For the last night of the Democratic National Convention of 2004, I spent about an hour and a half (sorry, folks, I can't sit here and watch that many speakers say the same thing, with varying accents, all night). I did get to John Kerry's speech, which is also available in QuickTime and WMA formats for those who would like to see the video. Overall, it was a good speech, showing Kerry not nearly as stiff as we've come to hear about in the press and not nearly as much so as Al Gore was in 2000.
I don't know whether he's just a lot happier now than during the primaries or if his handlers have been harping on him about turning on the smiles, but either way, the Massachusetts senator clearly had his "accessible" face on last night and he was clearly enjoying the rousing reception that he received. Unlike the other speakers, the Senator came out through the crowd instead of from back stage. As they were already running late from the introductory speech, this certainly didn't help Kerry on time and didn't allow him to dawdle through any of his talking points. The delivery remained crisp and clean, even though his red/pink polka-dot tie was a bit silly looking for a presidential candidate (he should have borrowed Edwards' blue subtly-patterned one).
Once the speech was complete, Edwards came down to join Kerry at the podium and they spent some time waving at the crowds, walking together, and holding up their hands in a victorious pose. Although the hand-holding looked a little awkward (different cuff lengths and a height difference that was being exaggerated), it is certainly the type of pose and action that I don't expect to see from the Republican candidates. It's not that they're too dignified for that, it's just that Cheney never looks at Bush with the level of respect that Edwards appears to have for Kerry. Don't get me wrong, it's not the awe of a child or a puppy, more like the respect of somebody with shared, but longer experiencewhich is appropriate. Bush and Cheney always appear to have some distance between them and are seldom seen together (especially after 9/11presumedly for security purposes).
OK, enough about hair and body language. How was the speech? It was quite good. Kerry got into his catch phrase "Stronger at home and respected in the world" in the second sentence, but that's as far as it went. From then on out, he kept away from repetition until the last few minutes of the speech.
As with many of the speeches this week, Kerry had a strong military messageclearly attempting to show that he would not be weak on the defense of the country, but also trying to intimate that the war in Iraq was not the right use of force ("I will not mislead Us into war"). He repeatedly looked off-podium to his "band of brothers" from the swift boat to indicate his military bona fides. Despite the protestations of groups like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (a group of 220 swift boat crew who also served on swift boats in Vietnam unit and have signed a letter calling him unfit to serve as commander-in-chief), the image was very effectively portrayed. And, whatever your thoughts about his time in-country, Mr. Clinton earlier in the week made a good pointhe spent some time there, which is more than can be said for President Bush. As an aside, there appear to have been over 193 swift boats in Vietnam (thanks to swiftboats.net) with thousands of crewmembers and the only requirement to get your signature on the SBVFT letter is that you be one of them, so it isn't much more of a representative sample.
The speech revisited the military issues on a number of occasions, intermingling the theme with the other main themes of economy, health care, and safety from terrorism. He had a very idealistic "we did it before, we'll do it again" view of the 1990's (which, as some of you know, I think is misplaced), but the basic theme is whether voters feel safer and better now than they did in before the Bush presidency.
I was curious about a few of the facts that were bounced around during the Kerry speech and when I have a chance to look further into them, then I'll post more, but one stuck out immediatelythe shrinking middle class. I looked up some data on the internet and found that the middle class has been shrinking since at least 1969. In '69, 51% of the people were considered to be middle class; by 1993, that number had fallen to 40% (according to a 1996 article by the Employment Policy Foundation). So far, I haven't found any specific evidence of being tied to one party or the other, but EPF appears to be mostly funded by corporations, so it may provide an overly-rosy view, but it's worth looking into.
Frankly, I'd appreciate it if both sides would stay away from questionable "facts" and attempting to convince people how they should feel about their current situation. If you want to advocate for the need for change, ask people if they like what they're seeing right now tell them to look around them and see what they're neighbors are going through. It seems unnecessary to use statistics in order to prove to people that they are either better off or worse off than they feel they are.
On to my favorite quote of the night, "I will appoint an Attorney General who will uphold the Constitution of the United States."
They also pushed the optimism card pretty heavily, including a good comment that "there is nothing more pessimistic than saying that America can't do better."
There was little new on the Iraq front. Although he discussed making sure that there were the right amount of troops in Iraq (through a reference to appointing a Defense Secretary who would listen to his commanders on the ground), he specified adding 40,000 active duty troops, "but not in Iraq." That seemed to be an odd statement. I'm guessing he was attempting to re- assure "the base" that he didn't want to keep pouring troops into Iraq.
Although he had a good line about "the future does not belong to fear, it belongs to freedom", he didn't take the opportunity to hit on the civil liberties issues.
In the policy portion of the speech (about the last 1/2 to 2/3), he brought out the following:
- Concentrated efforts against nuclear proliferation
- Will not privatize Social Security
- Will not cut benefits
- Create incentives to revitalize manufacturing
- Invest in technology
- Close loopholes that reward overseas jobs and reward companies that save jobs in the US. (of course, I'd prefer job creation...)
- Work toward a "fair playing field" in trade
- Cut deficit in half in four years (amusingly, Bush's current plan involves cutting the deficit from this year's $477B to $286B by 2008, see CBO projections, and originally this year's was projected at $521B, almost exactly double the 286).
- Raise taxes on those making $200,000 per year back to pre-Bush levels
- Cut middle class taxes
- Make smaller class sizes in our schools
- Provide tax credits (not deductions) to offset college costs
- Use money to pay for education and other programs as an investment to not spend $50,000 per year to incarcerate people
- In healthcare, cut "waste and greed" in order to "save families $1000 per year in premiums" (from $9,086/year on average--$2,412 not paid by their employers, from USA Today, Health insurance premiums crash down on middle class, March 2004)
- Let patients and doctors make health care decisions
- Allow all Americans to buy less expensive drugs from countries like Canada
- On energy, cut the Middle East oil dependency by relying on ingenuity and innovation, no the Saudi Royal Family. Mostly pretty good sounding stuff, but not a lot of detail. However, at least it's a list of goals, and I think he did a good job of humanizing himself and coming across as having thoughtfulness and leadership. This is something that I believe his dour, senatorial speeches during the primaries did not do.
Let the games begin!