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Bush's Congressional Speech: High Marks - 2001-09-22

Not since Franklin Roosevelt addressed the American people in the aftermath of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor has a U.S. president faced the rhetorical challenge George W. Bush faced late Thursday.

Opinion polls indicate the president's speech was a hit with the American public. Two polls showed more than 90 percent approval for the president's pledge to go after terrorists and the countries that harbor them: "We will rally the world to this cause, by our efforts and by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail," Mr. Bush said.

From Congress, a rare demonstration of bipartisan support. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle had this to say after the president's speech: "We want President Bush to know, we want the world to know, that he can depend on us."

Political analysts say the president had two main goals in his speech and that he seemed to be effective on both counts. Tom Defrank is Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News and a guest on this week's "Issues in the News" program here on VOA: "The president's rhetoric basically was trying not only to calm the American people and reassure them," he said, "but to rally them for what is going to be a long and sustained and probably very messy conflict."

Historically, Americans look to the president for leadership in times of crisis. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the president's speech is likely to instill public confidence in Mr. Bush's leadership ability: "He came through, I think, as a strong leader, as someone who the country can rally around. I think that is what is so remarkable," Mr. Rothenberg said. "No one will accuse him of being as great a natural speaker as Bill Clinton was, but the kind of sincerity and the toughness came through here."

Political analysts say the terror attacks on New York and Washington have unified the country to an extent last seen during the early days of World War II. But they also say that President Bush's greatest challenge may be sustaining public support for a long term military campaign against terrorism that could involve American casualties.