SALT LAKE CITY — This column is being written before we have heard George W. Bush on Thursday night telling us why he should lead the nation for another four years.
But from the first hours of the Republican National Convention in New York, it was clear how the candidate was positioning himself.
He is the bold wartime president who, like Ronald Reagan before him, dwells more on what is right and promising about America than what is wrong with it.
He is the president presiding over a recovering economy that, managed with "compassionate conservatism," will bring jobs and greater prosperity to all Americans.
Though the Republican Party proclaims it has created a tent big enough to embrace voters of diverse viewpoints, this is a message targeted especially at the very small percentage of voters undecided so far in this presidential election campaign. Utah will go for President Bush, and Massachusetts is Kerry country, and neither man can do anything about such states and voters whose ballots are a foregone conclusion. But the independent voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania will decide whether for the next four years Bush or Sen. John Kerry will direct the war on terrorism, will manage US foreign policy, will attempt to set the moral tone for the country, will bring a liberal or a conservative philosophy to the management of an economy on the upswing.
The Republicans are seeking to position Senator Kerry as a man who talks more about the past than the future, and a man who, as John McCain charged on Monday, the first night of the convention, "has failed to explain what he, as commander in chief, would do in Iraq," and as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani similarly declared, "has no clear and precise vision."
Senator McCain, who has shunned exploiting his own heroism during years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison, paid tribute to Bush's "moral courage and firm resolve" in the fight against terrorism and described the war to bring freedom to Afghanistan and Iraq as a "noble mission."
As a result of Bush's determination, said McCain, America was safer since 9/11, but not safe. Americans, he declared, were still "closer to the beginning rather than the end of this fight" against terrorism but "love is greater than hate, and freedom always triumphs over tyranny."
Striking the note of moderation and unity for which the Republican leadership is striving at this convention, McCain said he respected the views of Democrats as he hoped they would respect his. Mr. Giuliani said neither party had any "monopoly on virtue," and pleaded for a "rekindling of the spirit of one America." But both men declared that as McCain put it, the "testing of our generation" and America's "rendezvous with destiny" demand the retention of Bush as president.
In essence, their message was: In a world dramatically changed by the attacks of 9/11, don't change war horses mid-war.
This vigorous endorsement by two men immensely respected throughout the nation cannot but boost a president in a neck-and-neck race for reelection. Both McCain and Giuliani are, of course, among an array of presidential wannabes at this convention who are themselves eyeing 2008. Others include Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts, and Gov. George Pataki of New York. Vice President Dick Cheney apparently doesn't wannabe, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, couldabeen, were it not for his birth outside the United States.
On the other side of the political aisle, even Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton showed up in Madison Square Garden to decline to tell CNN's Larry King whether she's gonnabe a candidate jousting with any of these Republicans in 2008.
In a close race, Bush can take heart from a few other positives beyond the boost from fellow Republicans at the convention. Some polls show a slight uptick in his ratings. Though hard days may be ahead elsewhere, an uneasy peace in Najaf is good news from Iraq. The outrageous treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib has been investigated and deplored by a string of high-level inquiries and may be fading from the headlines. International oil prices, after soaring, are ticking downward. The downing of two airliners in Russia has driven home again to Europe that terrorism is not an exclusively American concern.
So far, it is a week from which the president can take heart.
• John Hughes, former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News. He served in the Reagan administration as assistant secretary of State for public affairs.