Bush closed the Republican convention and kicked off a two-month sprint to Election Day with a full-throated defense of his first term and a stay-the-course message for what he hopes will be a second.
Yet after weeks of signaling that he would use his acceptance speech to announce an agenda for the rest of his presidency, Bush offered only vague thematic outlines or modest programs on most issues.
He revived his 4-year-old proposal for partly privatizing Social Security by allowing younger wage earners to divert part of their payroll taxes into individual investment accounts, but offered no details on how such a costly and controversial idea might be implemented.
He pledged to lead a bipartisan effort to transform the federal tax code into "a simpler, fairer, pro-growth system," but again offered no particulars on what such a system might look like - only a plan to appoint an advisory panel to study the issue.
According to a fact sheet distributed by the White House, among the questions the panel will be asked to consider is whether to "modify the current system or replace the system with new one." It did not indicate whether Bush is prepared to endorse the proposal of some conservatives to completely scrap the federal income tax system in favor of a national sales tax or value- added tax.
Many of the specific programs Bush mentioned have been on his legislative wish-list for some time, such as making it easier for small businesses to band together to buy discounted health insurance, allowing individuals to establish tax-free "health savings accounts" and capping damages in liability lawsuits.
And the new initiatives he offered - increased funding for job training and community colleges, regulatory and tax relief for those who invest in poorer communities, expansions of community health centers in rural areas, more "early intervention" programs in high school - were relatively modest in scope.
Nonetheless, Bush asserted that a common philosophical theme ran through all these ideas. The world, the global economy and American society are changing rapidly, he said, and the federal government "must take your side" to help Americans navigate those changes without killing individual initiative.
"Many of our most fundamental systems - the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training - were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow," Bush said. "We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared, and thus truly free, to make your own choices and pursue your own dreams."
Turning to the national security themes that dominated most of the convention, Bush offered no concessions to critics of the war in Iraq or his handling of the war on terrorism. He called his decision to use military action against Saddam Hussein an integral part of the broader conflict that was forced upon the United States by the horrific terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We are staying on the offensive - striking terrorists abroad - so we do not have to face them here at home," Bush said. "And we are working to advance liberty in the broader Middle East, because freedom will bring a future of hope, and the peace we all want. And we will prevail."
And, standing a short distance from where the World Trade Center once stood, he paid tribute to the New Yorkers who lived through the attacks and helped the city recover from them.
"The world saw that spirit three miles from here, when the people of this city faced peril together, and lifted the flag over the ruins, and defied the enemy with their courage," he said. "For as long as our country stands, people will look to the resurrection of New York City and they will say: 'Here buildings fell; here a nation rose.'"
Reflections with humor
Bush dismissed his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, as a typical Massachusetts liberal who has helped thwart the president's agenda in the Senate and would raise taxes to finance his ambitious spending schemes.
"His policies of tax and spend, of expanding government rather than expanding opportunity, are the politics of the past," Bush said of Kerry. "We are on the path to the future, and we're not turning back."
And, speaking from a circular stage in the middle of the hall rather than a traditional platform, Bush sought to soften the sharp-edged tone of the convention's first three nights with some personal reflections tinged with humor.