Nearly eight years after Bill Clinton announced “the era of big government is over,” President Bush told cheering delegates as he accepted his party’s nomination for a second term that the era of smaller government is over.
In speaking of what he wants government to do, rather than what government should not do, Mr. Bush is more in the mold of Richard Nixon than Ronald Reagan. But these are no longer Reagan times, and this is no longer the 20th century.
The war started by terrorists isn’t cold but red hot, and the president vowed to continue fighting their fire with an inferno of his own. More than once he embraced liberty for others as an objective of American policy and a solution to conflict and war. He defended his doctrine of pre-emption and vowed, “We will extend the frontiers of freedom.”
Domestically, the president proposed no new programs but promised to reform the tax code to create a “simpler, fairer, pro-growth system.” That is easier pledged than accomplished, as others who have tried and failed can testify. He also asked Congress (again) to make the tax cuts permanent.
There was something for every group the president is trying to reach or whose vote he already has. Health care? He promised to allow small businesses to purchase health care at discounts available to big companies and to encourage companies and individuals to sign up for personal Health Savings Accounts.
Social Security? He’ll guarantee it for older people, but he wants younger workers to be able to set aside personal funds in accounts “the government can never take away.”
He wants to raise education performance, create an “ownership society” in which 7 million more people will be able to afford new homes over the next 10 years. He asked Congress to pass medical liability reform to help reduce the cost of medicine. That has been tried before, too, but it has been stifled by the powerful trial lawyers lobby.
The president said he would “restrain” federal spending. “Reduce” would have been a better word, because “restrain” sounds like slowing the rate of growth and this president has presided over huge increases in federal spending, much of which is unrelated to fighting terror.
The “values” issues were mentioned to keep social conservatives happy: “We must make a place for the unborn child,” marriage is “a union between a man and a woman,” and he “supports the protection of marriage against activist judges.” Vice President Dick Cheney said a few days earlier people ought to be allowed to live as they please.
In a throwback to the Reagan years, Mr. Bush pledged to “continue to appoint judges who know the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law.” He had better pray for that 60-vote Senate supermajority or he’ll face the same Democrat opposition that has stalled some of the judges he has already named.
The president was self-deprecating about his rhetorical skills (he avoided any stumbles Thursday night). He exuded confidence, character and credibility — three qualities that should impress voters.
It was a good speech, combining many elements into one theme: George W. Bush is a better choice than John Kerry.
The speech was shot through with references to his strength and Mr. Kerry’s “weakness.” If any undecided voters remain and if they were concerned about the president’s resolve to fight terror and do all he can to protect the country, his speech should have put those fears to rest.
This convention began with delegates, pollsters and journalists saying it will be a tight race. It ended with some of them sensing a possible landslide. Some spoke of a possible 53-46 Bush blowout. Polls are now tracking in that direction, though the gap is not yet that wide. Some pundits predict a Bush “bounce” of perhaps 8 points coming out of this convention. Mr. Kerry had no bounce out of Boston.
“This young century will be liberty’s century,” said the president with enthusiasm. But it is more than a principle. It is George W. Bush’s “vision thing,” and it is a vision which, if it comes true, can potentially liberate more people than the millions already set free by America in the last century and the first four years of this one.
That’s a worthy agenda for four more years.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.