When John Kerry got up to bat at the end of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night, he had to hit a home run. He had his own cheering squad — swift-boat crewmen and fellow veterans of the Vietnam War — in the bullpen to help him on to victory. The bases were loaded with his two daughters and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland. His daughters had scored solid hits with introductory speeches that made their father seem human, trustworthy and even likable. The young women’s poise and skillful oratory surely made their father proud.
Max Cleland, who came home from Vietnam paralyzed and is now confined to a wheelchair, also made a solid hit with his remarks at the convention plate. The three introductions, along with the video directed by a Stephen Spielberg protege, conveyed the image of a family man, a friend, a leader, a person of warmth and caring. According to comments I heard all around the convention hall in the days preceding Kerry’s speech, all he had to do, then, was convince the voting public that he was presidential material.
The spectacle of the convention hall — including the music, lighting, special backdrop lowered from the ceiling before the speech, and an exuberant crowd stirred up by the entertainment and the preliminaries — added to the excitement as well as the pressure on Kerry to perform well.
Kerry stepped up to the plate and hit a homerun. He did what he had to do for the party faithful; they were reassured, relieved and energized. The crowd loved him. He was dignified and he seemed presidential; he established his credibility as an alternative to Bush.
How did he do it?
By pushing all the rhetorical buttons without regard to logical consistency, feasibility or truth.
Kerry’s plan is clear. He will try to beat the Republicans by addressing Republican issues with Republican rhetoric.
Family: Kerry framed the family values issue with the carefully-chosen word “choices.” Elections, he declared “are about choices.” His intent, obviously, is to soften the harshness of that euphemism for abortion. He went on, “And, choices are about values.” Then, he declared with steely-eyed determination to annihilate his opponent: “It’s time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.” Kerry went on in that vein of circuitous reasoning for half a single-spaced page — trying to undermine the strongest of Bush’s appeals to conservative women — the undecided demographic that he most needs to win over. Indeed, with about 80 percent of the electorate about evenly divided between Kerry’s true believers and Bush’s true believers, the undecided women constitute the swing vote in this election and the Democrats went after them wholeheartedly during the four-day convention in Boston.
Faith: The whole convention was defensive about Bush and the Republicans gaining a corner on the faith issue. Most of the speakers seemed determined to take back the mantle of faith for the Democrats.
Kerry had his daughters address that issue head on — Vanessa framed it as a matter of integrity while Alexandra was blunter in saying that her father “doesn’t pander or play to our baser instincts.” Then, Kerry went for the kill:
“We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America. Not narrow appeals that divide us, but shared values that unite us. Family and faith. Hard work and responsibility. Opportunity for all — so that every child, every parent, every worker has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential.”
Kerry tried to wrap himself in Reagan by referring back to Ron Reagan’s description of his father’s faith at Ronald Reagan’s memorial service. Like Reagan, Kerry said, “I don’t wear my own faith on my sleeve.” The audience roared its approval. Kerry declared that, like Lincoln, he wasn’t as worried about whether God is “on our side” as much as whether we are “on God’s side.” The crowd went crazy!
Freedom: Kerry knows that Bush has the advantage on issues of national security so he tried to balance praising Bush for his handling of 9/11 with his criticism of Bush’s strategy for preventing a recurrence of terrorism. To emphasize his point, Kerry said, “The future doesn’t belong to fear: it belongs to freedom.” This statement built on accusations that “Bush lied,” which echoed through the hall all week long. Kerry cloaked his accusations by framing the issue as a matter of “restoring trust and credibility to the White House.” He declared that, as commander-in-chief, he would “never mislead us into war.”
Kerry reiterated a claim asserted by the dozens of preceding speakers: “This is the most important election of our lifetime.” The answer to all the nation’s problems — according to Kerry as he enumerated them from his perspective — is: “We just need to believe in ourselves.”
Kerry anticipated the assessment — accurate and right on target — that his solutions and positions on the issues flip-flop all over the ideological territory without regard for logical consistency. His critics, he claimed, would criticize him “for seeing complexities” . . . but his “facts are never distorted by politics.” He just asks “hard questions” and demands “hard evidence.” He declared that, as President, he would make sure that “America never goes to war because we want to” and under his leadership, he claimed, America would “only go to war because we have to.” In other words, President Bush committed us to Iraq on a whim.
Sorry, Mr. Kerry. The Fleet Center crowd might have roared its approval and it might have been taken in by superb staging, but the rest of America sees through political spin and crass sloganeering.
The times require specifics.
The solutions must have substance.
It takes more than stage presence to lead.
The Democratic National Convention presented a spectacle that dazzled and the candidate made lofty promises filled with hope and potential. In America, declared Kerry, “we are all in the same boat.”
Voters face serious decisions about how to keep the Ship of State afloat based on the validity of Kerry’s promises at his party’s national convention.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse is spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee. She is in Boston for the Democratic National Convention.