Taking the microphone

Posted: Aug 09, 2004 12:00 AM

 One down, one to go.

 John Kerry had his chance to convince voters he?s ready for the Oval Office. His speech wowed the faithful in Boston, but played to mixed reviews elsewhere. Post-convention polls indicate Kerry got no bounce.

That may be because almost everyone has already decided which candidate to vote for. Or it may be because the speech wasn?t all that great. We won?t know until early September, after President Bush takes the podium in New York. If he, too, leaves his convention with a thud, not a bounce, we?ll know there was no bounce to be had.

Until then, the president ought to be considering what he?ll say in the Big Apple. Sen. Kerry borrowed freely from others in his speech -- including, surprisingly enough, from his opponents.

When Kerry said ?help is on the way,? he was playing off his running mate?s line ?hope is on the way,? but also swiping from Bush?s running mate, Dick Cheney. In Philadelphia in 2000, Cheney had announced ?help is on the way.?

So, if good speech writing involves borrowing from others, maybe Bush should borrow from John Kerry. After all, in parts, Kerry?s address was pretty conservative, even if he didn?t mean for it to be.

?Two young bicycle mechanics from Dayton asked, what if this airplane could take off at Kitty Hawk? It did that and changed the world forever,? Kerry announced. Bush should repeat that, and remind the senator it?s an example of what people can do when government stays out of the way. The Wright brothers made the modern world possible, and their invention led to millions of jobs, positions including everything from pilots down to the people who run the food court at the airport. But the Wrights had no help from any government.
If they had been getting government support, and thus government restrictions on their activity, they might never have gotten airborne.

?A young generation of entrepreneurs asked, what if we could take all the information in a library and put it on a chip the size of a fingernail? We did that, and that too changed the world,? Kerry continued.

Well, it?s unclear where that ?we? came from. But a handful of youngsters, including Bill Gates and Paul Allen, did found Microsoft with the idea of putting a computer on every desk. The revolution they triggered created an industry and sparked a wave of productivity that made the economic growth of the 1990s possible.

But Bush should point out that Gates, et al., might not have bothered to found Microsoft if they?d known the Clinton Justice Department would eventually attempt to break it up. The company has created millions of jobs, but it?s also a good example of the bad things that tend to happen when the government does get involved.

Meanwhile, the president ought to add up all of Kerry?s proposals. In his speech, the senator promised that health care ?is a right for all Americans. And we will make it so.? New York Times op-ed columnist and Kerry supporter Paul Krugman estimates Kerry?s plan will cost $650 billion.

Kerry also vows to give ?a tax credit to families for each and every year of college,? to ?cut middle-class taxes,? to ?cut the deficit in half in four years.?

Wow. That?s hundreds of billions of dollars. How to pay for all that? ?I will roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals who make over $200,000 a year,? Kerry announced. But it?s clear the math doesn?t add up. To make his plans happen, Kerry would have to increase taxes across the board.

Bush should remind voters we?re better off as a nation with lower taxes. ?Aren?t you and your family better off today?? he should ask in his speech. ?Aren?t you paying lower taxes, keeping more of your money? If you are vote for me. If you?re not, vote for him.?

Finally, he should be specific. Kerry offered to return the country to the 1990s, ?We just need to believe in ourselves, and we can do it again,? he said. But he didn?t say how we?d accomplish that trip back through time.

Bush should be specific: Explain what he will do to keep terrorists on the run. Detail how he will continue to keep our homeland safe. Explain why our troops are in Iraq, and when they will return. The devil?s in the details, and while Kerry offered a lovely outline, he left the details out. Maybe that?s why he didn?t enjoy any bounce.

The American people have a real choice this year. It?s up to Bush to remind voters of that, from now until Nov. 2. If he does, we?ll all be able to live with the outcome, whatever the American people decide to do.