The big Bush speech last night may have thrown out a lot of domestic proposals, but the morning papers found it thin on details.
Fill in the blanks, they demanded!
The newspaper writers also found the terrorism section far stronger than the State of Union-like domestic material. That, they said, is where the president is making his stand. But, as journalists are wont to do, they poked some holes in that as well.
They questioned how he would pay for his plans. They wondered why he hasn't done many of these things already. (Of course, any incumbent running for reelection faces that criticism, since the pitch amounts to "things are getting better but they're going to get EVEN BETTER if you let me keep this job.")
Finally, there was the irresistible impulse to compare and contrast the George Bush of Philadelphia (back in the race against Gore, where neither guy much mentioned terrorism) to the George Bush of New York.
The New York Times | http://www.9nytimes.9com/92004/909/903/politics/campaign/03assess.9html?hp: "For a nation divided over his stewardship, distressed about the economy and dubious about the war with Iraq, President Bush had one overriding message last night: He's still the one.
"Still the caring 'compassionate conservative' voters met and liked four years ago, still the strong steward who has led them through tumultuous times of terrorism and war, still the man they can trust to face the problems of a second term -- abroad, and at home.
"But he offered few critical details of the second-term domestic agenda he outlined. His big policy ideas -- restraining government spending, simplifying the tax code, offering tax credits for health savings accounts, allowing personal savings accounts for Social Security -- were vague. And the specific proposals he cited -- increasing funds for community colleges, opening rural health centers -- were mostly small-bore.
"He saved his passion for national security issues, and sounded a tone of defiant defensiveness, telling the delegates that faced with foreign threats, "I will defend America every time."
Bush is changing the subject, says the Chicago Tribune | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/elections/conventions/rnc/chi-0409030261sep03,1,2762764.story?coll=chi-homepage-fea: "If this election were about the economy, President Bush would be in trouble. If it were about the war in Iraq, the bag is decidedly mixed. If it were about progress in the war on terror, he would be on firmer but hardly solid ground.
"So the president and his followers made this Republican National Convention largely about someone else: John Kerry.
"The message was martial and it was clear: the world is too dangerous to risk change, and changing for Kerry is not worth the risk.
"In a powerful acceptance speech Thursday night, the president put on display all that is liked about him and much of what is not. After a lengthy prologue on domestic issues, he cut to the electoral quick, framing the fight with Kerry over war and strongly offering himself as a wartime president who deserves re-election for his response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."
USA Today | http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/nation/president/2004-09-02-2nd-term-analysis_x.htm compares the Bush speech to the last one:
"Four years ago, Texas Gov. George W. Bush accepted the Republican nomination for president in a speech laced with the sentiments of 'compassionate conservatism' and promises to use 'good times for great goals.' Terrorism wasn't mentioned.
"Last night, President Bush stood on a circular platform in the center of a cheering crowd in Madison Square Garden to accept his party's nomination for a second term. His hair was grayer, his tone was tougher, and his agenda had changed.
"In a speech that was alternately stern and sweeping, Bush described a world whose dangers were revealed by the Sept. 11 attacks, demanding a steady hand and strong measures in response. . . .
"His prime-time address made it clear that the heart of his administration for the next four years would be the battle against al-Qaeda and the search for safety from those who would do Americans harm. On this issue he will claim a second term, or lose it. His opening words referred to the attack on the World Trade Center, just 4 miles from where he stood."
The Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57590-2004Sep2.html also finds too many blanks in the speech:
"The biggest unanswered question about President Bush's reelection campaign has been whether he has a second-term economic and domestic agenda to match his commitment to fighting terrorists. He began to provide the answers here Thursday night with an acceptance speech long on ambitions but far shorter on the ways or the means to accomplish them.
"Bush is a politician who prefers the bold stroke over the workaday plan, and his speech wrapping up the Republican National Convention was a model of inspiring rhetoric and big themes, from planting the seeds of democracy in one of the most troubled regions of the world to remaking some of the largest areas of domestic government to meet the realities of family life in 21st century America.
"If Bush ran for the presidency in 2000 with a tightly focused agenda, what he offered Thursday domestically was a laundry list of ideas, big and small, that would have made former president Bill Clinton envious for its length. Many of the proposals, however, have been offered before, from Social Security reform to a plan for energy independence. The president provided little assurance that he will be more focused or dedicated in seeing his agenda enacted into law, or more successful dealing with a narrowly divided Congress, than he has been his first four years.
"There were some notable omissions in the president's speech. Nowhere did he confront directly what he has heard along the campaign trail in battleground states such as Ohio and Michigan, which is the loss of jobs during his presidency and uneven economic recovery that casts a shadow over his hopes for reelection."
The Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/09/03/president_strikes_with_a_hard_message/ grapples with the dual themes of the convention:
"George W. Bush last night harked back to his uplifting acceptance speech of four years ago, putting a frosting of compassionate conservatism on a message built on a harder foundation: a fierce defense of military action against terrorism and a charge of moral indecision against his Democratic challenger, John Kerry.
"By the time Bush reached the podium last night, a succession of speakers had struck those themes so strongly that they were like notes played over and over on the piano.
"And despite Bush's efforts to weave in a blend of economic proposals -- principally new standards for high schools and empowerment zones to spur economic growth in troubled areas -- the convention is likely to be remembered for its harder message."
The Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-assess3sep03,1,3221751.story?coll=la-hom e-headlines says Bush was, if anything, too lofty:
"While looking at the stars, does President Bush risk stumbling into the ditch?
"In an often eloquent and at times visionary speech Thursday, Bush pointed his presidency toward the far horizon, pledging to work toward fundamental government reform and a global expansion of liberty that would erode and ultimately eradicate the threat of terrorism. But by focusing more on long-term changes than immediate responses to challenges in the economy and Iraq, Bush may have left himself vulnerable to Democratic charges that he has offered few new solutions to the problems many voters consider the most pressing.
"Indeed, less than an hour after Bush left the podium, his Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry, unveiled a combative new campaign speech that sought to shift the campaign focus away from the incumbent's goals toward his record of the past four years."
Which got pretty good play in most papers, a remarkable achievement when you consider it was Bush's night. (It also got live cable coverage, although Fox was still airing its talking heads when Kerry delivered the most newsworthy part, ripping Bush and Cheney as unfit to serve.) Here are reports in The Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57365-2004Sep2.html, Chicago Trib | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/elections/conventions/rnc/chi-0409030251sep03.story and L.A. Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-kerry3sep03,1,630173.story?coll=la-home-headlines.
Slate's William Saletan | http://slate.msn.com/id/2106214/ wonders who was minding the store from 2001 to, say, this week:
"His was a speech all about what Bush will do, and what will happen, if he becomes president.
"Except he already is president. He already ran this campaign. He promised great things. They haven't happened. So, he's trying to go back in time. He wants you to see in him the potential you saw four years ago. He can't show you the things he promised, so he asks you to envision them. He asks you to be 'optimistic.' He asks you to have faith.
"Recession. Unemployment. Corporate fraud. A war based on false premises that has cost us $200 billion and nearly a thousand American lives. They're all hills we've 'been given to climb.' It's as though Bush wasn't president. As though he didn't get the tax cuts he wanted. As though he didn't bring about postwar Iraq and authorize the planning for it. All this was 'given,' and now Bush can show up, three and a half years into his term, and start solving the problems some other president else left behind."
Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com has his own mixed message:
"It was the second best speech I have ever heard George W. Bush give -- intelligently packaged, deftly structured, strong and yet also revealing of the president's obviously big heart. The speech writers deserve very high grades for pulling it off, to find a way to get the president to deal substantively with the domestic issues he is weak on and to soar once again on the imperatives of freedom in the Middle East. I will be very surprised if the president doesn't get a major boost from the effort, and if his minuscule lead in the race begins to widen.
"In this way, the whole convention was a very mixed message -- but also a very effective one. They presented a moderate face, while proposing the most hard-right platform ever put forward by a GOP convention. They smeared and slimed Kerry -- last night with disgusting attacks on his sincerity, patriotism and integrity. And yet they managed to seem positive after tonight. That's no easy feat. But they pulled it off. Some of this, I have to say, was Orwellian. . . .
"But conservatism as we have known it is now over. People like me who became conservatives because of the appeal of smaller government and more domestic freedom are now marginalized in a big-government party, bent on using the power of the state to direct people's lives, give them meaning and protect them from all dangers. Just remember all that Bush promised last night: an astonishingly expensive bid to spend much more money to help people in ways that conservatives once abjured."
I wonder if other conservatives will object to all the spending proposals, or will just close ranks behind their guy. I also wonder, no matter who wins the election, how many of these promises will be kept because the government is, last time I checked, so deeply in the red.