. “Nothing compares to the valor of these men. These are America’s heroes. They know the price of liberty. And they support President George W. Bush.”

Actor Ron Silver, a committed liberal who nonetheless supports Mr. Bush because of the way he has fought the war on terror, delivered a spirited speech about the September 11 attacks on his hometown of New York.

“We will never forget. We will never forgive. We will never excuse,” Mr. Silver said.

He also took a poke at liberals and virulent anti-Bush Hollywood for hypocrisy.

“I find it ironic that many human rights activists and outspoken members of my own entertainment community are often on the front lines to protest repression, for which I applaud them,” Mr. Silver said.

“But they are usually the first ones to oppose any use of force to get rid of the horrors they catalog repeatedly,” Mr. Silver said. “Under the unwavering leadership of President Bush, the cause of freedom is being advanced throughout the world by the brave men and women of our armed services.

“The president is doing exactly the right thing. And that is why we need this president, this time,” he thundered.

Stephen Dinan and Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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