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Jewish World Review March 8, 2004 / 15 Adar, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Beyond Bush league

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | President Bush doesn't come to San Francisco. He holds fund-raisers outside the city — at the Santa Clara Convention Center, for example, where he spoke to the faithful on Thursday. He was in safe territory. Supporters who turned out seemed confident Bush would win re-election. You could tell they felt secure in victory because they weren't hostile to the media, in the way losers get — like the Deaniacs in January or the Bush/Quayle team in 1992 — when they smell defeat and blame the messengers.

Still, Bush should come to San Francisco. A challenging audience would make him disengage the autopilot. Dubya's delivery Thursday was stale. It lacked fire. He told the crowd he was "looking forward to a spirited campaign," but I'm still waiting for the spirited part.

Instead, I heard the same stock phrases the president has delivered for so long that they have ceased to have any effect — as in the perennial line on education, the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Ditto the joke about how his mother might beg to differ with his assessment that Dick Cheney is a top vice president.

Bush should come to San Francisco to mix it up. Let him talk to people who aren't sold on him yet. Let him work for the applause.

Let hecklers yell at him. That always worked for his predecessor. The more critics hollered at Bill Clinton, the more voters rallied to defend him. Bay Area Bush-haters should drive moderate voters Bushward.

The stump speech pledged to take on "the big issues with optimism and resolve and determination." Wrong. Optimism is nice — but it didn't win Sen. John Edwards the Democratic presidential nomination.

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Optimism also doesn't dissolve the grimy invective that has been hurled at Bush for the last few months. Sometimes, anger is the only antidote to a cheap shot. If the Bush response is upbeat, why should voters be outraged?

Take all the swipes about Bush's service in the National Guard: Bush was sufficiently exercised about those allegations to appear on "Meet the Press" to point out that he was honorably discharged. But he didn't spotlight the absurdity of the party of military-phobic Bill Clinton now embracing combat duty and dismissing the National Guard as insufficiently martial.

Bush also needs to take on the Democrats' hysteria about this economy, which they try to frame as the worst since the Hoover administration — despite low unemployment, low inflation and a stock market on the upswing.

I understand that Bush is afraid that if he talks up the economy too much, he may seem unmindful of the plight of the unemployed. That mistake cost his father re-election. But if the Bushies won't talk up the good news on the economy, no one else will. Hence the many affluent employed people who are wary, despite good numbers on the economy.

It's time for some new material. The Thursday speech paid homage to Bush's signature programs, such as "No Child Left Behind." Bully for Bush for demanding more accountability and results from public schools. But it's time to develop the next step. He has addressed the basics. How about graduating students proficient in advanced science and math? It's the smart antidote to outsourcing.

Then, there's Sen. John F. Kerry. The senator has spent months delivering his bogus claim about how Bush "misled" him to vote for the war. To which, Bush quipped, "Kerry has been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue."

Sure, Bush got a laugh in Santa Clara, even if his donors had read the same quip in the paper. But a sound bite like that won't dent Kerry's false facade. Many Californians truly believe that the Bush administration is responsible for deliberately inaccurate intelligence. They don't know that the CIA under President Clinton came to the same conclusions about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Or that other countries' intelligence agencies believed likewise. Or that Saddam Hussein's own military leaders believed there was WMD.

Kerry has been getting a pass on his absurd claim that he voted for the Iraq war resolution to make it "harder" for Bush to go to war. Bush or Cheney should devote an entire speech to Kerry's bogus explanation of his war vote.

Say this for George Bush: He doesn't run away from his votes. "He's not driven by the polls," said Tammy Rudy of Pleasanton, who brought her two daughters to see the president. "He does what he thinks is best. I'm not saying that I agree with everything he does."

The banner above the podium read "Leadership." But Bush only gets to stay the nation's leader if he wins re-election.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate