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The Republican Convention

Bush Is Praised as War Leader

Republicans open their convention in New York with speeches recalling 9/11 and drawing sharp contrasts between the president and Kerry.

August 31, 2004|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Portraying Sen. John F. Kerry as wavering and weak, Republicans opened their national convention Monday by hailing President Bush as a leader who had made America safer and, given four more years, could extend that protection to a world shadowed by terrorism.

In a night of emotional remembrance, a few miles from the gaping scar of the demolished World Trade Center, one speaker after another depicted Bush as a man uniquely suited to a war unlike any the nation has fought.

"We need George Bush now more than ever," said former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who capped the night with a speech recounting the searing events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We'll see an end to global terrorism," Giuliani said. "I can see it. I believe it. I know it will happen."

But the president muddied that message in an interview broadcast earlier Monday, when he was asked whether he thought the United States could win the war on terrorism.

"I don't think you can win it, but I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world," Bush said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show.

Democrats pounced on the remark, which a White House spokesman later sought to clarify.

Kerry, vacationing at his home in Nantucket, Mass., told reporters the struggle was "absolutely" winnable. His running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, also took issue with the comment.

"I think that's just dead wrong," Edwards said on ABC's "Nightline." "And it's the opposite of what the American people, the world and the terrorists need to hear from America's leader right now."

Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, may have been off the campaign trail Monday, but he never left the sights of Republicans gathered in sweltering New York.

Over and over, the Democratic nominee was depicted as wrong-headed, irresolute and wedded to the big-spending, high-taxing philosophy of the party's liberal wing.

"My friends, we have a big choice this November," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.

"Do we want the team that will keep the job-creating tax cuts in place and keep American strong? Or do we want a Kerry-Pelosi team" -- a reference to Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco -- "that is weak on the war and wrong on taxes?"

The war in Iraq, which has increasingly weighed on Bush's reelection hopes, was described as one of the vital fronts in the war on terrorism -- one that forced the president into a difficult but necessary defensive action.

"Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war," said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who shared the night's featured billing with Giuliani.

"It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not our political opponents and certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace."

He was referring to the controversial documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" and its director and co-producer, Michael Moore.

McCain had to deliver the line twice; the first time, he was drowned out as the hall erupted in a mix of boos and cheers and whistles as Moore -- seated in the press gallery as a columnist for USA Today -- waved, smiled and lifted his arms in amused acknowledgment.

McCain referred briefly to the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction that Bush had once used as the prime justification for toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"Whether or not Saddam possessed the terrible weapons he once had and used, freed from international pressure and the threat of military action, he would have acquired them again," McCain said. "The central security concern of our time is to keep such devastating weapons beyond the reach of terrorists who can't be dissuaded from using them by the threat of mutual destruction."

McCain, who has had an uneasy relationship with some more conservative elements of the GOP, was greeted politely but without great enthusiasm. But the audience quickly warmed to the senator as he threw himself wholeheartedly behind Bush, his bitter rival in the 2000 Republican race.

"We need a leader with the experience to make the tough decisions and the resolve to stick with them," McCain said, drawing one of several sustained ovations. "A leader who will keep us moving forward even if it is easier to rest."

Giuliani, who presided over New York for eight combative years before leaving office as a hero after Sept. 11, also defended the invasion of Iraq as a necessary step "in any plan to destroy global terrorism."

He began his 40-minute speech by citing one of the indelible moments of Bush's presidency: his visit to the rubble of the World Trade Center, where he grabbed a bullhorn and told a crowd of rescue workers that "the people who knocked these buildings down" would soon hear from the United States.

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