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Saying whatever it takes

PRESIDENT BUSH spent significant time on domestic policy in his speech last night, yet his principal purpose was clear: to persuade voters that he, not Democratic nominee John Kerry, is the best choice to defend America in the age of terrorism. The twin themes of the Republican National Convention in New York City this week have been strength and resolve, reinforced by almost every speaker at almost every opportunity.

What Bush offered last night was resolution as a certifier of strength and even a reflection of character. But is it?

"If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy," he declared. "That will not happen on my watch."

At another point the president argued that the controversial war with Iraq was something that had to be done, framing his choice this way: "Do I forget the lessons of September 11th and take the word of a madman or do I take action to defend our country? Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time."

Hearing that line, or the speeches from retired General Tommy Franks or New York Governor George Pataki -- or Wednesday's addresses by Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia -- a listener could be forgiven for thinking that Iraq was complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks.

And, further, that the Republican team is intent on encouraging that belief.

Last night Bush also took pains to cast Kerry as someone prone to wavering and vacillation, while other convention speakers over the week accused the Democratic nominee of disastrously poor judgment.

Certainly Kerry can be both expedient and equivocal -- and he has been, to his detriment.

Yet when it comes to the all-important issue of presidential judgment, it's truly remarkable to see that kind of attack made on behalf of an incumbent whose principal rationales for taking the nation to war with Iraq simply haven't been borne out.

To find the Republican Party's presentation persuasive, one has to believe that President Bush would have invaded Iraq even knowing that the invasion would reveal neither a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction nor a network of collaborative ties to Al Qaeda.

That contention strains credulity.

Yet it's now abundantly clear that this president will promote that belief -- or almost any other -- if that's what it takes for him to win.

Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is

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