Critics and commentators said that in his acceptance speech, Gov. George W. Bush should not draw attention to his father, recommend tax cuts and smaller government, education choice or abortion, or attack the Clinton-Gore administration. He ignored that advice. When he needed to deliver the best speech of his life and show the public he is ready and able to lead, he accomplished both. Mr. Bush demonstrated conviction, vision, and class. He was not afraid of what his critics would say about him, or what his opponent might do to him-essential qualities any president should have, and every president will need. Here was a man who was not ashamed to express publicly his love for his father and mother-calling his dad "the most decent man I have ever known." He also called America to a better morality than has been demonstrated in the White House, and urged a better use of the national prosperity so that it might reach every house. It recalled John F. Kennedy's campaign speeches when Kennedy said, "We can do better." While Mr. Bush made judgments about the past, he wasn't judgmental. After the obligatory red meat, Mr. Bush talked mostly about the future. Democrats fear that Mr. Bush really is a new Republican they won't be able to demonize. They derided the "rainbow" of race, class, and language that appeared on the platform, but it seems voters are crediting Mr. Bush for trying. True, the audience did not reflect what was onstage, but it can, and Bush seems genuine in his desire to make sure it will. Mr. Bush meant this speech. While it was drafted by his gifted 36-year-old speech writer, Michael Gerson, it was crafted by Mr. Bush so that the words became his own. Any president must challenge people he hopes to lead. Mr. Bush realized that prosperity not invested in principle will soon bring a bankruptcy of character. He didn't so much call people to feel good as to be good, and, by being good, he assured them that they will ultimately feel good, and for the right reasons. Mr. Bush employed my favorite Jack Kempism. He proposed beating the Clinton-Gore thesis, not with an antithesis, but with a better thesis. And he did not make what might have been an easy mistake. He refused to condemn an entire generation (his) for the decline in morality and civility. Instead of making them feel guilty, he asked them to feel shame for squandered opportunities: "So much promise, to no great purpose" was how he labeled the embodiment of his generation as reflected these last eight years in the White House. And yet there is still hope: "Our generation has a chance to reclaim some essential values-to show we have grown up before we grow old." In virtually every paragraph, Mr. Bush did what a candidate must do. He contrasted his beliefs and proposals about Social Security, Medicare, education choice, taxes, the military, and life (from the unborn to the elderly) with the policies of the Clinton-Gore years. They "had their chance. They have not led. We will," said Bush to the loudest roars of the evening. To those Republican revolutionaries of the Gingrich era, Mr. Bush delivered this wonderful rejoinder: "Big government is not the answer. But the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference." There were some marvelous lines in the speech, including, "I do not need to take your pulse before I know my own mind"; "I believe great decisions are made with care, made with conviction, not made with polls"; "We have discovered that who we are is more important than what we have"; "And we know we must renew our values to restore our country." Much of this could have been delivered by a Democrat, but if it were Al Gore, he would not have meant it. Mr. Bush meant it, and you could sense it in the hall. This was the speech delegates had been waiting for. It was soaring rhetoric, flawlessly delivered with passion and conviction. It was the kind of speech that may have clinched a bargain with the American people: Elect me president, and I won't make you better, but I'll show you the way and offer you the opportunity to be better.
-©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate