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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Basks in Republican Applause




PHILADELPHIA -- Introducing himself to a nation that barely knows him, Governor George W. Bush of Texas pledged Thursday night to "confront the hard issues f threats to our national security, threats to our health and retirement security" that he said the administration of President Bill Clinton had ducked.


Speaking to a jubilant final session of the Republican National Convention, he argued that "times of plenty" were times to solve major problems, not to sit back and relax. With that, he sought to cut the ground from beneath his Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore, whose strongest electoral argument is his association with the prosperity of the last eight years.


With his parents and many other members of his large family in the VIP seats, Bush offered this curt verdict on Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's time in the White House: "So much promise, to no great purpose."


He mocked Gore by saying, "I do not need to take your pulse before I know my own mind. I do not reinvent myself at every turn. I am not running in borrowed clothes." Yet he himself has been successively moderate, conservative and moderate again, as the nominating campaign progressed.


But as he had vowed, much of Bush's text was upbeat. "Tonight we vow to our nation: We will seize this moment of American promise," he said. "We will use these good times for great goals."


Except for a few gibes Thursday night and Wednesday night's more hard-edged speech by Dick Cheney, his running mate, Bush and his party have tried all week to avoid the kind of sniping, to say nothing of the internal bickering, that they know the U.S. public hates.


They succeeded, but not without cost; lacking debate or drama, the convention experienced considerable trouble in luring television viewers.


On Thursday night, the governor spelled out, far more completely than other speakers here, his agenda for action.


Bush proposed major reforms in the public schools, in the Social Security system and in the federal tax code. He promised to abolish the inheritance tax and guaranteed that on his watch no one would have to pay more than a third of their income to the government f considerably less than the 39 percent-plus some now pay.


His remarks on Social Security were unqualified; He said "President George W. Bush will keep the promise of Social Security f no changes, no reductions, no way."


It sounded eerily reminiscent of his father's pledge f "Read my lips, no new taxes" f which plunged then-President George Bush into political trouble when he agreed to a tax hike.


Bush pledged to modernize Medicare and to rebuild the nation's military strength.


In a striking passage, he implicitly reminding his audience of his own doctrine of "compassionate conservatism" by declaring, "We are their country, too, and each of us must share in its promise or that promise is diminished for us all."


Thursday night's speech was a crucial moment for Bush, more so than for most nominees. It was the speech of a lifetime for a politician whose time in elective office has been confined to a bare six years as governor of Texas. Not since Dwight D. Eisenhower, war hero and political neophyte, has a presidential nominee offered so sketchy a political resume.


Bush dealt candidly with that problem, as well as Gore's extensive experience on Capitol Hill and in the White House and sought to turn his inexperienceinto an asset.


"I may lack the polish of Washington," he said. "Then again, I don't have a lot of things that come with Washington experience. I don't have enemies to fight and I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years."


It was a strong signal that he intends to run as an outsider f a surprising tactic for a man whose father was president and whose grandfather was a senator.


Bush's was shorter and leaner than many past acceptance speeches f 52 minutes long. It had a touch of humor or two f he took the blame for his mother's white hair f and a few emotional appeals, like a tribute to his father and other members of the World War II generation.


But the nominee's delivery was mostly deadpan, with his lips compressed, with only a few smiles and almost no gestures.


But the delegates, Republican loyalists all, loved what they heard and they stood and cheered for much of the evening, enveloped in the now-obligatory falling balloons.


As for the impact of the speech on independents and other swing voters, that remains to be seen. Still, Bush, who would never claim to be in the same league as an orator with Clinton or with Ronald Reagan, gave a credible account of himself and made a start at the process of convincing the country that his legs are long enough to reach the stirrups of leadership at home and abroad.