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Carlson Tucker Carlson is a CNN political analyst and contributes to The Weekly Standard and Talk magazines. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN allpolitics.com during the election season.

Tucker Carlson: Bush delivers laughs, succeeds in painting himself as a different Republican

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the Republican convention Thursday night was the most amusing of the week. Bush delivered more laugh lines than a typical Republican nominee, and after four days of sitting through a series of relentlessly earnest speeches, the delegates in the Philadelphia hall seemed grateful for every one. Yet even as the crowd howled and clapped, Bush himself never cracked a smile. Smiling, it turns out, is a close cousin to smirking. And if there was one thing Bush arrived at the podium determined to do, it was to deliver a smirk-free speech.

He succeeded. For perhaps the first time on national television, Bush looked presidential. He stood up straight, looked serious and pronounced almost every word correctly. It wasn't a brilliant performance, but it was very good. For Bush, it was amazing, a profound improvement.

More significant, Bush managed to reinforce the central theme of his campaign, which is: I am a different sort of Republican. Bush went out of his way to quote Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, talk extensively about the plight of poor minority children, attack corporate greed, and in general make loud moderate and explicitly bipartisan noises.

All of this was designed in part to refute what has become Al Gore's central theme, which is: George W. Bush is not a different sort of Republican. He only pretends to be one.

Until recently, Gore's attempts to tie Bush to more traditional -- and unpopular -- segments of the Republican Party have made sense. But the idea that Bush is merely Tom DeLay in disguise is becoming less plausible. After the endlessly multicultural extravaganza the Bush campaign put on in Philadelphia, Gore now faces the quacks-like-a-duck problem: If Bush acts different, looks different, talks different and has different priorities than Republicans of old, he probably is different. Or at least that is what most voters are apt to conclude. The Gore campaign will doubtless continue to assault Bush as a poseur and a phony. But it will be wasted breath.

Bush seems different. That is what matters. And it is likely to matter a lot on Election Day.

 
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