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Echoes Of Teddy Roosevelt?

George W. bush before his speech
AP
Well, it didn't exactly resound with the thundering rhetoric of William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech.

And it's unlikely that from George W. Bush's acceptance speech there has emerged a phrase that will define a presidency, the way Franklin Roosevelt's pledge to give the American people a "new deal" or John F. Kennedy's call to explore a "new frontier" defined the substance and style of their presidencies.

On the other hand, there didn't appear to be any pitfall lines that could come back to bedevil him. Nothing like Barry Goldwater's reckless assertion in 1964 that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," or his own father's rash "read my lips" promise not to raise taxes in 1988.

Still, there were a few phrases here and there that jumped out of what was, in many ways, a routine and prosaic speech.

To underscore his commitment to deal with the kind of domestic issues that are normally the priorities of the opposition party, Bush said that "now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to end the politics of fear and save Social Security, together."

Nor was that the only time Governor Bush raised the specter of fear in his speech. In the course of directing a litany of barbs at his Democratic rival, Al Gore, he said of the vice president: "He now leads the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But the only thing he has to offer is fear itself," thereby invoking the memory of another famous FDR speech.

And, in another twist of phrase that recalled another troubled era when the Democrats were in power, Bush said: "That outlook is typical of many in Washington, always seeing the tunnel at the end of the light."

Yet on at least one other occasion, he uttered a phrase that conjured up a memory of his father's time in Washington that was not exactly flattering.

When the governor proclaimed that "a time of prosperity is a test of vision, and our nation today needs vision," I immediately thought of the time Bush the Elder made a point of belittling what he called "the vision thing."

My main regret is that Bush did not employ the services of a good editor with a sharp eye for recognizing - and cutting - empty platitudes. For there were far too many of them running through his speech.

Early on he said, "we will seize the moment of American promise." A moment later, he assured us that "America's way is the rising road," and shortly after that he proclaimed that "Greatness is found when American character and American courage overcome American challenges."

There are several more examples of phrases that essentially mean nothing, but the three quoted above should be enough to make the point.

In terms of substance, it was clearly the most liberal speech delivered by a Republican nominee in many decades.

Along with his promise to "strengthen Social Security and MedicareÂ…for generations to come," Bush committed his presidency to ead Start, one of the Great Society programs of the Lyndon Johnson era that had long been the object of disdain and ridicule in the eyes of GOP conservatives.

Yet Bush declared that "now is the time to make Head Start an early learning program, teach all our children to read and renew the promise of America's public schools."

Even more startling, perhaps, was his glowing reference to "the civil rights movement when brave men and womenÂ….said 'we shall overcome.'" Over the years Republican presidential candidates have rarely quoted, much less praised, the battle cry of the 1960s civil rights crusade.

Indeed, the case could be made that not since Theodore Roosevelt transformed his party into an instrument of progressive reform has a GOP nominee made such a strong commitment to social problems and other domestic issues.

And, when all is said and done, that is what made Governor Bush's speech distinctive - and perhaps even memorable.