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Bush: Use Prosperity for 'Great Goals'

Texan accepts GOP nomination. 'Conservative values' will guide reforms, he says.


PHILADELPHIA — George W. Bush, the Texas governor who built a national political juggernaut, accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday and pledged to take advantage of prosperity to tackle the nation's toughest problems.

"We will seize this moment of American promise. We will use these good times for great goals," he said.

Speaking to cheering delegates at the Republican National Convention, Bush said he wants to forge a conservative but activist presidency and use it to reform Social Security, improve the nation's schools, strengthen defense and extend the benefits of a strong economy to the nation's poor.

"Big government is not the answer," he said. "But the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference. It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity.

"This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism," the 54-year-old governor said, invoking his political slogan.

In a 52-minute speech that began with a homey tribute to his parents and rose to points of unwonted eloquence, Bush cited both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, the 20th century's Democratic and Republican icons, as he described a fusion of liberal goals and conservative means.

And without saying so, he echoed his father, who in his own 1988 acceptance speech called for "prosperity with a purpose."

"This is a remarkable moment in the life of our nation. Never has the promise of prosperity been so vivid," the younger Bush said. "But times of plenty, like times of crisis, are tests of American character. Prosperity can be a tool in our hands--used to build and better our country. Or it can be a drug in our system--dulling our sense of urgency, of empathy, of duty."

He said he would confront difficult issues, including national security threats, health care and retirement, before they "become crises for our children."

And in a swipe at both Democrats and Republicans caught up in the furious congressional battles of the last six years--culminating in the 1998 impeachment of President Clinton--Bush said he would turn his back on those quarrels.

"I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years," he said. "I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect."

Despite that bipartisan wish, Bush did not spare the Clinton administration or his all-but-nominated Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore. He accused them of squandering opportunities for leadership he suggested his presidency would not waste.

"For eight years, the Clinton-Gore administration has coasted through prosperity. The path of least resistance is always downhill," Bush said.

Of Clinton, he said acidly: "So many talents. So much charm. Such great skill. But, in the end, to what end? So much promise, to no great purpose.

"This administration had its chance. They have not led. We will," Bush said, provoking a roar of approval from delegates.

The speech, Bush's first formal address to a wide national audience, was a critical test for the Republican candidate, who was unknown to most voters outside Texas when he began his run for the presidency.

Bush aides and Republican strategists said the candidate's most important task was convincing undecided voters that, after only six years in public office, he has the stature and experience to make a good president.

Bush addressed the point directly, saying: "As governor, I've made difficult decisions and stood by them under pressure. I've been where the buck stops. . . . I've been a chief executive."

And he laid out the arguments he will use to seek the votes of independent voters in the middle of the political spectrum.

Instead of castigating liberals, Bush declared: "We are now the party of ideas and innovation--the party of idealism and inclusion." He even offered a modest embrace to the protest movements of the 1970s and 1980s, crediting them with contributing to progress on women's issues, race relations and the environment.

By couching his attacks on the Clinton-Gore administration in terms of failures to seize opportunities, Bush appeared to be telling moderates that he shares their goals but has different approaches to reach them.

Democrats responded Thursday by charging that Bush may offer lofty, centrist goals, but as governor of Texas his actions have added up to old-fashioned conservatism.

The Gore campaign issued a statement dismissing Bush's speech as "short on length, short on substance and short on real ideas for working families."

Bush "does not want to talk about his record in Texas or his running mate's record in Congress," the statement said. "He offered up only the tired old Republican formula of personal attacks, vague phrases and rehashed platitudes."

Within the convention hall, though, Bush, who has not always been a magnetic speaker, touched off roars of adulation from the 20,000 delegates and guests.

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