NEW YORK – President George W. Bush sought to reassure a nation sorting out a controversial war and slowly recovering from economic hard times, as he accepted the renomination for president at the Republican National Convention Thursday night.

In Madison Square Garden, three miles north of the site of the fallen World Trade towers, Bush began and ended his acceptance speech by addressing the war on terrorism.

“I accept your nomination for President of the United States,” Bush said in remarks prepared for delivery. “When I said those words four years ago, none of us could have envisioned what these years would bring. In the heart of this great city, we saw tragedy arrive on a quiet morning. We saw the bravery of rescuers grow with danger. We learned of passengers on a doomed plane who died with a courage that frightened their killers. We have seen a shaken economy rise to its feet. And we have seen Americans in uniform storming mountain strongholds, and charging through sandstorms, and liberating millions, with acts of valor that would make the men of Normandy proud.”

Bush defended his commitment of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq as a necessity in the war against terrorism – a war that he said in no uncertain terms that the country will eventually win.

“We have fought the terrorists across the Earth – not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake,” Bush said. ” … 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.”

That final statement came just three days after Bush said in a TV interview that “I don’t think you can win it” of the war on terrorism. Bush spokesmen explained the nuanced statement as referring to not being able to win the war in the conventional way – with cease-fires and signed documents. But the nuances were gone Thursday night, as they have been all week.

The message has been relentless, stressed by prime-time and non-prime-time speakers alike: Bush’s unwavering fight against terrorism.

Retired Gen. Tommy Franks, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command that led forces into Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the war in Iraq last year, bolstered the theme further Thursday night.

“The past three years have been hard years: a time of hard decisions and tough choices,” Franks said as he announced his endorsement of Bush. “I’ve looked into his eyes and I have his seen his character. I’ve seen courage. I’ve seen consistency: the courage to stand up to terrorists and the consistency necessary to beat them.”

New York Gov. George Pataki – one of the many Republican moderates handed speaking roles – did the same Thursday as he contrasted Bush with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee:

“Senator Kerry says, “America should go to war not when it wants to go to war but when it has to go to war.’ Well, excuse me, Senator. The firefighters and cops who ran into those burning towers and died on September 11th didn’t want to go to war. They were heroes in a war they didn’t even know existed,” Pataki said. “America did not choose this war. But we have a President who chooses to win it.”

As he concluded his party convention’s four-day focus on the fight against terrorism, Bush made room in his remarks to provide a hopeful message for working families concerned by economic hardships. From finding good jobs to being able to afford health insurance, to buy a home or to retire feeling secure in their retirement income.

He vowed to find a way to simplify the tax code and provide incentives that put worker benefits more in line with a modern-day work world, where workers frequently change jobs and where two-thirds of mothers work outside the home.

“This changed world can be a time of great opportunity for all Americans to earn a better living, support your family, and have a rewarding career. And government must take your side,” Bush said. “Many of our most fundamental systems – the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training – were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow. We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared – and thus truly free – to make your own choices and pursue your own dreams.”

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Four years ago, when he accepted the GOP nomination the first time, he vowed to cut taxes – and he has. “The last time taxes were this high as a percentage of our economy, there was a good reason – we were fighting World War II,” Bush told Republicans gathered in Philadelphia in 2000. “Today our high taxes fund a surplus. The surplus is not the government’s money. The surplus is the people’s money.”

Today, there is no surplus. In its place there is a significant deficit, created in part by Sept. 11 and the ensuing war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Despite the high cost of those wars, Bush vowed Thursday for more tax relief – and to make the tax cuts he pushed through Congress permanent.

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His economic plan, he said would include cutting back government spending and reducing regulations, expanding foreign trade and seeking to reduce medical liability to reduce health care costs. And he advocated allowing small business owner the access to discounted employee health plans that are available for larger businesses.

Bush said education aid would lead many to better, higher-paying jobs.

“In this time of change, many workers want to go back to school to learn different or higher-level skills,” Bush said. “So we will double the number of people served by our principal job training program and increase funding for community colleges. I know that with the right skills, American workers can compete with anyone, anywhere in the world.”

Bush said he would also help secure a better economic future for young people by expanding annual testing to high schools – with a focus on math and science: “We will require a rigorous exam before graduation. By raising performance in our high schools and expanding Pell grants for low- and middle-income families, we will help more Americans start their career with a college diploma.”



(c) 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): CVN-GOP

AP-NY-09-02-04 2257EDT



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