NEW YORK – The most important issue for the nation’s families and future at a time when "the stakes are so high" is President Bush’s (search) work to protect the country and defeat terror "so that all children can grow up in a more peaceful world," first lady Laura Bush said Tuesday night.
Defending the commander-in-chief’s decision to go to war in Afghanistan (search) and Iraq (search), Mrs. Bush told the Republican National Convention the nation is grateful to the men and women of the armed forces who are fighting the War on Terror around the world.
"My husband didn't want to go to war, but he knew the safety and security of America and the world depended on it," she said, adding that she witnessed many of the behind-the-scenes conversations and internal dilemmas the president faced as he made "agonizing decisions that would have such profound consequence for so many lives and for the future of our world."
Mrs. Bush’s comments came as Bush’s compassionate conservatism (search) took center stage Tuesday during day two of the convention. Earlier in the evening, the president secured the nomination, getting 1,255 of the 2,509 votes needed as the evening festivities kicked off in Madison Square Garden. The roll call of states continues on Wednesday.
The Republicans' biggest star took the stage before Mrs. Bush, saying that under Bush’s leadership, "America is back" in a period of hope and prosperity.
And California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) wasted no time taking cracks at Democrats as delegates nearly brought the house down chanting, "Arnold" while holding up signs emblazoned with that one name.
"What a greeting! This is like winning an Oscar! ... As if I would know," said Schwarzenegger, one of the highlights on day two of the 38th Republican National Convention. "Speaking of acting, one of my movies was called 'True Lies.' It's what the Democrats should have called their convention."
The president won't arrive until Wednesday. He'll spend one night in New York and accept the GOP nomination before bolting for the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Ohio and beyond. But he appeared via satellite to introduce his wife.
"I am enjoying this campaign. It has reminded me of our very first one, 26 years ago. George and I were newlyweds and he was running for Congress," Mrs. Bush said. "Even then, he was always on time and he knew exactly where he wanted to go … by the end of the campaign, he had even convinced me to vote for him. This time I don't need any convincing."
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack, the country has been faced with many challenges, Mrs. Bush said, but, "we have great confidence in our ability to overcome challenges," and with her husband in the White House, he brings "that optimism, that sense of promise, that certainty that a better day is before us to his job every day - and with your help, he'll do so for four more years.
"These are times that require an especially strong and determined leader. And I'm proud that my husband is that kind of leader."
‘Don’t Be Economic Girlie Men’
Whereas Monday's theme was the "Courage of a Nation," in which speakers extolled the virtues of Bush as a wartime leader, Tuesday's theme was "Compassion of the American People," and speakers highlighted aspects of the president's domestic policy.
Democrats have claimed that Bush's foreign policy and his focus on the War on Terror has detracted from progress made on matters here at home. But party loyalists argued otherwise.
"Ladies and gentlemen, America is back. Back from the attack on our homeland -- back from the attack on our economy -- back from the attack on our way of life," Schwarzenegger said. "We're back because of the perseverance, character and leadership of the 43rd President of the United States -- George W. Bush."
Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-politician who emigrated from Austria with virtually nothing, said the Republican Party helped him fulfill the American dream and under Bush’s leadership, anyone can fulfill that dream.
"I want other people to get the same chances I did, the same opportunities," he will say. "And I believe they can. That's why I believe in this country, that's why I believe in this party and that's why I believe in this president."
Immigrants and others can tell if they’re American using many barometers, Schwarzenegger said. If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government; if you believe the educational system should be held accountable for the progress of children.
But people can tell if they are Republican another way too, he said.
"You have faith in free enterprise, faith in the resourcefulness of the American people ... and faith in the U.S. economy. To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don't be economic girlie men!"
To that, Schwarzenegger received a deafening round of applause and cheering.
He also said that despite the Kerry-Edwards campaign theme of "two Americas," when it comes to the nation’s defense, "I can tell you this: Our young men and women in uniform do not believe there are two Americas."
"They believe we are one America - and they are fighting for it. We are one America, and President Bush is defending it with all his heart and soul," he added, saying that because Bush doesn't waver or do what's popular simply to win opinion polls, particularly in the War on Terror (search), he's the best one to lead America in that war.
Don’t Knock No Child Left Behind
Earlier in the night, Education Secretary Rod Paige (search) said Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act is working to better America’s educational system and has raised the bar for all students, no matter their race or income level.
"While Brown [vs. The Board of Education] opened the schoolhouse door to all, it did not guarantee quality education for all," Paige told delegates at Madison Square Garden, referring to the seminal Supreme Court case abolishing schoolroom segregation. "President Bush saw this two-tiered system as unacceptable. He proposed a plan - high standards, measurable goals, real consequences and resources to get the job done. He promised results. He delivered results."
The No Child Left Behind Act (search) has been a controversial one, as many groups have said too much focus has been placed on test scores and not enough of the budgeted allowances for each state have reached schools; the Bush administration has argued that kids shouldn’t move a grade without showing they can do the work.
"Although much work remains, our choice is simple: We can either build on these achievements or return to the days of excuses and indifference," said Paige, who rose from segregated Mississippi to become the nation's first black education secretary.
The president’s nephew, George P. Bush reiterated his uncle’s commitment to the No Child Left Behind education initiative and pointed out that during his term as president, the country had the largest education funding increase in history and "impressive results" are being seen. He also hailed Bush’s tax cuts, saying they have helped foster the "American dream" by sending their kids to college, starting small businesses and buying homes. The president will also work to fix the Social Security (search) system to help the elderly and allow workers to put ore money into their personal nest eggs, he said.
"Guided by Liberty's lamp, our party and our president will continue to preserve the American dream for every individual who seeks it," the son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said.
Other speakers for the evening’s prime-time lineup were Bush twins Jenna and Barbara, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.
Jenna and Barbara’s remarks were filled with lighthearted comic relief. Both girls recently graduated from college.
"We’ve spent the last four years trying to stay out of the spotlight, sometime we did better than others," said Jenna, who’s made news early in Bush's presidency for drunken and fake ID exploits. "We kept trying to explain to my dad, when we’re young and irresponsible, we’re young and irresponsible."
"When your dad’s a Republican and you go to Yale, you learn to stand up for yourself," added Barbara, who later said they’re campaigning this year because "we’re looking for something to do for the next few years, just like Dad."
Dole touched on several hot-button issues that have been part of Bush's domestic policy: marriage, abortion, family values and freedom of religion.
Saying marriage is the "foundation of civilization and the cornerstone of family," Dole added that "marriage between a man and a woman isn’t something Republicans invented but it is something Republicans will defend."
She echoed that same phrase in reference to abortion and religion.
Assailing Dems on Stem-Cell Debate
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist hailed Bush’s work on health care, saying the president’s prescription drug discount card program is the centerpiece of the "first real reform of Medicare (search) since its creation," Frist said.
Frist, the only doctor in the Senate, took aim at Kerry and the Democratic Party, saying, "they'd rather play politics than help patients," and that they don’t want seniors to know they can get prescription drug discount cards (search).
"Let me point out that our opponents talked about doing this for eight years," said Frist of Tennessee. "While seniors suffered ... they talked and talked and talked. George Bush and the Republican Congress delivered. We acted."
Frist also said the personal injury trial lawyers and their liability suits are the reason health-care costs are rising. Kerry’s running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, is a trial lawyer.
"We must stop them from twisting American medicine into a litigation lottery where they hit the jackpot and every patient ends up paying," Frist said. "John Kerry (search) has made his choice. He put a trial lawyer on his ticket. By his votes and by his actions, he is the 'Dr. No' of tort reform in America."
The controversial stem cell debate also resurfaced during the convention Tuesday. Research in this area probes possible cures for debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries. Bush supports federal funding only for adult stem cells derived from bone marrow or cartilage but has said the private sector can pursue research in both adult and embryonic cells, which are taken from human embryos. Embryonic stem cell research (search) is still at a very early stage.
"John Kerry claims that the president has put a 'sweeping ban on stem cell research," Frist said, one of many Republicans to refer directly to the president's opponent. "I challenge Mr. Kerry tonight: What ban? Shame on you, Mr. Kerry."
Bush’s policy is the only moral one, Frist added.
"An embryo is biologically human. It deserves moral respect," he said.
Meanwhile, protests continued Tuesday around the city. Fourteen people were detained near Wall Street for blocking morning traffic. Another six protesters were arrested for wearing masks in a Harlem subway station, authorities said. More than 500 people have been arrested in convention-related protests since late last week.