And We’re Off!

I was impressed with President Bush’s acceptance speech this evening.

I’d never describe the guy as a master Toastmaster (probably because that sounds really gay), but his delivery has improved tremendously since the 2000 campaign. I didn’t even notice that the he spoke for more than an hour. President Bush is still no Bill Clinton when it comes to speechifying, but that’s fine. There is such a thing as too polished. Too slick. In an odd way, what was once Bush’s primary failing as a politician — his speaking skills — have evolved into an asset.

Whoever wrote the speech earned their lunch money. Anyone can lay out a political agenda, but this was pretty strong on specifics. And more importantly, it was a good fit for the man. Capturing Bush’s folksy style in the lighter moments and making it sound like something the President would actually say in a casual conversation isn’t easy.

“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.”

When you’re playing hardball — and make no mistake about it, as Barbara Bush said today in an interview, this is the nastiest campaign yet — it makes getting the jokes and emotional moments right that much more important because you have to balance the razor blades with something palatable.

The speech was a successful capper because, like a good landing in an airplane, it’s the setup that determines your success. The heavy lifting was done by the Law Firm of Schwarzenegger, Miller, and Giuliani, leaving Bush in position to provide emotional highlights from the first term, an agenda for the second, and a few light jabs at John Kerry.

I would agree with Susan Estrich, who said the speech was missing only two things: how are we going to get out of Iraq, and what are we going to do about the deficit. These are areas where Bush is legimately vulnerable. If Kerry was smart, he’s be strongly supporting the war but questioning just that one aspect of it. How do we get out? It’s a question that’s on the mind of everybody with a loved one in the Middle East, no matter how much they support the President.

Of course, asking this would opens Kerry up to questions about how he’d handle it. Bush also has an ‘out’ on the deficit issue to some extent, because although spending has been out of control on his watch, 9/11 both damaged the economy (hurting revenues) and cost a fortune in homeland security expenses.

Speaking of Kerry, he’d definitely on the defensive. The RNC convention delegates haven’t even left Madison Square Garden yet and he’s already giving a midnight campaign speech in Ohio. I can’t think of any other nominating convention when the opposing party campaigned on the day of an acceptance speech. Twice.

Kerry sounds unprepared, struggling over the lines a bit. In fact, it appears these remarks are supposed to be extemporaneous. But if he wants to win the White House, he’ll need to start talking about something other than Vietnam. So this is a good step for his campaign. Unfortunately he’s railing on Iraq at the moment, calling it a “failed war”. It brings up images of his speeches and Congressional testimony in 1970.

So… off we go. The last two months of this torturously long campaign. And I have to say, election day can’t come soon enough. Presidential campaigns are getting to be like the Christmas season — something that starts sooner every year and brings a bigger sigh of relief whenever it ends.

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