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It was a letdown after all the buildup

NEW YORK
ALL WEEK a succession of well-meaning friends insist George W. Bush is a great date. They make him sound so appealing that you consider giving the guy a second shot. But when he finally knocks at your door, you remember, as that Amy Dalley country song puts it: "Shoes don't stretch, and men don't change." The president made his now-familiar case for the invasion of Iraq last night: The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 led to his difficult but necessary decision to attack Saddam Hussein's regime and liberate Iraq. That invasion, in turn, will build a safer world and "a more hopeful America."

"I will never relent in defending America, whatever it takes. So we have fought the terrorists across the earth not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake," Bush declared. If you buy that argument, vote Bush.

The speech contained some gripping lines, particularly in recalling the attacks on the World Trade Center: "Here buildings fell, here a nation rose." But overall, Bush's delivery did not match the written flourishes.

Perhaps some of the letdown was due to the front-loading of domestic policy issues designed to demonstrate an exciting second-term agenda for Bush. It boiled down to the usual -- tax relief, protecting the unborn, and "protection of marriage against activist judges."

Humility works well for Bush. "You may have noticed I have a few flaws," he noted. "People sometimes have to correct my English. I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it. Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called `walking.' "

Bush charged that John Kerry, his opponent, is "running on a platform of increasing taxes." He mocked Kerry's past reference to Hollywood representing "the heart and soul of America" and criticized Kerry for calling the Reagan presidency eight years of "moral darkness." He lambasted Kerry yet again for authorizing the invasion of Iraq and then voting against $87 billion for troop supplies. He also criticized Kerry for calling America's allies "a coalition of the coerced and the bribed," saying the allies "deserve respect of all Americans, not the scorn of a politician."

There may be two John Kerrys, as Republicans charge. But there is only one Bush, and he never lets facts get in the way of a good argument.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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