Once More, With Feeling
As he accepts the nomination for a second term, President Bush tries to convince a nation he's the right man for the job
Just after 7 every morning, President Bush sits at his big mahogany desk in the Oval Office, sips a cup of black coffee, and learns of the latest potential horrors planned by the world's evildoers. These supersecret briefings tend to be downers for most of his senior aides because, one says, "mostly the intelligence business is telling you about what can go wrong." But Bush generally draws something positive from the experience. In recent weeks, he has been impressed by what he considers the high degree of international cooperation in the hunt for terrorists. Even though the war in Iraq and some of his other policies are unpopular abroad, he believes that, behind the scenes, law enforcement, intelligence, and military authorities are working hard around the globe to arrest, neutralize, and destroy the bad guys. He sees it as a growing "community of interest" that didn't exist 3 1/2 years ago.
This is the kind of optimism that impresses Bush's admirers, who see it as healthy. It also, of course, unsettles his detractors, who call it naive.
As the president prepares to accept renomination at the Republican National Convention this week, voters are sharply divided over whether Bush's sunny and determined outlook is what the nation needs and whether they want a continuation of Bush's controversial policies for another four years. Bush's challenge is complicated by the fact that it's not exactly "morning in America," the phrase Ronald Reagan used to such good effect in winning re-election 20 years ago. The country is at war, the economy is shaky, and large numbers of Americans have real doubts about the future. So far, Bush has served up a pretty thin gruel in outlining his menu of priorities for a second term. But he says that will change when he gives his acceptance speech at the convention Thursday night, and he believes strongly that the voters will give him a second term. "My support is very strong and very deep," the president told U.S. News in an Oval Office interview last Friday, fresh from campaigning in New Mexico. ". . . Big crowds . . . and that's a good sign. I mean, people, are they for me? ". . . It sure feels that way. Secondly, we've got a very smart strategy, but thirdly, we've got the issues and the philosophy. People are going to have to make up their mind who best to lead in the war on terror, who can handle crises, who can make decisions and stick with them, and at home who understands the environment we're in. In other words, this is a changing world, and therefore the proper role of government is to help people adapt to the changing world and give them the tools necessary to succeed. When it' s all said and done, I believe that I will be here for the next four years and be honored to do so, I might add."
White House officials and Bush allies say there is no way Bush's second-term agenda will be as bold or visionary as his first. With a staggering annual deficit projected at about $445 billion this year, Bush won't have much money to spend on new programs. Congress will remain closely and bitterly divided, probably resulting in a renewed stalemate on Capitol Hill. Most important, Bush still considers it his main mission to win the war on terrorism, and this would absorb most of his time and energy.