Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Bush remains buoyant despite Iraq fiasco

CAMPAIGN MODE The US president told Fourth of July revellers that he engaged enemies `around the world so we do not have to face them here at home'


US President George W. Bush told a boisterous Fourth of July celebration on the steps of the West Virginia Capitol on Sunday that "the founders would be proud of America today," and that American military action in Afghanistan and Iraq has made terrorists "desperate" and "furious."

Bush's visit was the ninth one of his presidency, and while the White House categorized it as an official visit, it had the trappings of a campaign stop. The crowd waved American flags and yelled, "Four more years."

It was a sign of how critical a role this state, with only five electoral votes, may play this year that both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney came through this weekend, Cheney on a bus tour that also took him to Ohio and Pennsylvania. In the 2000 election, they won West Virginia by about 41,000, a rare Republican victory in a state where voter registration is heavily Democratic.

But Bush's aides say that the state's conservative leanings, and its high percentage of military volunteers, gives Bush an opportunity to win the state again. Polls show him running nearly tied with Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Bush's victory here four years ago, some experts believe, was propelled in part by Cheney's hint in Weirton, one of the state's steel-producing centers, that Bush would be willing to block the import of foreign-made steel that was undercutting local producers.

"We will never lie to you," Cheney said in an October 2000 visit. "If our trading partners violate trade laws, we will respond swiftly and firmly."

Bush did impose retaliatory tariffs for a bit more than a year, before lifting them under pressure from automakers and other steel users.

But with the unemployment rate here dropping -- it is now 5.2 percent, down from 6.4 percent last summer -- the state's economic troubles were barely mentioned. Instead, Bush dwelled almost entirely on themes growing out of his use of the military around the world.

Noting that George Washington had owned land around Charleston -- "I call him George W.," he said to laughter -- he argued that the founders would be happy to see "a nation which stands strong in the face of violent men."

For Bush, it was a return to the theme of America as an enforcer of justice, a theme that he has used less often in recent months since the publication of photographs showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American troops.

But those images have faded in recent weeks, and Bush, who was accompanied Sunday by his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, apparently felt comfortable returning to the theme without referring to the prisoner abuse scandal.

He quoted the Fourth of July speech of a Democratic predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt, who has often been cited in recent speeches by Bush.

Roosevelt told troops in 1942 during World War II that they were fighting "because Americans believe in 'the right to liberty under God."'

"Today a new generation of Americans is wearing the same uniform," Bush said. "They are serving the same creed. They are showing the same courage, and they make us proud every single day."

Twice he reminded his audience that he "made a decision" to engage America's enemies "around the world so we do not have to face them here at home."

The crowds cheered at every reference to fighting terrorists. "I think he could win here," said Justin Samples, a whitewater rafting guide from nearby Cross Lanes.

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