President Bush apologized for nothing. Not for Afghanistan. Not for the war in Iraq. Not for the economy. Not for the way he talks. Not even for the rolling gate that some critics of gentle sensibility refer to as a swagger. "In Texas," he said. "We call that walking."
If the crowd on the convention floor loved the line, the contingent of Texas alternates at the back of the room ate it up like a bowl of three-alarm chile. "Yes! cried Sam Geraldine, 52, decked out in the uniform of the Texas delegation: blue jeans, cowboy hat and red-white-and-blue flag shirt.
But the real depth of Bush's connection to the crowd came a few minutes later, toward the end of the speech. Having brought the crowd easily to its feet and effortlessly elicited one ovation after another, Bush pulled off a more difficult trick. He silenced the floor completely. Bush spoke plainly of a people "tested" three years ago in the very city where he now stood to accept the Republican nomination for a second term in the White House. He described New York as a city where "towers fell ... and a nation rose." And for a moment, you could hear the person standing next to you breath.
The world won't know until Nov. 2 just how many fans Bush has around the country. Until then, it won't be clear how many new friends he made on Sept. 2, or how many others were turned off. But what's clear is that the people who support him are drawn to more than the Texas swagger. Sam Geraldine, for one, used to be a Democrat. She even traveled to New York as a Texas delegate to the Democratic convention in 1992. She says Bush converted her to the Republican cause in 1996, when he was governor. A school teacher in Lamarque, near Galveston, she was drawn to a message of GOP individualism. "Education must be accoutable," she said. "When my kids leave first grade, they read at a third grade level. That's what he's talking about." And Geraldine, who is African American, said she wasn't moveed by affirmative action, either. "The Democrats talk about quotas," she said. "We talk about equal access."
From the viewing gallery near the Garden rafters, the scene on the floor appeared subdued during the last few days. There were a few empty seats here and there, even when Bush spoke. But one Republican veteran said the base was fired up. "I've been to eight conventions and this is the most enthusiastic one I have seen since we first nominated Reagan in 1980," said Henry Y. Kuhl. The New Jersey delegate, who has been chairman of the Hunterdon County Republican Committee for 25 years, looked at ease in a wildly checked sport jacket that would have made Jackie Gleason proud. About 25 feet away, Vice President Cheney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani former Rep. New Gingrich and former Senator Jack Kemp looked on from the VIP section. "The energy is here," Kuhl said. It would be easy to dismiss such talk as political boiler plate. But then again, Kuhl didnt seem like the kind of guy who kids around.