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NEW YORK—George W. Bush accepted the Republican nomination for president last night, casting his first term in the shadow of the Sept. 11 attacks and defending his administration’s tactics and policies in the war on terrorism.
“In the heart of this great city, we saw tragedy arrive on a quiet morning,” Bush told thousands of flag-waving delegates at Madison Square Garden. “Since that day, I wake up every morning thinking about how to better protect our country. I will never relent in defending America, whatever it takes.”
Speaking just miles from Ground Zero, Bush repeatedly invoked the attacks of Sept. 11 and said he had spent the past three years making the world safer by defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and toppling the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
“Free societies in the Middle East will be hopeful societies, which no longer feed resentments and breed violence for export,” Bush said.
Laying forth his vision for a second term in office, the president said he would promote an “ownership society” by reforming social security, expanding access to health care and making his tax cuts permanent.
The president vowed to widen access to higher education, calling for greater funding of the federal government’s beleaguered student aid program. “By raising performance in our high schools and expanding Pell grants for low- and middle-income families, we will help more Americans start their career with a college diploma,” Bush said.
Roughly 9 percent of Harvard undergraduates qualify for Pell grants, according to the Office of Financial Aid.
Bush also touted his administration’s signature education package, the No Child Left Behind Act, and said nationwide student testing would hold schools accountable for their performance.
“We are insisting on accountability, empowering parents and teachers, and making sure that local people are in charge of their schools,” Bush said, drawing some of the largest applause of the night.
And in a brief but resolute section on values, the president took a pointed jab at the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts for its ruling last year that legalized gay marriage in the state. “Because the union of a man and woman deserves an honored place in our society, I support the protection of marriage against activist judges,” Bush said.
But Bush did not give mention to a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which he supports.
The president reflected upon the accomplishments of his first term in office, contrasting his record against that of his opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., whom Republicans have painted as inconsistent in his views.
Speaking directly to the delegates assembled on the floor below him, Bush said, “Even when we don’t agree, at least you know what I believe in and where I stand.”
Bush ripped into Kerry for what he said were the senator’s “tax-and-spend” policies.
“He’s proposed more than two trillion dollars in new federal spending so far,” Bush said, “and that’s a lot, even for a senator from Massachusetts.”
The president addressed the gathering of delegates and supporters last night from a circular stage bearing the presidential seal. And as Bush made his entrance, a podium emerged from the floor in front of him.
Convention organizers hoped to create a more intimate setting for the president’s address. Still, nine steps and two barriers separated Bush from the crowd.
Harvard students contacted immediately following the president’s speech reacted along party lines.
Matthew P. Downer ’07, who spent the summer as an assistant in the convention’s Office of External Relations and Program Committee, called Bush’s speech a “grand slam.”
“He made a compelling case for another four years,” said Downer, who watched the speech from the convention’s plush red floor next to the Ohio delegation.
And another Harvard Republican Club member and convention volunteer, Bryce E. Caswell ’07, said she appreciated the president’s sense of humor. In one lighthearted moment, Bush acknowledged his English has not always been up to par.
“I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started [correcting] it,” Bush said.
But Andy J. Frank ’05, president of the Harvard College Democrats, remained unimpressed with the rhetoric of the Bush campaign.
“We’ve heard the same things that he said today about a billion times, but it doesn’t make it true,” Frank said by telephone after watching the speech from his home in Illinois.
The College Democrats e-mailed a bulletin to members early this morning saying the president’s speech had capped “the most hateful, venomous, and misleading convention in history.”
And in a sign of the heated opposition to Bush’s first term in office, opponents of the president managed to infiltrate and disrupt the convention for the fourth night in a row. One woman, displaying a sign which read “Bush lies,” was dragged away after she began shouting during the president’s speech. A second protester was escorted out of the building minutes later, but not before forcing the president to pause his address briefly as delegates chanted “Four more years” to drown out the heckler.
Security remained tight during the final night of the convention, but the crowd’s nerves were rattled when, during the traditional balloon drop, streamers were unfurled with a bang, startling many in the arena.
--Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at email@example.com.
--Staff writer Joseph M. Tartakoff can be reached can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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