Bush vows to usher in a new 'positive America'

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The Independent US

George W Bush, set his presidential campaign rolling towards the White House yesterday with a call for new leadership in America and a denunciation of Bill Clinton.

George W Bush, set his presidential campaign rolling towards the White House yesterday with a call for new leadership in America and a denunciation of Bill Clinton.

"My fellow citizens, we can begin again," he said in a speech prepared for the Republican convention in Philadelphia, aimed at bringing its week of highly choreographed celebrations to a tumultuous climax. Mr Bush criticised the Clinton Administration in his speech, but he did so in a tone of regret for its omissions rather than outright attack. It had come to power at a time of prosperity and failed to use this to America's advantage, he said. "Times of plenty, like times of crisis, are tests of American character," said Mr Bush. "So much promise, to no great purpose." And in a backhanded slap at the Clintons, Mr Bush quoted the poet Robert Frost's injunction to "occupy the land with character."

"We will seize this moment of American promise," said the Texas Governor, offering himself up as a man of action who would seize the moment. "We will use these good times for great goals. We will confront the hard issues - threats to our national security, threats to our health and retirement security - before the challenges of our time become crises for our children. And we will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country."

After a tightly organised week of speeches, music, dancing, videos and even a little politics, the Republicans have given themselves strong momentum as the election campaign moves into its decisive stage. "We are now the party of ideas and innovation," said Mr Bush, "the party of idealism and inclusion... The party of a simple and powerful hope... My fellow citizens, we can begin again." That last phrase deliberately echoes Ronald Reagan's slogan in 1984: "It's morning again in America."

Mr Bush also distanced himself from Washington, aiming to appear like an outsider albeit one with considerable experience. He admitted that he "may lack the polish of Washington. Then again, I don't have a lot of things that come with Washington experience. I don't have enemies to fight. And I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect." The core themes which Mr Bush is pushing have remained unchanged since he launched his candidacy last year at a ceremony in Austin, Texas: tax cuts, better education, reforming America's pensions scheme and giving more cash to the US military.

The campaign has, since the outset, been a rigorously disciplined, tightly organised and very well-funded effort, leaving little to chance and giving few hostages to fortune. A film of Mr Bush's life-story had been prepared to run before his speech, a 9 and a half minute hagiography entitled "The Sky's the Limit." It follows a similiar film used by the Democrats at the 1992 convention, where they showcased Mr Clinton; the republicans have deliberately taken many themes, ideas and tricks from their opponents.

At 3,900 words, though shorter than many other acceptance speeches, it was one of the longest he had ever delivered. It was also perhaps the most important. Mr Bush said that his speech "speaks from my heart," underlining the optimistic, forward-looking tone that has been set throughout the week. Mr Bush said: "I'm going to lift the spirit of the country. When people listen to what I have to say, they're going to say this is a man who sees a positive America, an America for everybody." Karen Hughes, Mr Bush's communications director, said of her boss: "This is a unique moment, and he is a unique leader. It's unique because we have had bipartisan opportunities and it didn't happen. He has a proven ability to bring Republicans and Democrats together."

Mr Bush had rehearsed last night's speech intensively, in front of friends and using a TelePrompTer. A good though hardly brilliant speaker most of the time, last night was his chance to shine in front of a highly partisan, energised and eager audience.

Mr Bush and Dick Cheney, his vice-president, both won their nominations late on Wednesday night - hardly surprising, since all the other candidates were out of the race. The convention was once used to select candidates, and sometimes turned into a pitched batle. Those days are long gone; now, it is a mixture of showbusiness and public relations. But the Republicans, who have chosen to showcase what they label a more inclusive and open party, have used the opportunity to the maximum.

The campaign traditionally begins after Labor Day in early September, but Mr Bush has made clear that from now until election day in November he will be on the trail. According to the latest tracking poll, Mr Bush now has a solid 14 point lead over Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, of 48 per cent to 34 per cent; Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate was on 6 per cent and Pat Buchanan on 2 per cent. That shows the "bounce" which every candidate hopes to gain from the convention. The Democrats hold their show in Los Angeles in ten days time, and Mr Gore will hope that he can recover ground there.