I just finished listening to President Bush’s speech, and I think that it was quite powerful. The beginning was a laundry list of domestic policy. This needed to be done, but was quite frankly less important than what came after it. As much as the Democratic strategists continue to talk about medicare and social security--issues about which they traditionally have an electoral edge--those are back burner issues this year. This is a war-time election. The Democrats know this, which is why they nominated Kerry--who despite his weaknesses is the strongest candidate they could find on national security. And so, the second half of the President’s speech was a soliloquy by a Commander in Chief describing his vision for foreign policy.
And the President’s vision is bold. Here is a taste:
Others understand the historic importance of our work. The terrorists know. They know that a vibrant, successful democracy at the heart of the Middle East will discredit their radical ideology of hate. They know that men and women with hope, and purpose, and dignity do not strap bombs on their bodies and kill the innocent. The terrorists are fighting freedom with all their cunning and cruelty because freedom is their greatest fear -- and they should be afraid, because freedom is on the march.
I believe in the transformational power of liberty: The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom. As the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq seize the moment, their example will send a message of hope throughout a vital region. Palestinians will hear the message that democracy and reform are within their reach, and so is peace with our good friend Israel. Young women across the Middle East will hear the message that their day of equality and justice is coming. Young men will hear the message that national progress and dignity are found in liberty, not tyranny and terror. Reformers, and political prisoners, and exiles will hear the message that their dream of freedom cannot be denied forever. And as freedom advances -- heart by heart, and nation by nation -- America will be more secure and the world more peaceful.
But the most moving part of the speech came in the last few minutes, as Bush described meeting with the families of the fallen:
These four years have brought moments I could not foresee and will not forget. I have tried to comfort Americans who lost the most on September 11th -- people who showed me a picture or told me a story, so I would know how much was taken from them. I have learned first-hand that ordering Americans into battle is the hardest decision, even when it is right. I have returned the salute of wounded soldiers, some with a very tough road ahead, who say they were just doing their job. I’ve held the children of the fallen, who are told their dad or mom is a hero, but would rather just have their dad or mom.
And I have met with parents and wives and husbands who have received a folded flag, and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I am in their prayers to offer encouragement to me. Where does strength like that come from? How can people so burdened with sorrow also feel such pride? It is because they know their loved one was last seen doing good. Because they know that liberty was precious to the one they lost. And in those military families, I have seen the character of a great nation: decent, and idealistic, and strong.
As he said these words, he visibly choked back the tears, and many viewers undoubtedly did the same.
The speech did exactly what it needed to do: it showed the President as a resolute Commander in Chief at a time when security is the election issue. Its one failing was that the less interesting policy details may have caused viewers to tune out before Bush got to the more interesting and important foreign policy section of the speech. For those who missed it, however, the latter lines will inevitably be replayed and quoted. Now that the speech is done, all that is left is confirmation of the post-Convention bounce.