After two nights of burnishing the president’s credentials for re-election, Republicans turned their guns Wednesday night on his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry. Vice President Dick Cheney was to denounce Kerry’s “confusion of conviction,” while Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia was returning to the same podium where he assailed the president’s father 12 years ago to speak up for George W. Bush across party lines.
Cheney’s speech Wednesday night to the Republican National Convention sets the stage for Bush’s acceptance speech Thursday. The president arrived Wednesday evening in New York to pick up the endorsement of some firefighters, making the connection to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent fight against terrorism that has defined his presidency.
Cheney gave few clues to his strategy in brief excerpts released in advance of his 40-minute address closing the third night of the convention. But Anne Womack, a spokeswoman for the vice president, said he would contrast Bush’s “demonstrated leadership and decisiveness versus Senator Kerry’s confusion of conviction — both in foreign and domestic policy — that he’s demonstrated during his 20 years in the Senate.”
Cheney also planned to discuss the importance of public schools, a vibrant economy and an improved health care system, Womack said, and would argue that those things were not possible unless the nation was safe and secure.
“On the question of America’s role in the world, the differences between Senator Kerry and President Bush are the sharpest, and the stakes for the country are the highest,” he was to say.
Cheney, 63, who served in President George H.W. Bush’s administration as defense secretary, has seen his approval ratings plummet amid persistent questions about his role in promoting the war in Iraq and in handling the Sept. 11 attacks. But Bush has stuck fast by him through the controversy.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted last week showed that 52 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina over Cheney if they could select the vice president separately.
Miller joins the other team
The most intriguing speech of the week was certain to be the keynote address Wednesday by Miller, who delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention 12 years ago in the same convention hall.
Miller, 72, was retired from politics after serving two terms as governor of Georgia when he was appointed to complete the Senate term of Republican Paul Coverdell in 2000. He promised that he would not hew to the partisan dictates of his party and was subsequently elected to the seat in his own right.
Miller kept that promise, to the extent that after the Sept. 11 attacks he emerged as one of Bush’s strongest supporters. Miller explained his endorsement of Bush for re-election and decision to speak in his behalf at the Republican convention as the fruit of his disenchantment with the Democratic Party, which he said abandoned its middle-of-the-road ideals for far-left advocacy.
It is a theme Miller was expected to sound again Wednesday night.
“Time after time in our history, in the face of great danger, Democrats and Republicans worked together to ensure that freedom would not falter. But not today,” he planned to say, according to excerpts of his 15-minute address that were released in advance. “Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today’s Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator.”
Democrats, according to Miller’s text, “don’t believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy. It is not their patriotism — it is their judgment that has been so sorely lacking.”
The speech will bring Miller 180 degrees around from 1992, when, as a highly respected conservative Democrat, he enthusiastically supported Bill Clinton. In his keynote address at the Democratic convention that year, he belittled the first President Bush as “a timid man who hears only the voices of caution and the status quo” and a “commander-in-chief [who] talks like Dirty Harry, but acts like Barney Fife.”
George W. Bush, by contrast, “believes we have to fight today’s war and be ready for tomorrow’s challenges,” Miller planned to say.
“Faint-hearted self-indulgence will put at risk all we care about in this world. In this hour of danger, our president has had the courage to stand up. And this Democrat is proud to stand up with him.”
Miller said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press that he had never before voted for a Republican in his life but that he was eager to vote for Bush because of “the kind of man he is.”
“And it also has something to do with President Bush’s opponent,” he said. “And we’ll talk a little bit about his record.”
The case for re-election
Beforehand, delegates accepted Bush’s renomination by acclamation Wednesday, capping a three-day roll call of the states orchestrated so Pennsylvania put Bush over the top. Pennsylvania was chosen for the honor because it is the battleground state that Bush has visited most often.
The sharp attacks Wednesday night on Kerry were in stark contrast with the addresses of the first two nights of the convention, when a series of speakers chosen to appeal to moderate and independent voters delivered messages of inclusion while building up Bush’s credentials as a war president.
Bush “doesn’t flinch, doesn’t waver, does not back down,” said Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born bodybuilder and actor. Added Laura Bush: “You can count on him, especially in a crisis.”
Bush arrived in New York early Wednesday evening after campaigning in Ohio, the ultimate battleground state. At a community center for Italian-Americans, he planned to visit with some of the firefighters who became symbols of the heroism of Sept. 11.
Their endorsement was meant as an answer to Kerry, who has the support of nearly all of organized labor. The largest firefighters union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, endorsed Kerry a year ago during the primaries, and its representatives often attend his events.
Kerry, meanwhile, ended a brief stint on the sidelines, defying tradition by making an appearance while his rival’s national convention was in progress.
“Extremism has gained momentum” as a result of administration missteps in Iraq, he said at the national convention of the American Legion, added that the war on terrorism was winnable with the right policies in place.
“When it comes to Iraq, it’s not that I would have done one thing differently. I would have done almost everything differently” from the president, Kerry said, keeping Bush’s statement Monday that the war on terrorism could not be won.
In an address to the same convention Tuesday, Bush backed away from those comments, saying, “We may never sit down at a peace table, but make no mistake about it, we are winning, and we will win.”
Later, he told conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh he did not really mean to have said that the war on terrorism could not be won. “I probably needed to be more articulate,” he said.
Dissent in the streets
Around Madison Square Garden, protests continued Wednesday against the president and his policies.
Thousands of protesters formed a symbolic unemployment line stretching three miles from Wall Street to the Garden. The protesters stood peacefully in a single-file line for 15 minutes, raising bright pink fliers that listed unemployment statistics and read: “The Next Pink Slip Might be Yours!”
Police arrested only 19 people, compared with a record 1,191 who were arrested during a day of civil disobedience Tuesday, when thousands of protesters blocked a busload of delegates.
More than 1,760 people have been detained so far during protests related to the Republican convention, far surpassing the 589 detentions during the rioting that marred the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.