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Another touchdown for the Bush team

The president stumps with Elway, Coors

By Leigh E. Rich

With the ball in the hands of both Number 7 and Number 43 on Tuesday, the George W. Bush campaign whistle-stop and rally was a strange sort of one-sided spectator sport.

Fans filling the 16,000-capacity Coors Amphitheatre on a cloudless and crisp Colorado morning were treated this week to a replay of the game plan delivered at the Republican National Convention, layered with mixed metaphors involving football, freedom, family, flip-flopping and the future of America’s “most fundamental systems of … government.”

The “tax code, health coverage, pensions plans, worker training,” Bush told the spirited crowd that waved red, white and blue pom-poms and cheered at every critical play, “were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow.”

Promising to “work with Congress to transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared and, thus, free to make (their) own choices,” Bush spoke of an American dream that includes home ownership, high-quality health care, educational opportunity, economic prosperity and lower taxes.

Under his quarterbacking, he said, he would spend four more years promoting “an ownership society in America,” emphasizing both home ownership and extending “the concept of ownership to the retirement systems” in the form of “personal savings accounts to make sure Social Security meets the promise”; expanding tax-free health savings accounts and community health centers; ending “frivolous lawsuits that are running up the cost of your medicine and driving good docs out of business”; requiring “a rigorous exam before graduation by raising performance in our high schools and expanding Pell Grants for low- and middle-income families”; opening “up markets overseas for our products”; and bringing “Republicans and Democrats together to simplify the federal tax code.”

Also scattered throughout his campaign promises was an overt scorekeeping between the red team and the blue team.

Charging that his opponent is “a fellow who has had a history of voting for higher taxes,” favors trial lawyers as evidenced by his choice of running mate, and “has proposed a massive, complicated blueprint to increase governmental control over your health care,” President Bush also trotted out his campaign’s Hail Mary—criticizing Sen. John Kerry for his Senate record regarding Iraq and voting “against the funding for our troops.”

At the mention of this, supporters in the stands erupted in a round of “flip-flop” and Bush threw a touchdown pass: “The American president,” he told his fans, “must be clear in his thinking and must be clear in his speaking in order to make this world a freer place.”

But Bush, like his Colorado teammates who joined him in Tuesday’s game, spent a significant portion of his speech on foreign policy in the wake of Sept. 11 and in the midst of a continuing U.S. presence in Iraq.

“None of us will ever forget that week when one era ended and another began,” he said of the 2001 attacks, repeating the story of how a New York firefighter, three days later, had told the president to do “whatever it takes.”

Earlier in his rallying speech, Bush linked “that terrible morning” in September with fighting “terrorists across the earth.”

“This election will also determine how America responds to the continuing danger of terrorism,” he said, promising to stay on the offensive and launching into a seven-paragraph explanation of why he waged war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

It was during this explication that two protesters from the crowd disrupted the president’s pep talk.

“I was hoping diplomacy would work. I was really hoping diplomacy would work. And that’s why I went to the United Nations,” Bush emphasized, before being interrupted by one dissenter whose message was drowned out by the crowd’s cheers of “four more years.”

Saying Hussein had a “record of aggression,” a “long history of pursuing and even using weapons of mass destruction” and had “systematically deceived the (U.N.) inspectors,” a second protester shouted, “President Bush, you lied!” and held up a sign about how the Bush-Cheney administration sent his son to Iraq.

Nearby rally-goers ripped the sign from the elderly man’s hands before he was escorted out by security.

Bush continued: “Do I trust a madman, forget the lessons of September the 11th, or take action to defend our country?”

No one pressed Bush to answer his question, and the spotlight on action seemed to be the winning strategy of the day.

Even those who introduced Bush and those who stumped for their own campaigns before the president arrived based their playbooks in part on defending the home team.

Deeming Bush “the ultimate quarterback” and a man who “knows how to make the right calls when the pressure’s on,” former Bronco John Elway spoke of Bush’s promise after Sept. 11 that terrorists “would hear from us. And they did.”

Senate candidate Pete Coors, standing center stage in the amphitheater that bears his name, followed Bush’s strategy play-by-play. In this “unrelenting war on terror,” he said, “we cannot go on bended knee to the United Nations for permission to defend our nation. This is America. We don’t ask for permission to defend our nation.”

And thanks to George W. Bush, moreover, “millions of Iraqis live in freedom and Saddam lives in jail.”

“If we can’t defend ourselves, all the rest goes by the wayside,” retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell said before assuring the crowd that Coors would replace him and reminding fans that “Number Seven’s going to introduce” the president.

“I can’t imagine a better lineup of two quarterbacks,” Campbell avowed.

Walking out on stage together along with Gov. Bill Owens, it was difficult to determine if Bush was being compared to Elway or Elway to Bush.

“John Elway is a legend in Colorado,” Owens said, adding that “like our president, John is a man of compassion” and a man who has answered “a call to service.”

And Number 43, Owens pronounced, will “be a lock in the Hall of Fame of presidents.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, September 17). Another touchdown for the Bush team. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 6–7.

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