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Dan Rather's Convention Journal

CBS News Anchor Dan Rather offers personal insight and observations from the Republican National Convention.

It's been said in many places, including here, that whatever successes this convention has had, no real judgments could be made until we saw the president's performance in the spotlight.

Having seen it, though, conclusions are still difficult to come by. The goal for this nomination acceptance speech was clearly for Bush to come across as presidential and above the fray, after all the partisan red meat and hard shots at the Democratic ticket that preceded him to the stage.

To a large degree, this goal for Bush was achieved - he looked and sounded presidential - as president he indeed is. For those voters who already support George Bush, this, no doubt, was enough.

But for those who do not or - more importantly for the Republicans - for those who are on the fence, there was not a great deal in the president's address that one has not heard already, in one form or another. Making reappearances Thursday night were such phrases from presidential speeches past as "compassionate conservative," "the soft bigotry of low expectations," and "ownership society."

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There was a list of proposals for a second Bush term, to be sure, the most striking (and apparently poll-targeted) of which in substance and rhetoric were those wrapped in the phrase "government must take the side of working families."

The president started his speech very much in State of the Union fashion - with an agenda composed of the old and new - as it had been widely predicted he would. But, midway through, as if the speechwriter saw the peril of this approach - President Bush referred listeners to his Web site if they wanted to hear more.

From that point on, rhetoric largely took over. This was not a bad speech. And the president did a good job of presenting it, especially given the interruptions from protesters he had to deal with.

But where this speech may have fallen short, if indeed it did, was in its failure to marry its substance with its rhetoric. The substance was in part one, the rhetoric in part two - and because of this, the speech seldom soared.

This was a safe speech - and safe may have been just the thing for President Bush, given his slow but steady progress in the race so far. It safely delivered Bush to the end of his convention, and maybe that was enough. We'll see.

Meantime, Senator Kerry - in the midst of his latest "back against the wall" moment - does not seem to feel he can play it safe. Suddenly he seems to be doing anything but…and he is starting to hit back hard at Republican attacks.

A taste of Kerry's "midnight rally:"

"The Vice President even called me unfit for office the other night. I guess I'll leave it up to the voters whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty."

Not safe, for Kerry, not any more…at least not for the moment. Is this wise? Again, we'll see.

The differences we saw in the conventions can probably be attributed to a tale of two strategies: Team Bush believes that if they get their base to turn out in full force, they will prevail - a belief that resulted in the generally more partisan tone of their convention.

Team Kerry, meantime, started out this campaign believing that the Democrats could win if they could win over those elusive Independent and swing voters in key battleground states, particularly women - a belief that resulted in the relentless "positive" tone they tried to project at their convention.

Neither strategy, to be sure, is exclusive to either party. Both Republicans and Democrats have and will continue to employ elements of both strategies.

But these were the individual approaches they started out with and to which they have stuck, generally and in the main. And now that the lights have gone out in Boston and New York, the Democrats have been the first to blink, and to make a course adjustment.

How does it all turn out? Ah...but that would be telling, wouldn't it? Suffice it to say that, from here on in, this race figures to get nasty enough to gag a buzzard.

Rather's Journal: New York, Day One

Rather's Journal: New York, Day Two

Rather's Journal: New York, Day Three

Rather's Journal: New York, Day Four

By Dan Rather
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