Bush injects life into the race for the White House

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It would be an exaggeration, given the sadly reduced condition of US presidential conventions, to claim that every eye will be glued to Philadelphia this week. Yet - however choreographed, predictable and suffused with brotherly love - the coronation ceremony of George W Bush, which begins today, does matter. It will be our best chance to get a fix on the man who may recapture the White House for the Republican party this autumn and become the proverbial "most powerful man in the world". And, if he does so, he will complete the first father-son presidential double since John Adams and John Quincy Adams in the first decades of the republic.

It would be an exaggeration, given the sadly reduced condition of US presidential conventions, to claim that every eye will be glued to Philadelphia this week. Yet - however choreographed, predictable and suffused with brotherly love - the coronation ceremony of George W Bush, which begins today, does matter. It will be our best chance to get a fix on the man who may recapture the White House for the Republican party this autumn and become the proverbial "most powerful man in the world". And, if he does so, he will complete the first father-son presidential double since John Adams and John Quincy Adams in the first decades of the republic.

All too often "Dubya" is dismissed as Daddy's charming, spoilt and rather witless boy. His inability to name a series of foreign leaders made the celebrated "Bushisms" of his father look distillations of statesmanship by comparison. His slogan of "compassionate conservatism" is deliberately vague. Yet we in Britain have lived long enough with similar vapourings such as New Labour's "Third Way". As Ronald Reagan should have proved, intellectual wattage is not the most important requirement for an effective presidency.

Strangely however, it has been the supposedly lightweight junior Bush, rather than Vice President Al Gore, his formidably qualified opponent this autumn, who has made the running since both wrapped up victory in the primaries last March. Just like so many of its predecessors, this campaign is being dismissed as an irrelevant bore that has studiously avoided issues of consequence. Thus far, however, it has has been conspicuous not so much for mudslinging as for the clearly distinct positions on taxation, health care and social security which have emerged - and where the new proposals have tended to come from the camp of Mr Bush.

Meanwhile, his choice of Dick Cheney for running mate, his father's highly-regarded former Secretary of Defense and one of Washington's safest pairs of hands, makes unsettling foreign policy lurches by a new Bush administration even less likely.

So the stage is promisingly set. Mr Gore is a tough and well armed politician who should do well in the always-important presidential debates this autumn. One way and another, the 2000 race for the White House may go right down to the wire. For armchair fans of politics as sport, 7 November could provide the most exciting US presidential election night since Jimmy Carter just held off the resurgent Gerald Ford back in 1976.

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