President Bush bounced his way out of New York with a double-digit lead. A new poll from Newsweek says he's pulled ahead of Sen. John Kerry by 11 points, opening up the widest lead of the race so far. The poll included people who were questioned before and after Bush's speech. People who were interviewed after the speech favored Bush over Sen. Kerry by a margin of 16 points.
Even Kerry supporters seem impressed with the power of Bush's acceptance speech. Bush was calm but forceful, authoritative and funny at the same time. There was nothing forced about his delivery at Madison Square Garden. He inhabited the podium with ease. The morning after the speech I got together with a few parents in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, deep in Kerry country. We hashed over the speech while the kids played outside. One women, a Kerry supporter, said she liked the speech more than she expected.
She was still confused, though, by the link that Bush and other convention speakers such as N.Y. Gov. George Pataki drew between the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and the subsequent war in Iraq. It's easy to understand why. There's no evidence linking Iraq to the attacks. And one of the pillars of the argument in favor of war crumbled when the U.S. failed to find weapons of mass destruction.
Most people assume that the war was an act of retaliation for Sept. 11, and in that context, it doesn't make sense. But Bush never argues that it was necessary to unseat Saddam Hussein because Iraq lent its support to the Sept. 11 attacks. He never portrays the war as an act of retaliation. Bush asserted that "September 11th requires our country to think differently: We must, and we will, confront threats to America before it is too late." Bush argues that the way risks are calculated and confronted is different now. He makes the case that Saddam, who associated with terrorists, used weapons of mass destruction, and waged aggressive wars in a strategically vital part of the world, was too dangerous to leave in power, in a post Sept. 11 world. The point was to avoid a future attack. And whether WMD were found or not, Bush argues that Saddam was simply too dangerous to leave in place.
He also argues that the war was justified because the world is better off now that Saddam has been removed. As elections in Iraq approach, that country is moving slowly and steadily toward developing a civil society based on the rule of law. And there's some evidence to back up his claim that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to "democracy (in) the broader Middle East." Libya has adopted a much less aggressive posture toward the U.S.
Bush's vision goes well beyond tracking down and punishing terrorists who have attacked the U.S. He wants to remake the Middle East, laying the foundation for a more prosperous and free region. That, he argues, is the only way to build a more secure future for the U.S.