NEW YORK – President Bush (search) brought down the house at Madison Square Garden in New York Thursday night as he accepted his party's nomination for president and rallied his supporters to send him to the White House for another four years.
"Mr. Chairman, delegates, fellow citizens: I am honored by your support, and I accept your nomination for president of the United States," Bush said after taking the stage to thunderous applause, cheering and cowboy hat-waving from the Texas delegation.
At the 38th Republican National Convention (search), Bush praised the city that never sleeps for its bravery and courage when faced with the dangers and death of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and he praised America for standing strong in that time of destruction and for helping each other through it.
Although America has traveled a rough road since Sept. 11, "nothing will hold us back," Bush said.
"Since 2001, Americans have been given hills to climb, and found the strength to climb them. Now, because we have made the hard journey, we can see the valley below. Now, because we have faced challenges with resolve, we have historic goals within our reach, and greatness in our future. We will build a safer world and a more hopeful America and nothing will hold us back."
And a strong leader is a necessity in these trying times, he said.
"I believe the most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people," the commander-in-chief said. "If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch."
What’s also at stake in this election is how America responds to the continuing danger of terrorism, Bush said, "and you know where I stand.
"Three days after Sept. 11, I stood where Americans died, in the ruins of the Twin Towers. Workers in hard hats were shouting to me, 'Whatever it takes.' A fellow grabbed me by the arm and he said, 'Do not let me down.' Since that day, I wake up every morning thinking about how to better protect our country. I will never relent in defending America whatever it takes."
With wars against Iraq and Afghanistan behind him and a War on Terror (search) continuing, Bush talked of the need to stay vigilant and remain committed to fighting the enemy.
"We are staying on the offensive, striking terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. And we are working to advance liberty in the broader Middle East, because freedom will bring a future of hope, and the peace we all want. And we will prevail," he said.
Bush referred back to his campaign four years ago when he cast himself as a "compassionate conservative." He described that philosophy: "Government should help people improve their lives, not try to run their lives. I believe this nation wants steady, consistent, principled leadership and that is why, with your help, we will win this election."
Vowing to transform fundamental systems like the tax code, health coverage, worker training ad pension plans, Bush said his plan begins with providing the security and opportunity of a growing economy in a global marketplace. That includes making tax relief permanent, relying less on foreign sources of energy, protecting small businesses from frivolous lawsuits, simplifying the tax code, increasing funding for community colleges, allowing small firms to unite and purchase insurance at discounts, providing low-income Americans with better health care, passing a medical liability reform law, and allowing more comp and flex time.
He also promised to strengthen the Social Security (search) system and boost math and science programs in the nation’s schools.
While the week has been full of party loyalists taking direct aim at Bush’s opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search), the president didn’t fail to continue that tactic.
"These changing times can be exciting times of expanded opportunity. And here, you face a choice," Bush said. "My opponent's policies are dramatically different from ours," he added, including policies on Medicare reform and health savings accounts, education reform, the marriage penalty, and taxes.
"His policies of tax and spend, of expanding government rather than expanding opportunity, are the policies of the past," Bush said. "We are on the path to the future and we are not turning back."
Kerry also launched a counterattack against the Republican whipping he's received all week.
"The election comes down to this. If you believe this country is heading in the right direction, you should support George Bush. But if you believe America needs to move in a new direction, join with us. John and I offer a better plan that will make us stronger at home and more respected in the world. And we need your help to do that," he said at a rally in Ohio.
The Kerry campaign will launch a seven-state advertising blitz Friday in Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin as the first installment of a $50 million, 20-state fall ad buy.
‘We Are Staying on the Offensive’
Under Bush’s watch, homeland security funding has tripled, half a million first responders have been trained and the nation’s military and intelligence services are being transformed.
"We are staying on the offensive, striking terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home," Bush said.
Al Qaeda (search) is no longer welcome in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia is cutting off terrorist fundraising, Libya is dismantling its nuclear weapons, Iraq is no longer a "gathering threat" and three-quarters of Al Qaeda’s key members and associates have been captured or killed, Bush said.
"We have led, many have joined, and America and the world are safer," the president told delegates.
At this point in the speech and at one other, hecklers tried to raise a ruckus. They were quickly drowned out by the party faithful chanting "four more years, four more years." One protester holding a sign that said, "Bush lied, many died" was dragged out of the Garden by Secret Service.
Bush acknowledged that the toughest decision he had to make, by far, was whether to go to war with Iraq. With Saddam Hussein’s "record of aggression and support for terror," Bush said, the lesson of Sept. 11 was: "We must, and we will, confront threats to America before it is too late."
"After more than a decade of diplomacy, we gave Saddam Hussein another chance, a final chance, to meet his responsibilities to the civilized world. He again refused, and I faced the kind of decision that comes only to the Oval Office, a decision no president would ask for, but must be prepared to make," Bush said.
"Do I forget the lessons of Sept. 11 and take the word of a madman, or do I take action to defend our country? Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time."
He repeated his commitment to working to make sure democracy comes to the broader Middle East so that terrorists find no safe harbor there. He vowed that U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan and Iraq to help train new armies and see elections through, "and then our troops will return home with the honor they have earned."
Bush took the opportunity to speak directly to U.S. troops overseas and their families and thanked the various countries that have taken part in the U.S.-led coalition.
"Because of you, the world is more just and will be more peaceful. We owe you our thanks, and we owe you something more. We will give you all the resources, all the tools, and all the support you need for victory."
Bush fired away once again at Kerry’s Senate record, specifically targeting the senator’s vote against the $87 billion supplemental budget to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide troops with more money for bullets, fuel, vehicles and body armor.
"When asked to explain his vote, the senator said, 'I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it,'" Bush said with a grin. "Then he said he was 'proud' of that vote. Then, when pressed, he said it was a 'complicated matter.' There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat."
He noted that Kerry has called America’s allies "a coalition of the coerced and the bribed," adding that those allies "deserve the respect of all Americans, not the scorn of a politician."
Those allies, the president said, are helping beat back the threat of terrorism around the globe.
"The terrorists are fighting freedom with all their cunning and cruelty because freedom is their greatest fear and they should be afraid, because freedom is on the march," Bush said.
There have always been "doubters" in times like this, the president pointed out, but America must stand firm for the cause of liberty and freedom. Yet that cause will not come easily or all at once.
"Generations will know if we seized this moment, and used it to build a future of safety and peace," he said. "The freedom of many, and the future security of our nation, now depend on us. And tonight, my fellow Americans, I ask you to stand with me."
Just four miles from where the Twin Towers fell, Bush vowed that out of the rubble of despair will continue to rise a nation of courage.
"My fellow Americans, for as long as our country stands, people will look to the resurrection of New York City and they will say: Here buildings fell, and here a nation rose," he said.
"To everything we know there is a season, a time for sadness, a time for struggle, a time for rebuilding. And now we have reached a time for hope. This young century will be liberty's century. By promoting liberty abroad, we will build a safer world. By encouraging liberty at home, we will build a more hopeful America. Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom. This is the everlasting dream of America and tonight, in this place, that dream is renewed. Now we go forward grateful for our freedom, faithful to our cause, and confident in the future of the greatest nation on earth."
Bush even took a few jabs at himself in good fun.
"In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other … You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too," he said. "People sometimes have to correct my English. I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it. Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called ‘walking.’ Now and then I come across as a little too blunt and for that we can all thank the white-haired lady sitting right up there,’ he said, pointing to his mother, Barbara Bush.
A Fitting Start
As the convention was gaveled in Thursday night, a series of athletes, including world-champion figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill and former Pittsburgh Steelers player Lynn Swann hailed the U.S. Olympic team, which just took home 103 medals at the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. They also talked about Bush's National Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, encouraging Americans to be active.
Earlier, Olympic gymnastic stars Kerry Strug and Mary Lou Retton led convention-goers in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
From the convention floor, presidential mom Barbara Bush introduced a film narrated by Bush daughters Jenna and Barbara. The tape features Bush as a family man first, a politician second.
The theme of Thursday's events was "A Safer World, a More Hopeful America"; it follows three days of party loyalists focusing on Bush's achievements in the fight against terrorism, as well as domestic issues like education.
Seats in the Garden looked almost filled Thursday night, unlike previous nights where many seats with poor lines of sight remained empty. Topping off a week of coordination, the Texas delegation dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, and red, white and blue flag-like shirts and cowboy hats. Before the convention got under way, they led cheers of "We Love Bush" from their seats.
'They Didn’t Bank on George W. Bush'
Bush was introduced by New York Gov. George Pataki (search), who declared that times are changing drastically and Americans find they have to work harder to stay ahead.
Echoing the week-long theme that the stakes are higher than ever this election year, Pataki thanked America "from the very bottom of New York’s heart" for supporting the city after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"This great state rolled up its sleeves, looked terrorism straight in the face, and spat in its eye. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you New York. On that terrible day, a nation became a neighborhood. All Americans became New Yorkers."
Pataki also praised Bush for rolling up his sleeves and digging into the business at hand.
"Almost four years ago, George W. Bush raised his right hand and took the oath of office. And from the first he showed us something we hadn't seen in a while. When he said he was going to do something, he meant it. And then he did it ... George W. Bush says what he means, he means what he says, you can trust him."
Kerry, on the other hand, Pataki argued, changes his mind on various issues.
"This is a candidate who has to Google his own name to find out where he stands," Pataki said, referring to the online search engine while ratcheting up criticism of the Massachusetts senator that has been going on all week and focusing on the senator’s so-called "flip flops."
At the Democratic National Convention in Boston, the Kerry-Edwards slogan was: "Hope is on the way."
"But with all their flip-flopping and zig-zagging their real slogan should be, ‘Hype is on the way,’" Pataki said. This fall we're going to win one for the Gipper. But our opponents - they're going lose one with the Flipper."
Saying previous administration didn’t attack Usama bin Laden even after America was attacked time and time again, Pataki said: "On Sept. 11, Al Qaeda attacked again. But this time they made a terrible mistake. There's one thing they didn't bank on. They didn't bank on George W. Bush."
Worldwide American Dream
Former Housing and Urban Development chief and U.S. Senate candidate from Florida Mel Martinez praised Bush’s "compassionate conservatism" and the ability for everyone to achieve the "American Dream." He also hailed Bush's commitment to social issues such as providing affordable housing to everyone, providing affordable prescription drugs to seniors and making sure every child has access to a quality education.
"Tonight, I stand before you as a testament of the American Dream - living proof of the greatness of our nation and the kindness of the American people," the foreign-born Martinez said.
"Only in America can a 15-year-old boy arrive on our shores alone, not speaking the language with a suitcase and the hope of a brighter future and rise to serve in the cabinet of the president of the United States. And, only in America can that same young boy, today, stand one step away from making history as the first Cuban-American to serve in the United States Senate."
Franks: Let's Fight Terrorists 'Over There'
Retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks (search), who led the U.S. Central Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom, took the stage to a standing ovation as people held up signs saying "We Salute Our Troops" and pictures of U.S. soldiers in action shots were splashed on huge screens behind him.
"I'm Tommy Franks and I approved that message. This convention rocks," Franks said. "I'm not a Republican. I'm not a Democrat. But I believe in democracy. I believe in America … but, here I stand tonight, endorsing George W. Bush to be the next president of the United States."
America is at an "important crease in history," Franks said, adding that the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks" brought a new enemy to our shores - an enemy unlike any we've ever faced before."
And although the nation is safer today, the country has more to achieve, he said.
"We have hardened our defenses and taken the fight to the terrorists, but we still have work to do, especially if we want to fight terrorists abroad before they get to America’s shores," he said.
"Citizens and friends, I've been with this president in tough, uncertain times. George W. Bush is 'the real thing,'" Franks said. "I have looked into his eyes and I have seen his character. I have seen courage and consistency ... Terrorism against our country started long before 9/11. Terrorists have been killing Americans for more than two decades. I am proud that this President has chosen to make a stand."
Franks said successes have been made in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those countries are being put on the path toward democracy and are no longer safe havens for terrorists who may want to attack the United States.
"In Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorism and tyranny are being replaced by freedom, hope, and opportunity," Franks said. "I am proud that America has given 50 million people a chance."
Franks also took aim at Democrats and others who say the United States invaded Iraq with little international support.
"President Bush has built the largest coalition in the history of the world - nations united together against terrorism," he said, thanking the coalition partners. "Some have ridiculed the contributions made by our allies, but I can tell you that every contribution from every nation is important."
Bush also personally asked every military commander if he had everything he needed before going to war, Franks added, hailing his commitment to taking care of the nation’s veterans.
"Citizens and friends, I began tonight by reminding you that America must make a choice," Frank said in ending his remarks. "I choose George W. Bush because he is a leader we can depend on to make the tough decisions - and the right decisions."