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Day Two: For heroes and heated protests

Republicans salute America's military might and former presidents, and Sen. McCain salutes his former adversary.


Revised August 4, 2000

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 2, 2000

PHILADELPHIA -- When Sen. John McCain went looking for a metaphor that would help him heal his bitter primary election breach with Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, the ex-military man did not have to go too far. On Tuesday night, he reassured an apprehensive Republican Party that he is first and foremost a good soldier.

Speaking to an enthusiastic and relieved Republican National Convention, McCain officially saluted Bush in an unusually humble primetime speech that made no mention of his many differences with the man who defeated him for the nomination.

"George Bush believes in the greatness of America and the justice of our cause," McCain said. ". . . He wants nothing to divide us into separate nations. Not our color. Not our wealth. Not our religion. Not our politics. He wants us to live for America, as one nation and together profess the American Creed of self-evident truths. I support him. I am grateful to him. And I am proud of him."

A former Navy pilot who was shot down over Vietnam and spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, McCain reminded the audience that both he and Bush come from families with a tradition of military service.

"Many years ago," McCain said, "the governor's father served in the Pacific with distinction under the command of my grandfather. Now it is my turn to serve under the son of my grandfather's brave subordinate."

By elevating his support for Bush to the level of military duty and honor, McCain could not have come up with a better way of assuring the Republican Party that his support for Bush will be steady and reliable -- at least until election day on Nov. 7. McCain has promised to campaign for Bush during the next three months.

Many conventioneers still vividly remember the vicious attacks the two men traded during the primaries, when McCain portrayed the Texas governor as an evil man with a penchant for campaigning on the low road. But that is not the only thing about McCain that was making them nervous about his loyalty. They also know McCain's reputation for impetuous, mercurial behavior, and how he can pop off in anger, particularly against his fellow Republicans.

Contrary to his reputation, however, McCain was somewhat introspective on Tuesday night, confessing that he had been an "imperfect servant" during his 40 years in government service and hinting at regret he would never be president. "The years that remain are not too few, I trust, but the immortality that was the aspiration of my youth, has, like all the treasures of youth, quietly slipped away."

He also pleased the Bush supporters by soft-pedaling his support for campaign finance reform, which the nominee and other Republican leaders oppose. What he said on this subject was as follows:

"Unless we restore the people's sovereignty over government, renew their pride in public service, reform our public institutions to meet the challenges of a new day and reinvigorate our national purpose then America's best days will be behind us."

But in an interview with reporters before the speech, McCain criticized the perks that wealthy donors were receiving at the convention. "The system's broken; we are addicted to soft money," McCain said.

By summoning a military metaphor in his salute to Bush, McCain also underscored the theme of Tuesday night's convention -- the need for maintaining a strong defense. Also on the program were retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commanding general from the 1991 Persian Gulf War speaking via remote hookup from the USS New Jersey and Bob Dole, the party's 1996 nominee and a World War II veteran.

"Twice this party has nominated me for the nation's highest offices," said Dole, who also ran for vice president in 1976. "But the greatest privilege of my life has been to wear the uniform of our country in a righteous cause."

Dole's wife, Elizabeth, whose showmanship at the 1996 convention catapulted her into a short-lived presidential campaign of her own earlier this year, also spoke. She described Bush as "a different kind of leader."

Bush's father, former President George Bush, was one of three former living presidents who were honored with video tributes.

"I think George's record (in Texas) can stand all the scrutiny in the world," the elder Bush said on the video, referring to his son. "I think it will show a man of honor, a man of integrity."

Both Bush and former President Gerald Ford were present for the tributes. But former President Ronald Reagan, who has Alzheimer's disease, was represented by his wife, Nancy.

Just as he did on Monday night, Bush appeared before the delegates by remote hookup. This time he was in Gettysburg, Pa., where one of the most critical battles in American history was fought. He will speak in person to the convention on Thursday night, to accept the nomination.

Another speaker, Condoleezza Rice, Bush's foreign policy adviser, said her boss "recognizes that the magnificent men and women of America's armed services are not a global police force; they are not the world's 911." She added that if Bush ever were called upon to deploy U.S. forces, he "will do so to win -- because for him, victory is not a dirty word."

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