A second attempt to charm the electorate

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The Independent Online

Great convention speeches are rare commodities indeed, and the one President George Bush delivered in New York on Thursday evening was no exception to that rule - uninspiring in content and delivered in an oddly downbeat manner. Understandably he played to his strengths. He skipped over the failings of his economic policy; he portrayed John Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal who did not have the spine to defend the country against terrorism, and repeatedly summoned up his preferred image of himself as a resolute leader, capable of taking tough decisions.

If Mr Bush's domestic proposals are the yardstick, he did not make the case for a second term. He offered merely a laundry list of initiatives, vague on details, without a hint of America's economic realities of soaring deficits and lost jobs. The attacks on his opponent were less harsh, but similar to those delivered by his vice-president and other speakers in Madison Square Garden during the week. On the essentials however he gave not an inch. He vigorously defended the war in Iraq, and signalled in the clearest possible terms that he would do whatever he believed was necessary to protect America, whether other people and other countries liked it or not.

If the speech does live in the memory, it will be not because of its humdrum content, but because of how he came across to the country. A key rule of presidential elections is that Americans tend to elect the more upbeat and likeable candidate. Bill Clinton's sheer charm was a huge contributor to his political success, and whatever the arguments about the outcome of the 2000 election, Mr Bush won the likeability contest hands down over Al Gore.

On Thursday evening the charmer was on display again. Mr Bush took some humorous digs at himself, wryly admitting to a few character defects - his Texan cockiness, his bluntness and his uncertain command of the English language. The self-deprecation may not amount to very much, but come November it could matter a great deal. Those Americans who think "I'm not sure I agree with him, but what the hell, he seems a nice guy" could make the difference. Their votes could be the ones that carry him to victory over the worthy, but indisputably dour, Mr Kerry in what is set to be a very close election.