Bush offers little but hope and promises

'THE SPEECH' is now history and the battle has begun. But the hour-long oration George Bush delivered on Thursday night to a Houston Astrodome packed to its curving steel-beamed roof contained a host of clues to his match- up with Bill Clinton, and to both the triumph and the disaster which might await him when the votes are counted just 73 days hence.

By Mr Bush's recent standards it was a thunderous success. Never is he more dangerous than when in a corner. Gone was the listless, dispirited occupant of the White House, unable to comprehend his stunning fall from grace. The man on the podium was a politician reborn, and the party faithful responded. But just like Mr Bush the President, 'the speech' on closer examination was a thing of two contrasting halves.

The first was Bush the statesman his image makers drool over. Interrupted by deafening applause at almost every line, he sketched out his foreign policy triumphs, raising doubts about Governor Clinton's character which the Republicans will play for all they're worth in the weeks ahead.

Devastatingly, the President played on Mr Clinton's equivocations on the Gulf war. 'What about the leader of the Arkansas National Guard,' Mr Bush scathingly (if incorrectly) referred to his opponent, 'the man who hopes to be Commander-in-Chief? While I bit the bullet, he bit his nails.'

Alas, however, the issues of this campaign are above all domestic, and on that score Mr Bush had little to offer beyond old nostrums, vague promises and re-tread Reaganite optimism. The question was whether he could sketch out a vision of where he wanted to lead the country. For all the assaults on Mr Clinton, and the blame he heaped on the Democrat-controlled Congress, it remains largely unanswered. Into the euphoria intrudes one sombre, over-arching fact. This election will be decided by the economy, and no president this century running on so wretched a record of economic achievement has won a second term.

Adroitly, Mr Bush portrayed himself as the born-again tax-cutter, blaming his 'bad call' in accepting the 1990 tax increase package on the bad faith of the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill. By definition, Mr Clinton becomes another in a long line of liberal, tax-and-spend Democratic contenders for the White House.

Just as the Democratic President who 44 years ago achieved this century's most astonishing election upset by running against a bitterly unpopular legislature, Mr Bush will be 'giving 'em hell' across the country. By his own account, he feels liberated by his underdog role and is spoiling for the fight.

'I'm going to pound them,' he said as he took his leave of Republican National Committee leaders yesterday before a campaign swing through the South. 'I'll go into a Congressional district and I'll do exactly what Harry Truman did. 'I'll say: 'You have the worst Congressman I know. You think he's a nice guy, but he's terrible.' I'm going to single them out, just as they've been singling me out for the last three and a half years, and I'm going to link Gore and Clinton to that.'

Thus has a party been galvanised, and the poll ratings of its candidate - briefly at least - have surged. But the revelry and rhetoric of Houston have not altered the logic of the battle ahead. No current statistical indicator, and certainly nothing Mr Bush could offer in his acceptance speech, holds the promise of economic recovery between now and November.

His proposals on health care and cutting the bureaucracy were nothing new: his 'brand new idea' that taxpayers have the right to earmark up to 10 per cent of their payments for the reduction of the national debt is little more than a gimmick. Even the 'across the board' tax cuts he will propose when the new Congress convenes next January are conditional on specific spending reductions, almost certainly in health and welfare entitlements, which the White House last night could save up to dollars 300bn ( pounds 155bn) a year.

The initiative will delight his party's conservative wing, but there is small sign Americans are ready to accept such medicine. To win, Mr Bush must convince his countrymen that slippery Mr Clinton does not measure up to the job: that he, the Second World War hero and cool-nerved conqueror of Saddam Hussein, the good family man, alone can be trusted. If not, as Republicans have privately confessed all week, economic dissatisfaction will carry the Democrats to victory. It is a logic which will dictate a campaign as rough as any in memory.

Leading article, page 14

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

EYFS Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education require an ex...

Year 3 Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home