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."
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."
By late August, the White House announced that Bush had still another version. "I think you can expect this week there might be some new language," press secretary Scott McClellan said on Aug. 30. With the exception of a "major speech" before the United Nations on Sept. 21, that speech remained the operative version for about a month, until McClellan announced on Oct. 4 that Bush would "give a significant speech."
"Today, President Bush unveiled a new stump speech," National Public Radio faithfully reported on Oct. 6.
That worked so well, the White House tried the same play 10 days later. Officials told reporters Bush would make a "significant" speech Oct. 18, to be followed by still more important words Oct. 21.
On the morning of the 18th, NBC dutifully reported that Bush "is delivering what is called a significant speech."
The Bush campaign typically plays it safe with the music it plays at rallies, usually favoring catchy country tunes. So it came as a surprise last week when Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, took the stage at a rally in St. Petersburg to the strains of "Rock & Roll, Part II" by British rocker Gary Glitter.
That would be the same Gary Glitter who did time in Britain in 1999 for possessing child pornography -- not the sort of family values the Bush campaign favors. Campaign aides said playing the song was a mistake by local staff. The error was not discovered in time to prevent an extended mix of it being played as Bush shook hands after the rally.
The Quotable Bush
"We will stand up for terror. We will stand up for freedom."
-- Oct. 18 in Marlton, N.J.