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Bush Speech: A Tale of Two Presidencies

When he steps up to accept his party's nomination for a second time, President Bush will present the record of not one but two presidencies: one before and another after Sept. 11, 2001.

In Philadelphia four summers ago, the then-governor of Texas preached "compassionate conservatism," promised to give part of a projected 10-year, $5.6 trillion surplus back to taxpayers and pledged to avoid open-ended military entanglements overseas.

But then came the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, two wars, a recession and record deficits. That stands as Bush's second presidency.

Before that infamous date, Bush was in the process of delivering on a modest set of campaign promises: pushing an initial tax cut through Congress, winning bipartisan support for an education bill and pressing for incentives for "faith-based" charities. He expressed little interest in foreign policy.

After Sept. 11, the Republican rallied the nation, launched a global war on terror, forged an international coalition that drove the Al Qaeda (search) terror network from Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government that had harbored it and pushed a second major tax cut through Congress.

But the president saw goodwill crumble around the world with the invasion of Iraq and the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction central to his war rationale.

"He's going to be seen as something of a high-stakes gambler, a presidency of bold strokes," said longtime Bush watcher Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas political scientist.

But Buchanan said it's too early to determine Bush's place in history: "For instance, he definitely changed the dynamic and upset the apple cart in the Middle East. In 20 years, that might look like it was a useful thing to have done. Or it might look like a complete disaster."

On the domestic front, Bush's presidency has promoted policies dear to conservatives, from restrictions on embryonic stem cell research to a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages.

His first-term accomplishments include a series of free-trade pacts and two large tax cuts that Bush claims helped end the 2001 recession — but which Democrats claim favored the wealthy and drove up the federal deficit.

While his supporters portray his tax cuts as an extension of former President Reagan's economic legacy, Bush remains on track to be the first president since Herbert Hoover to see a net loss of jobs. There are 1.1 million fewer jobs now than when Bush took office.

Wayne Fields, an expert on presidential rhetoric at Washington University in St. Louis, said Bush was his most effective immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks in rallying the nation, "but since then he has not been very successful in building a conviction in the general population that he knows where the country is going."

"That's what Franklin Roosevelt (search) and John Kennedy (search) were so good at: giving a sense of knowing what we are doing and where we are headed," Fields said.

A Time Magazine poll released on Saturday showed that two in three voters said that what they heard from Bush in 2000 is what they got during his term. Less than half of the voters - 45 percent - said they believe Bush has kept his campaign promises of four years ago, 36 percent said he has not.

Stephen Cimbala, a political science professor at Penn State University, said Bush "can put a lot of points on the board for progress in the war on terror" but so far there's "a hung jury on his presidency."

"But for better or worse, he's defined himself both for his partisans and for his adversaries. Very few people are undecided. Nobody says Bush has an indistinct image," Cimbala said.

With the presidential race shaping up as a dead heat, Bush and other convention speakers will highlight first-term achievements while presenting a broader message that focuses on a second-term agenda that reaches out to moderates.

"We have to have a mix of a discussion of the policies of the president's first term, and policies for a new term," said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (search).

Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said that "Bush became a totally different president — with a much more robust foreign policy" after the terrorist attacks.

With Republicans set to convene several miles from Ground Zero, Bush frequently mentions how Sept. 11 affected his presidency: "The world changed on a terrible September morning, and since that day, we changed the world."

Democrats say otherwise. "He rushed to war with no plan to win the peace, cost the United States $200 billion and rising, and pursued a go-it-alone foreign policy that has undermined the war against terror," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said last week.