George W. Bush was George W. Bush. Not a gifted orator, he struggled, at times, with his pacing, and the first half or two thirds of his text amounted to little more than an uninspired listing of policy initiatives (which is different, let it be noted, from a list of uninspired policies, which it was not, as see below). But so what? He made his case. That, really, is all that matters. The man made his case.
On domestic policy, the president said more, I think, than the press will readily grasp. Health care savings accounts? Personal retirement accounts? An “ownership society?” These would establish property rights in what have heretofore been thought of as government largesse–suddenly the money would belong, not merely to “the people,” but to this specific person or to that one. As I say, it may take the press some time to grasp this. But despite his uninspired text, George W. Bush made it clear that he intends to overturn our very conception of the welfare state. Coast during a second term? Not a chance.
On foreign policy? The president settled down, found his pacing, and spoke, at last, with real authority. And with real humility. Not that he pawed the floor or tugged his forelock. But he took us through the situation he faced after September 11, explaining, in some detail, why he made the decisions he made. He did an honest job, in other words, of answering his critics. He did his best to show us how he saw the war at the outset and how he sees it now. Contrast this with Bill Clinton, who couldn’t give a speech without making everyone wonder what he really believed. Bush possesses the most fundamental requisite of integrity. Even on the most complicated and contentious issues–even on Iraq–he means what he says.
George W. Bush versus John Kerry. I intend to vote for Bush, obviously, but I have to hand it to both candidates. Each has laid out his worldview. Each has made clear how he intends to campaign–and how he intends to govern. Between them, they’ve given us a clean choice.