So far the Republican Convention has been all about courage and compassion -- and lauding our War President for possessing ample quantities of both, including the theater-in-the-round stage designed to highlight the president's strength and authority, and the Deco-inspired presidential lectern meant to invoke the skyscrapers of New York (and, oh, by the way, those two skyscrapers that are no longer there).
But now it's time for the nitty-gritty: the War President's big acceptance speech.
The word is that after a summer of substance-free campaign stumping, the president is ready to tangle with "the vision thing" and roll out his second-term plans for America.
Sounds promising -- until you discover that his vision for the future is little more than a reworked blast from the past.
The 2000 campaign's "reformer with results" is planning to go back to that poisoned well and trot out a domestic agenda that promises to reform everything from Social Security to healthcare to the tax code.
Of course, the last three and a half years have proved that when Bush starts talking about reform, it's time to be very afraid.
His idea of education reform turned out to be the fraudulent No Child Left Behind Act, a massively underfunded federal mandate that truth-in-labeling laws should have required be rechristened the Millions of Children But Mercifully Not Your Own Left Behind Act. And his idea of Medicare reform was a multibillion-dollar gift to drug companies and HMOs disguised as a prescription drug bill.
Now he wants to do the same to Social Security and health insurance, all in the name of "empowering individuals" and creating "an ownership society" -- or, in plain English, privatizing as much of the social welfare system as possible.
The good news is, Bush has decided to run not only on future reforms but on past accomplishments.
"We've got a great record, when you think about it," he proclaimed, as if the idea had just dawned on him.
Now, I'm not sure what record he's been looking at -- maybe Andy Card replaced the dismal numbers from last week's Census Bureau report on income and poverty with Michael Phelps' Olympic stats in his latest morning briefing -- but if the president truly intends to run on his record, I can only say: Bring it on!
I realize that facts mean next to nothing to the fanatics in the Bush White House, but they mean a hell of a lot to the people whose lives they depict.
Here then, for your voting booth convenience, is a quick overview of President Bush's "great record":
Since he took office, 1.2 million people in America have lost their jobs, bringing the total to 8.2 million.
The number of Americans living below the poverty line has increased by 4.3 million to 35.9 million -- 12.9 million of them children.
The number of Americans with no health insurance has increased by 5.8 million -- with 1.4 million losing their insurance in 2003. The total now stands at 45 million.
Forty percent of the 3.5 million people who were homeless at some point last year were families with children as were 40 percent of those seeking emergency food assistance.
Median household income has fallen more than $1,500 in inflation-adjusted terms in the last three years, and the wages of most workers are now falling behind inflation.
Average tuition for college has risen by 34 percent while 37 percent of 4th graders read at a level considered "below basic."
One third of the president's $1.7 trillion in tax cuts benefits only the top 1 percent of wealthiest Americans.
President Bush also failed to fulfill his pledge to get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," traded the moral high ground for preemptive war and the horrors of Abu Ghraib, never attended a funeral or memorial service for any of the 975 soldiers killed in Iraq, pulled out of the Kyoto agreement on global warming, gutted the Clean Air Act, initiated the rollback of more than 200 environmental regulations, backed a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriages, and refused to follow through on his promise to extend the assault weapons ban.
So let's get one thing straight: Anyone who is lauding George Bush at the Republican Convention -- and, yes, that includes you, Rudy, Arnold, Gov. George and Mayor Mike -- is endorsing his disastrous and wholly immoderate record. Thus, by definition, all these Bush strokers have surrendered their moderate credentials -- no matter how warm and fuzzy their positions on social issues. The president's record betrays both courage and compassion and no amount of lofty rhetoric can change it.