- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

NEW YORK — President Bush last night accepted his party’s nomination and outlined an aggressive domestic agenda for his second term, vowing that “nothing will hold us back.”

In a prime-time nationally televised address from a circular stage emblazoned with the presidential seal, Mr. Bush told the Republican National Convention that his first term was a series of hard-fought successes in both the foreign and domestic arenas, including the war on terror.

He vowed to build on these successes with a second-term domestic agenda that he outlined in greater detail than ever before.

“I am running for president with a clear and positive plan to build a safer world, and a more hopeful America,” he said to thunderous applause. “I am running with a compassionate conservative philosophy: that government should help people improve their lives, not try to run their lives.”

He announced a flurry of new initiatives in areas like education, job training and health care that might upset conservatives who already resent his expansion of government since 2001.

Although he proposed no new tax cuts, Mr. Bush promised to overhaul the tax code which he called “a complicated mess, filled with special-interest loopholes, saddling our people with more than 6 billion hours of paperwork and headache every year.”

“In a new term, I will lead a bipartisan effort to reform and simplify the federal tax code,” he said.

“In all these proposals, we seek to provide not just a government program, but a path — a path to greater opportunity, more freedom, and more control over your own life,” he said. “Government must take your side.”

His wealth of detailed proposals included turning areas that have been blighted by the loss of manufacturing and textile jobs into “opportunity zones.”

“In these areas, we’ll provide tax relief and other incentives to attract new business, and improve housing and job training,” he said.

Mr. Bush reiterated his call for tort reform, especially in the area of medical liability, although he did not specifically mention that Mr. Kerry chose a trial lawyer, Sen. John Edwards, as his running mate.

“We must protect small business owners and workers from the explosion of frivolous lawsuits that threaten jobs across America,” he said, prompting delegates to leap from their seats and cheer.

The speech capped a four-day convention during which the president appeared to draw even or slightly ahead of Sen. John Kerry in a variety of polls.

The Massachusetts Democrat waited less than an hour after its conclusion to re-emerge on the campaign trail in Ohio, where, according to prepared remarks, he repeatedly called the Bush-Cheney team “unfit to lead this nation.”

“The times in which we live and work are changing dramatically,” he said. “Many of our most fundamental systems — the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training — were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow.

“We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared — and thus truly free — to make your own choices and pursue your own dreams,” he added.

Mr. Bush headed to Pennsylvania, but not before enthralling 5,000 delegates with an unapologetic vow to press ahead with his war against terrorism. He cast it as an epic struggle between good and evil.

“This moment in the life of our country will be remembered,” he said. “Generations will know if we kept our faith and kept our word. Generations will know if we seized this moment and used it to build a future of safety and peace.

“The freedom of many, and the future security of our nation, now depend on us,” he added. “And tonight, my fellow Americans, I ask you to stand with me.”

Kerry campaign chairman Mary Beth Cahill scoffed at the president’s lofty rhetoric, saying this moment in history will be remembered only for his “failures and divisiveness.” She dismissed the speech as “a warmed-over repetition of promises he made in 2000 and has broken ever since.”

“The last four years have been an abject failure,” she said. “These four negative nights have confirmed the obvious: This country can’t take four more years of George Bush’s callous presidency.”

The president also attacked Mr. Kerry for claiming to be the candidate of “conservative values,” only to express ambivalence on the issue of homosexual “marriage” and to support the values pushed by the entertainment industry.

“My opponent recently announced that he is the candidate of ‘conservative values,’ which must have come as a surprise to a lot of his supporters,” he said. “If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I’m afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values.”

“If you voted against the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed, you are not the candidate of conservative values,” he said.

Mr. Bush made clear the delegates knew that Mr. Kerry opposes a constitutional amendment against homosexual “marriage.”

“Because the union of a man and woman deserves an honored place in our society, I support the protection of marriage against activist judges,” he said.

The president was preceded on the stage in Madison Square Garden by New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who unleashed a blistering attack on Mr. Kerry.

“Senator Kerry says, ‘America should go to war not when it wants to go to war but when it has to go to war,’” he said. “Well, excuse me, senator: the firefighters and cops who ran into those burning towers and died on September 11th didn’t want to go to war.

“They were heroes in a war they didn’t even know existed,” he added. “America did not choose this war. But we have a president who chooses to win it.”

Before Mr. Bush actually went onstage, an introductory video stirred memories of September 11 and said he had “the heart of a president.”

The delegates chanted “four more years, four more years,” as he strode onto a specially constructed stage that thrust him out on the floor of the convention, where he was almost encircled by delegates.

There, he said his overriding mission is to make America safer.

“So we have fought the terrorists across the Earth — not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake,” he said. “We are staying on the offensive — striking terrorists abroad — so we do not have to face them here at home.”

Mr. Bush bragged that his administration has tripled spending on homeland security and trained a half-million “first responders,” including police and firefighters. He also touted two works in progress — the transformation of the military and reform of intelligence services.

“I believe this nation wants steady, consistent, principled leadership,” the president said. “And that is why, with your help, we will win this election.”

The president pledged to double the size of a federal job training program and increase funding for community colleges. He also vowed a new focus on math and science in high school, adding: “We will require a rigorous exam before graduation.”

Mr. Bush promised to allow small firms to pool their resources in order to buy insurance at discounted rates available to larger firms. He touted the virtues of workers having the ability to work more flexible hours and opt for comp-time instead of overtime.

He called for a tax credit for small businesses that allows workers to set up health savings accounts. He also said he wanted to allow young workers to put part of their Social Security taxes into a personal account he described as a “nest egg you can call your own and the government can never take away.”

The president promised to put a community or rural health center in every poor county in America and vowed to boost homeownership by making 7 million homes more affordable in next decade.

He also called for an “aggressive new effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s health insurance programs.”

Among those who repeatedly interrupted the president’s speech with applause were dozens of special guests in first lady Laura Bush’s skybox. These ranged from former President George Bush to retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded the forces that liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban and Iraq from Saddam Hussein.

Twice during the speech, hecklers tried to disrupt the president, but the crowd largely drowned them out by chanting “four more years” as the protesters were escorted from the hall. Mr. Bush paused briefly during the second interruption, but never acknowledged the hecklers.

Mr. Bush made no mention of his support for relaxing immigration rules, which is unpopular among many conservatives. And he made only one brief reference to his pro-life stance.

“Because a caring society will value its weakest members, we must make a place for the unborn child,” he said.

The president did not hesitate to slam Mr. Kerry for vacillating on everything from funding troops in combat to education reform.

As for criticism that he has not laid out a specific agenda, Mr. Bush directed Americans to his campaign Web site, GeorgeWBush.com, for a lengthy list of initiatives. The Bush campaign also distributed a slick, 47-page “Agenda for America” that resembled a corporate annual report, complete with graphs and glossy photos.

Perhaps responding to media accusations that he has difficulty admitting mistakes, the president went out of his way to point out that he is quite fallible.

“You may have noticed I have a few flaws,” he said. “People sometimes have to correct my English — I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it.

“Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called ‘walking,’” he added. “Now and then I come across as a little too blunt — and for that we can all thank that white-haired lady sitting right up there.”

He gestured to his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, who is known for her sharp tongue.

“Even when we don’t agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand,” Mr. Bush said.

“One thing I have learned about the presidency is that whatever shortcomings you have, people are going to notice them,” he said. “And whatever strengths you have, you are going to need them.”

After recounting the horrors of September 11, Mr. Bush ended his speech on an upbeat note.

“Having come this far, our tested and confident nation can achieve anything,” he said. “To everything we know, there is a season — a time for sadness, a time for struggle, a time for rebuilding.

“And now we have reached a time for hope,” he added. “This young century will be liberty’s century.”

Mr. Bush closed by invoking the sweep of history.

“Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom,” he concluded. “This is the everlasting dream of America.”

“And tonight, in this place, that dream is renewed. Now we go forward — grateful for our freedom, faithful to our cause, and confident in the future of the greatest nation on Earth.”

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