I offered three suggestions on Thursday for John Kerry:
Get specific about war plans
List three or four goals that would provide the sturdy frame for a Kerry administration.
He did none of these in his acceptance speech. Instead, he masterfully mingled cheap shots and fetid class-warfare ramblings. Although the speech aimed at optimism, it sputtered. It was a bore.
Sen. Kerry had a peculiar challenge on his hands. He had provoke lusty cheers from the audience at the Fleet Center without catering too obviously to the prevailing views of the crowd, which are far to the left of the American mainstream. He solved the riddle by going vague on every issue of consequence (“I will fight a smarter and more effective war on terror”) and playing to the strongest sentiment of all among delegates: seething hatred of George Bush. He gratified fellow Democrats by sprinkling his address with cheap shots (“I will restore trust and credibility to the White House…. I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war.”) Without the pokes at the president, the hall would have been positively funereal.
He also morphed into Rip van Kerry: We heard of his childhood, including a bike ride into East Berlin. We got fragments of Vietnam experience, but virtually nothing about his entire public career – his time as a prosecutor, his tenure as Michael Dukakis’ lieutenant governor, his two decades in the Senate. It is as if he had just emerged from a cocoon, no longer a young-pup politician, but a leader in full.
Meanwhile, President Bush returned to the hustings with a predictable talk about the glories of his first term. It was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink deal, and parts of it (including his praise for his hugely expensive Medicare “reform”) will set conservatives’ teeth on edge. The president also took some pokes at the Democratic team – not too nasty, but enough to signal that neither he nor John Kerry will set any records this year for civility on the campaign trail.
He did nail the central issue in this year’s election, though: “Every incumbent who asks for the vote has to answer one question: Why? Why should the American people give me the privilege of serving as your president for four more years?”
I’ll start grading his answers to that key question next week.
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