When the Democrats gathered for their convention in late July, they knew the race was close, although Kerry’s selection of Edwards as a running mate had gained him a slight lead. The missions at that time were pretty clear:
- Improve on the lead
- Energize the base
- Put President Bush on the defensive
To do this, the Democrats had lined up their best available speakers.
This week, the GOP got together to officially nominate George W. Bush again for President, and again the race was close, though by now President Bush had regained a slight lead in some polls. The Republicans had similar missions:
- Take the lead or improve on it
- Energize the base
- Speak to undecideds and the average American
Now that the Republicans have also had their convention, I think it’s a good idea to see how each party fared in getting it’s missions accomplished. The Democrats began on Monday, July 26, with the theme of “The Kerry-Edwards Plan for America’s Future”, and highlight speeches by Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton. None of the speakers actually mentioned any specifics about what we might expect from Kerry’s plans “for America’s future”, though we were assured repeatedly that he had some. An early indicator about the direction and message of this convention, was that Hillary Clinton was relegated to no more than introducing her husband. My immediate take from this first night was, that the word “former” figured prominently in the description of these speakers. The speaker most accomplished at the moment, is the one whose time on-stage was limited to introducing her husband.
On Tuesday, July 27, the theme was “A Lifetime of Strength and Service”, which amounted to a paean to the greatness that is John Kerry. Highlight speakers for that day were Teresa Heinz Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Barack Obama. A strange group, given the theme. Teresa spent her time showing off her skill at foreign languages and lambasting Republicans, a popular pastime at the DNC, but one which said nothing of her love for John Kerry. We were left to presume there was some sort of affection in their marriage. Ted Kennedy has been in the Senate for two decades with Kerry, yet did not mention a single piece of legislation by Kerry to show his accomplishments. And it is highly unlikely that Barack Obama had ever met Kerry before this campaign season, so it is not surprising that for all his eloquence about politics and the Democratic Party, Mr. Obama had nothing to say about the life and work of John Kerry. It is peculiar that this theme would be chosen, then ignored throughout the day.
On Wednesday, July 28, the theme was “A Stronger, More Secure America”, which was never quite defined to any degree so far as the Democrats are concerned. Highlight speakers for that day were John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, Jennifer Granholm, and Bill Richardson. A mid-level retired Marine officer, Steve Brozak, also spoke, and was the closest thing that day, to actually discussing National Security, though Col. Brozak had no experience at the strategic level of national policy. From the speeches presented, one is left with the impression that a “More Secure America” depends on higher taxes and vigorous lawsuits against selected targets.
On Thursday, July 29, the theme was the convention theme, “Stronger at Home, Respected in the World”. As before, there was nothing of any substance to explain how, exactly, a Kerry Presidency would produce these things. One suspects the Democrats believe in Leadership through Wishful Speeches. The highlight speakers for this final day of the Democrats’ convention were Max Cleland, Madeleine Albright, Joe Lieberman, Wesley Clark, Nancy Pelosi, Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry, and John Kerry. Max Cleland and Nancy Pelosi were shrill and bitter, clearly still possessed of the resentment they have carried for years. How this is respectable, I cannot perceive. Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark essentially repeated their commendations for Kerry, basically assuring the Democrats that Kerry was able to do the job. One wonders why the DNC felt this was a necessary reassurance. One also wonders why they could cite no examples to support their claims for Kerry’s competence. It boiled down to “Bush bad”. Remember that, when we get to the GOP message.
As for Kerry himself, what can I say that you don’t already know? The candidate surrounded himself with old Swift Boat buddies from long ago, saluted to begin his speech, and did his level best to mix Teddy Roosevelt with Walter Mondale. At least, that was my take. Certainly, his phrases were stilted (“trees are cathedrals”?) and he was stiff and rote in his presentation. Also, for all the claims, there was not, even then, a single solid example of what Kerry would do, for Foreign Policy or the Economy, that would be distinctly preferable to President Bush, or even, for that matter, clearly Kerry’s vision. Kerry chose, again, to hide his plan.
For the Republican side, the convention had a theme: “A Safer World, A More Hopeful America”, but did not theme each day. The line-up went like this:
On Monday, August 30, Senator John McCain spoke, followed by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. This was a great start. First, McCain was known as a friend of Kerry’s, so it was a subtle but effective tweak, to make him the first major speaker at the convention. Also, as a vet and with strong credentials in National Security, John McCain spoke effectively about Bush’s leadership and accomplishments in the War on Terror. As for Rudy, this was an obvious choice, but truly effective for all that. While Rudy is the former mayor, his leadership in 9/11 is well-recognized, and it was important to remind the nation that there are clear, unmistakable national heroes, who support and admire President Bush.
On Tuesday, Secretary of Education Rod Paige spoke, followed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, then First Lady Laura Bush. This was a perfect line-up! First, most people recall (but discount) Condi Rice and Colin Powell as members of Bush’s cabinet. Paige reminds folks that Bush’s commitment to a cabinet that really reflects America goes much deeper than that, and Paige is extremely smart and well-spoken. As for Ahh-nuld, the fact that he is still being quoted three days later tells all we need to know about that. As for Laura, absolutely brilliant! Not only did Laura project an immensely better image than haughty Terezzza, she may well have helped Bush among women and moderates. Just as people underestimate the President, they often forget about his wife, her intelligence, and her perceptiveness.
Wednesday, the highlight speakers were Senator Zell Miller and the Cheneys. This was also extremely effective, I think. First off, Zell spoke the minds and hearts of many people. And while the Kerry campaign tried to attack the GOP for it, the fact remains that this was a Democrat preaching the truth. Kerry had tried the same tactics earlier in the campaign, by pushing McCain to criticize President Bush, but Miller tore down every pretense Kerry had put up in this campaign. Like Arnold, Zell is still being quoted, a clear sign that he hit the target. When Lynne Cheney came out, no one was really expecting her to be effective. But this high-school sweetheart of the Vice-President spoke quietly but with great strength, and like Laura Bush reminded many people that her husband is a decent, kind man. And then, of course, out came Dick Cheney, who also spoke quietly and effectively, so much so that when Kerry came out of hiding at midnight Thursday night, it was Cheney he attacked, so obsessed was he with that speech.
Finally, on Thursday, Governor George Pataki spoke, followed by Fred Thompson, who introduced President Bush. Governor Pataki reminded everyone again, of the courage and strength of New Yorkers, and he in turn reminded us that many New Yorkers respect and admire the President. As for President Bush, the ball he hit hasn’t landed yet. He began quietly, almost boring as he carefully explained what his next term will accomplish. It’s when you consider each of the goals, that you realize how breath-taking they are. Kennedy talked about walking on the moon, but President Bush means to change the world, for us and for our children after us. And when he showed emotion, everyone realized it was real, and when he laughed at himself, it was the easy laugh of a man who has strength enough to spare. John Kerry had a short, small chance to answer in kind to that humor, that vision. Instead, he came out in the middle of the night, ignored what the President had said, twisted what the Vice President had said, and tried to mount an attack on the tired old tactic of mud and innuendo.
It remains to be seen how the polls will judge the immediate bounce for the President, but in my opinion, President Bush has dropped Kerry with a punch that began on Monday. The count has begun, and though it will take sixty days instead of ten seconds, it looks like a knockout from here.