NEW YORK – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) drew on his childhood in Soviet-occupied Austria to endorse President Bush's war on terror. "Terrorism is more insidious than communism," the bodybuilder-turned-politician said Tuesday in a speech to the Republican convention.
Bush "knows you don't reason with terrorists. You defeat them. He knows you can't reason with people blinded by hate," he said.
Putting his star power to work for President Bush in a prime-time address, Schwarzenegger also urged optimism about the country's economy.
"To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: 'Don't be economic girlie men!"' Schwarzenegger said — a line from a Saturday Night Live spoof of him that he used against Democratic legislators earlier this year.
Schwarzenegger was trying to reintroduce himself as a politician to a country that might still see him as a movie star. The convention appearance was his first chance to give a purely political speech to a national television audience since taking office in California last November.
Schwarzenegger's wife, Kennedy relative and Democrat Maria Shriver (search), watched from a convention hall box with the couple's four children, aged 6-14. She was seated next to President Bush's parents, Barbara Bush and former President George H.W. Bush, who appointed Schwarzenegger to head the President's Council on Physical Fitness.
"Wow, this is like winning an Oscar — as if I would know!" the governor said when he took the stage to wild applause from delegates who waved signs reading "The Governator" and "Arnold Rocks."
In his remarks, Schwarzenegger never named Democratic nominee John Kerry, with whom he is friendly, and the speech was peppered with jokes rather than partisan attacks.
Schwarzenegger told delegates how he arrived in the United States as a young bodybuilder knowing little English, became Mr. Universe, a Hollywood star, and then governor of the nation's most populous state in an unprecedented recall election last year.
He welcomed his fellow immigrants to the Republican Party. "We Republicans admire your ambition. We encourage your dreams. We believe in your future," he said.
"I want other people to get the same chances I did, the same opportunities," he said.
He said he decided to become a Republican after watching Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon debate. He said he concluded, "Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air."
How could other immigrants know they're a Republican?
"If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government — then you're a Republican!" he said, repeating the refrain that brought the crowd to its feet.
Recalling growing up in Austria when the Soviet tanks rolled through his homeland, Schwarzenegger said the Bush administration should not waiver from its determination to fight terrorists scattered across the globe.
"My fellow Americans, make no mistake about it — terrorism is more insidious than communism, because it yearns to destroy not just the individual but the entire international order."
Earlier in the day, Schwarzenegger made an unannounced stop at a Manhattan fire house that suffered heavy casualties on Sept. 11 and bought pizza for the firefighters.
Despite Schwarzenegger's praise of Bush, he's been cautious so far in promoting the president's re-election. The two have appeared together in California but Schwarzenegger has sent mixed signals about campaigning for Bush outside California.
Schwarzenegger's popularity in Democrat-leaning California rests in part on his bipartisan, moderate image — an image that could be tarnished if he embraces Bush too closely, analysts say.
Bush's approval rating stood at 40 percent in California in an August poll, compared with 65 percent for Schwarzenegger. The two disagree on issues including abortion rights, which Schwarzenegger supports, and amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage, which he opposes.
And despite Schwarzenegger's welcoming words, the GOP is torn about the face it reveals to immigrants. The new party platform endorses President Bush's request to give temporary legal status to illegal workers, but conservatives hate that plan, and Hispanic groups complain it doesn't go far enough.
Schwarzenegger supports Bush's proposal but is expected to veto a bill that just landed on his desk that would give drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. He also was criticized during last fall's recall campaign for supporting Proposition 187, the 1994 California measure that would have denied state services to illegal immigrants.
While the speech showcased Schwarzenegger as a political leader, it's not clear what his political future might hold. As a foreign-born citizen he could not run for president unless the Constitution were amended.
Schwarzenegger became governor after California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.