It is official. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, “W” (that is “Dubya” to Texans), is now the Republican Party candidate for U.S. president. In another perfectly coordinated, masterfully executed convention, the GOP rallied behind Mr. Bush and his running mate, Mr. Dick Cheney, and began the real campaign for the Nov. 7 election. Yet one question hangs over the festivities in Philadelphia: What does the world now know about the GOP nominee that it did not know last week? The answer is a disappointing “not very much.”
Sadly, that is how it is supposed to be. U.S. political conventions are stage-managed productions, designed to reassure the party faithful, paper over any internal divisions and woo undecided voters. The result is pablum: smooth, soothing, full of rhetoric, devoid of substance.
The world knows that Mr. Bush preaches “compassionate conservatism” and wants to remake his party in the image of his country. The speakers on the podium during the convention’s four days testified to that goal: There were men and women, blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, from all classes and walks of life. But turn to the convention floor and a different picture comes into focus: The party itself continues to be dominated by whites — 83 percent of the delegates, according to one survey.
The choice of Mr. Cheney as running mate tells us a good bit about Mr. Bush. It shows that the candidate is confident. He is not worried about being overshadowed by a man with considerably more experience on the national level than his own. He is comfortable enough to go his own way when making critical decisions. Mr. Cheney adds little to GOP electoral prospects. All of his supporters are already going to vote Republican. In other words, Mr. Bush is already thinking about governing, not about being elected.
From our vantage point, the key issue is foreign policy. While there have been precious few details of what a Bush administration might do, the broad outlines are visible. In many ways, his vision is consistent with that of the current administration. It is an internationalist outlook, and acknowledges the need for U.S. leadership in a messy world. Earlier this year, Mr. Bush broke with congressional Republicans and supported the U.S. intervention in Kosovo.
Those looking for stability and consistency will be reassured by the familiar faces among Mr. Bush’s foreign-policy advisers. Persian Gulf War heroes were on hand to rally the faithful: retired Gen. Colin Powell, touted as a possible secretary of state and former Gen. “Stormin’ ” Norman Schwarzkopf. Many members of Mr. Bush’s brain trust worked for his father. They call for a strong United States and a robust defense capability. The candidate has spoken of the need to solidify the U.S. alliances with Japan and South Korea.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Bush called for change in foreign policy as well. He said that he would “work to reduce nuclear weapons and nuclear tension” and has previously spoken of deep unilateral cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. At the same time, he is committed to ballistic missile defense. Mr. Bush pledged that “at the earliest possible date, my administration will deploy missile defenses to guard against attack and blackmail. Now is the time, not to defend outdated treaties, but to defend the American people.”
He promised to take a tougher approach to China and Russia. In past speeches, Mr. Bush has called China “a competitor, not a strategic partner,” and promised to “deal with China without ill will — but without illusions.”
In general, Mr. Bush called for more of the same, with one notable difference. He and his running mate — and every speaker at the convention — promised to restore “dignity and honor” to the White House. In short, this campaign will be about “character.” Mr. Bush will try to associate the Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore, with the personal sins of President Bill Clinton. There will be no outright attacks — at least not until the campaigning gets desperate. But there will be code words and lightly veiled allusions to the scandals that dogged the Clinton administration.
The reason for this is that Mr. Bush has relatively few cards to play. The U.S. is enjoying unprecedented economic prosperity. Claims that national security has been compromised by a lack of military spending are belied by America’s international standing. Mr. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” emulates Mr. Clinton’s success at moving the Democratic Party to the center of the political spectrum. The campaign should get more interesting — and more bitter — as the two candidates battle over the contested middle ground.
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