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Whitehouse Notebook: Dana Milbank

Old Whines in Barely New Bottles

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, October 26, 2004; Page A23

President Bush has given hundreds of speeches about terrorism, so it came as a surprise Sunday when White House communications director Dan Bartlett announced that Bush had something more he wanted to get off his chest.

"President Bush tomorrow will be speaking in a new speech," Bartlett told reporters, "talking about the war on terror and talking about his vision for winning the war on terror and protecting our families and how that differs from Senator Kerry's approach. There'll be new language."

President Bush delivers what the White House billed as a new speech in Greeley, Colo. (Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

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New language? Such as Portuguese?

As it happens, Bush's new speech was much like the old speech, albeit with more historical examples of Sen. John F. Kerry's alleged perfidy and pacifism.

Bush advisers have concluded that an announcement that Bush has a "new" or "revamped" or "retooled" stump speech leads to more coverage of the speech -- much as the White House's promise in the spring of five major speeches about Iraq gave Bush a bigger spotlight for his views.

As the Bush campaign sells reporters on the "new and improved" label for each version of the president's stump speech, reporters are struggling to find new adjectives, having described previous speeches as "blistering," "scathing" and the "harshest yet."

Kerry, too, exploits the "major speech" ploy, so often that he sometimes seems to be running a lecture series rather than a campaign. The speech he gave in Iowa last week on terrorism and Iraq -- billed as "major" by the campaign -- was a warmed-over version of one he gave a month ago, with stronger attacks against Bush.

Bush's campaign has been particularly effective in drawing new media attention to essentially the same message by adding a few new turns of phrase; Bush's message has been revamped nearly a dozen times since Kerry secured the Democratic nomination.

The reconfiguring has been happening almost daily of late. "The president was to deliver a speech Monday revamped to call attention to his handling of the war on terror," the Associated Press reported early yesterday.

This was the first time Bush had revamped his speech in, well, two days. "What we're likely to hear from the president today is a revamped stump speech that he started to give yesterday," CNN reported Saturday.

The previous day's speech was itself revamped, NBC News reported. "With daughter Barbara by his side and families the focus of a retooled stump speech, Mr. Bush argued there are big differences on issues of great consequence in this race."

AP concurred with the view that the speech on Friday was "retooled," though not necessarily "revamped." " 'All progress on every other issue depends on the safety of our citizens,' Bush told supporters in a retooled stump speech," the wire reported.

The previous version of Bush's speech had not been around long, either. The Washington Post reported that on Oct. 15, Bush "hewed closely to a new stump speech."

The first version debuted Feb. 26, with what The Post called a "new stump speech," more partisan than other speeches he had given. That version survived into early summer. The New York Times reported July 21 that Bush had a "new stump speech." Eleven days later, the wires reported that, again, Bush was "using a new stump speech."

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