BOSTON – Bill Clinton (search) was in his glory Monday night as he closed Day One of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Taking the podium to a stadium-shaking round of applause and cheers as well as Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" — the song that permeated his winning 1992 campaign —the 42nd president of the United States said he serves his party as a "foot soldier" in the battle to make John Kerry (search) the next president of the United States.
From global warming to AIDS to the issues plaguing the Middle East, Clinton said opportunities are abundant to make America better and "create a world where we can celebrate our religious, our ethnic, our tribal differences because our common humanity matters most of all."
"To build that kind of world, we must make the right choices and we must have a president who can lead the way," Clinton said. "Democrats want to build an America of shared responsibilities and shared opportunities ... Republicans believe in an America run by the right people, their people."
The former president said current President Bush missed a rare opportunity immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"All we wanted to do was be one country united in the War on Terror … the president had an amazing opportunity to bring this country together under the slogan of compassionate conservatism and unite the world," Clinton said.
But instead, he said, the president "chose to use that moment of unity to push the country too far to the right and walk away from our allies."
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) introduced her husband, but not before giving her own speech pumping up Kerry.
This is a moment "of great peril, but also of great hope," she said, and Kerry is the man to "renew the promise" of America.
"He will lead the world, not alienate it. Lower the deficit, not raise it. Create good jobs, not lose them. Solve a health care crisis, not ignore it. I know a thing or two about health care. And the problems have only gotten worse in the past four years," she added.
Former Vice President Al Gore (search) kicked off prime-time speeches Monday with the trademark humor that he has demonstrated several times since his defeat in the 2000 presidential election.
"I'll be candid with you. I had hoped to be back here this week under different circumstances, running for re-election," Gore said after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson gaveled to order the four-day rally replete with a superstar opening night line-up meant to highlight Kerry's vision for America.
"But you know the old saying: You win some, you lose some. And then there's that little-known third category. I didn't come here tonight to talk about the past. After all, I don't want you to think I lie awake at night counting and recounting sheep.
"The first lesson is this: take it from me — every vote counts."
But it didn't take long for Gore to go into attack mode, saying the country "faces deep challenges," not only the war in Iraq, but issues here at home like pollution and the "erosion" of civil liberties.
"No matter how you voted in the last election, these are profound problems that all voters must take into account this Nov. 2," Gore said.
The former presidential hopeful, who has minced no words in his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq, said the current White House has "gotten us into very serious trouble" with the Iraq war.
"Wouldn't we be better off with a new president who hasn't burned his bridges to our allies, and who could rebuild respect for America in the world?" Gore asked. "Wouldn't we be safer with a President who didn't insist on confusing Al Qaeda with Iraq? Doesn't that divert too much of our attention away from the principal danger?"
Another headliner, former President Jimmy Carter, took the stage after Gore to the tune of "Georgia on My Mind."
"My name is Jimmy Carter and I am not running for president," Carter said, vowing to do everything he can to put Kerry and Edwards in the White House, saying the biggest reason to do so is to safeguard the nation's security.
Despite statements by Democratic operatives that the convention was going to focus on the positive, Carter joined the bandwagon of slamming Bush for his so-called unilateralist foreign policies in the War on Terror.
"The United States has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused and disturbing strategy of 'pre-emptive' war. With our allies disunited, the world resenting us, and the Middle East ablaze, we need John Kerry to restore life to the global war against terrorism."
Before the "Hill and Bill Show," actress Glenn Close helped pay tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. As part of that tribute, a full-screen picture of Lower Manhattan at night — complete with the two beams of light temporarily ablaze in the place where the World Trade Center towers stood — was the backdrop for a string solo version of "Amazing Grace." The convention floor was full of light as delegates held up pen lights in the darkened arena.
'We're Here to Win'
Democrats zeroed in on national security and the economy as two reasons to boot President Bush from the White House. They are using the campaign as critical time to convince U.S. voters that their ticket — Kerry, the presumptive presidential nominee, and John Edwards (search), Kerry's Senate colleague and his vice presidential choice — is the only one that can make America a better place.
"We’re here to win back the White House, to win back the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives," said Rep. Debbie Stabenow (search), D-Mich. "We’re here to take back our country … win back the respect and admiration of the world."
Democratic stars mounted the stage to pump up Day One's theme: Kerry and Edwards' plans to create a stronger America by expanding jobs and health-care coverage, modernizing the military and improving international relations.
"It’s the Democratic Party that is fighting to make sure our children have the education they need, our family has the health care they need and that hardworking immigrants have a way to earn legalization," said Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
"Tonight we begin a campaign that will build an America that’s respected in the world and that’s safer here at home … an America free from threat and free from fear," said Texas Rep. Jim Turner, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.
"To win this new kind of war, we need a new kind of leader ... with the wisdom, the vision and the insight to understand and defeat this enemy. John Kerry is that leader," Turner added. "From the river deltas of Vietnam to the halls of Congress, John Kerry has shown the courage needed in the heat of battle."
At the FleetCenter (search), security was tight at the cramped venue, which is holding the 4,353 delegates and masses of media taking part in the quadrennial coronation of the Democratic presidential candidate.
A remembrance commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was being viewed and singer Patti LaBelle was closing out the night's events.
The nominee isn't expected back in Beantown until Wednesday night, when he will attend a fireworks display timed to punctuate Edwards' vice-presidential acceptance speech. Most of the week's activities have been made possible through coordination with the office of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. He took the podium prior to Gore's speech to a grateful round of applause.
"It’s an honor for us to be your host," he said. "We’re proud of our traditions here in Boston, one is the way we talk."
Many Bostonians have been up in arms over the Ft. Knox-like security measures put into place; many businesses around the center have been forced to close for the week. But Menino ignored the dissension outside the FleetCenter, saying the tight security measures could not be avoided.
"We all have to put up with some inconveniences because we cannot allow threats or enemies to undermine our democratic process, he said.
He also took the opportunity to tout his state's presidential candidate.
"We know our cause, we know the stakes and this week, we’ll tell America and the world: Get ready, take heart, the next four years will be better than the last."
Party On, Dems
Convention participants took several short breaks in between the night's big speeches. They kept the party going throughout the night by dancing on the convention floor while songs like "Johnnie B. Goode," blared through the convention floor's speakers. While getting her groove on to the song, "We Are Family," one woman on the floor held up a pair of large pink woman's slip that had the words "Give Bush a pink slip," stamped on it.
Prior to the first mini-dance party, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, co-chair of the DNC’s Platform Committee, helped present his party's security platform, saying it is historical since it’s the party’s first since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"There is no more important function of government than to protect the safety and security of its people," Vilsack said. "Our platform gives that critical task the priority it deserves."
Former Secretary of Defense William Perry (search) stressed that Kerry will do a better job than the current commander-in-chief in protecting the homeland in a way that won't alienate the rest of the global community.
"We must keep our military the strongest in the world ... our forces have been dangerously overstretched," Perry said, referring to troops fighting in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as those stationed elsewhere across the globe.
Arguing the Bush administration invaded Iraq "against sound military advice," Perry said, "Based on his own service, John Kerry understands what our troops need ... we must isolate the terrorists, not isolate the United States."
Dems to 'Take Back Our Country'
On the domestic front, Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., highlighted the party's commitment to increased port security, hardening critical infrastructures like chemical and nuclear plants, improving domestic readiness to combat threats and ending U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Los Angeles City Council member Antonio Villaraigosa echoed a common Democratic argument that Bush has presided over the "largest job loss since the Great Depression."
"We, Democrats, have come to this convention and this city of America’s great revolution to take back our country," he said. "We, Democrats, will fight to create new jobs to provide a living wage and provide health benefits for their families."
"Working families are working together to elect an American president who is on our side," added Linda Chavez Thompson, vice chair of the DNC and formerly an executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. "In November, we’re going to make the land we love the land it should be."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who was the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right, took the podium with the eight other women U.S. senators behind her, saying the Kerry-Edwards ticket is the right one to push women's issues.
"We, women everywhere, are committed to making John Kerry the next president of the United States and John Edwards our next vice president," she said. "Together, we’re going to open the doors of opportunity to all Americans with a common agenda and common values."