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Conventions Past:
The Past is Prologue
Hear speakers from past Republican Conventions -- Eisenhower and Dirksen in 1952 -- Goldwater in 1964 -- Reagan and Ford in 1976 -- and Bush in 1988.
1988: George H.W. Bush Gives the 'Speech of his Life'

In 1988, Republicans meeting at the New Orleans Louisiana Superdome for their national convention looked to Vice President George H. W. Bush to carry the mantle of the Reagan Administration. Their theme echoed that hope: "Experienced Leadership for a Better America."

Still, voters had to be convinced that Bush was their candidate. Despite Reagan's popularity, Bush had trailed in the polls for most of the year behind the Democrat nominee, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. Serving for eight years as vice president, left Bush looking mostly like a quiet and unknown No. 2 guy -- not a world leader.
Bush in '88 George Bush at the 1988 RNC
Courtesy of the
Bush Presidential Library

It didn't help any that popular cartoonist Gary Trudeau recently branded Bush as a preppie wimp with a penchant for bumbled syntax. The image stuck and provided ample material for the standup humor on late night television. What's more, previous remarks from Reagan seemed less than enthusiastic for the vice president's qualifications.

All of this made Bush's acceptance speech even more critical. Republicans were looking for the "speech of his life." Judging by most news accounts and commentators at the time, Bush met the challenge head on. He seemed transformed with a new confidence once he stepped up to the podium to formally accept the Republican nomination.

audio buttonHear the story Bush's "speech of his life," at the 1988 convention.

No longer was Bush simply the dutiful vice president. He was now his party's only hope for November. "You must see me for what I am; the Republican candidate for president," he told a roaring crowed. He then touched of a litany of conservative issues: he endorsed the Pledge of Allegiance, the death penalty, school prayer and gun rights. He also affirmed his opposition to abortion.

Although he pledged to sustain the policies of the Reagan Administration, Bush took the opportunity to clearly lay out his differences. Not everything was perfect in America, the vice president admitted. He called for "a kinder, gentler nation" in dealing with discrimination, homelessness, illiteracy and greater environmental protection.


George Herbert Walker Bush is known for occasionally drifting off into broken syntax and jumbled metaphors when speaking extemporaneously at news conferences and during interviews. The trait was the stuff of late night comedy and humor books, which even Bush himself acknowledges with amusement. Here are a few quotes during the 1988 presidential campaign:

"Its no exaggeration to say the undecided could go one way or another."
Oct. 21, 1988.

"The concept of the Dukakis family has my great respect."
Oct. 13, 1988.

"Those are two hypo-rhetorical questions."
Sept. 25, 1988.

"My running mate took the lead, was the author, of the Job Training Act. Now, because of a lot of smoke and frenzying of bluefish out there, going after a drop of blood in the water, nobody knows that."
Nov. 3, 1988.

Source: Bushisms, Workman Publishing, 1992.

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