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"Hope is on the way" Democratic convention a thunderous success
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
July 30, 2004

Well, this election just got a whole lot more interesting.

Kerry and Edwards had to go into the convention and address three salient points. Edwards had to show that he was more than the pretty-boy piece of fluff the Republicans were painting him as. Kerry had to demonstrate that he wasn't the cold and austere New England aristocrat the Republicans were painting him as. And they both had to show that they could counter the right wing propaganda and fight back.

They were successful. Edwards showed his wit and intellect, along with the drive and compassion that made him a successful lawyer for the underdog. He showed his willingness to take on the right wing smear machine head-on, saying, "Between now and November, you, the American people, you can reject the tired, old, hateful, negative, politics of the past. And instead you can embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible, because this is America, where everything is possible." It's probably no surprise that the charismatic and telegenic Edwards will be doing 24 major fund-raisers for the Democrats between now and election day, as opposed to an even dozen by Kerry.

John Kerry, to my surprise, delivered a fiery speech, one every bit as good as the one Clinton delivered on opening night. (One of the funniest vignettes of the entire convention was the story of the Faux News "reporter" on the convention floor immediately following Clinton's speech, who could think of nothing better to say than, "You have to admit: he's good.") Kerry had been fighting an image as a plodding and uninspiring speaker, an image that was deserved, as opposed to one simply fabricated by the well-paid liars and propagandists of the GOP. I knew he was in trouble when his delivery became a running gag on "The Daily Show" and the Guardian's brilliant cartoonist, Steve Bell, started portraying him as Lurch ("You rang?")

Understand, a party nominee is going to get an enthusiastic response from his audience even if the polls show him trailing in every state. The nominee could stand at the podium and spend 45 minutes making rude noises by pressing his palms against his armpits and the delegates would cheer wildly.

But you can feel when a speaker has captured the imagination of his audience. It's subtle, and plays mostly in the expressions of the people listening. At this convention, a lot of speakers managed that. Clinton managed it. Barack Obama did it too. So did Teresa Heinz Kerry. So did Edwards.

And so did Kerry. Starting with a deft "Reporting for duty," that both tied in his war hero service and reminded his audience that his opponent was better known for passing on opportunities to say those words, he proceeded to mix tough talk ("I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response."; "I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president.") with assurances that he wouldn't follow the mad course of Putsch ("I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war ... We need to be looked up to and not just feared ... Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so. And proclaiming mission accomplished certainly doesn't make it so.")

But mostly, his was a note of hope and optimism. Every politician claims to be optimistic in these fretful times of free-floating anxieties, but Kerry and Edwards offered something that would sound very strange coming from the Republicans: hope. For all that Republicans babble about moving America forward and making it stronger, their intended beneficiaries make up only about ten percent of the population, making such claims sound rather tinny.

Therefore Kerry's refrain, "Help is on the way," rang true in a way that no such assurances from the party of Ken Lay and Bill Frist could manage.

I had fun glancing around at the right wing sites on the web immediately following the convention. Matt Drudge, that noted purveyor of journalistic garbage, could find nothing better to headline than the fact that a CNN mike caught the convention director cussing a blue streak because the balloons failed to begin falling on schedule. Believe it or not, there are thousands of people who depend on that clown for their news. Depressing, isn't it?

Faux News was surprisingly non-committal about the convention, reporting it with the usual digs (copious mention of "Hollywood celebrities," and Edwards identified as "a trial lawyer" rather than as a Senator), but with a distinct note of trepidation. Hacks covering the convention seemed to be focusing on side issues: "What is Howard Dean's problem?" was one; another was "Why won't the Democrats tell us how they really feel?" which translated from Faux language means, "Why didn't they say something really stupid that I could castigate them for?" A third wanted to know why the "liberal elite media" wasn't joining in Faux's Sandy Berger strawman distraction.)

Striking was the lack of "insta-polls" from the right wing. The Pubs had been trumpeting that the Democrats could expect a 15 point bounce from the convention (in a race where less than 10% of voters are undecided), while Democrats expected 6%. Since I didn't see any headlines about how the Democratic convention flopped, I assume preliminary polls showed more than 6% bounce. On the first night, Matt Drudge was trumpeting that the Democratic convention was getting lower ratings than it got in 2000. Such reports quietly vanished within a day, never to be resurrected.

One tactical mistake the GOP made was staying on the offensive during the convention. Parties in the past usually stated quiet during their opponent's convention, not out of any sense of fair play, but because they recognized the idiocy of starting an exchange with an opponent when the opponent has the nearly undivided attention of the media. Democrats were able to respond to Republican attacks and smears while the cameras were rolling - and while voters were watching.

One thing I found interesting was the way interest in the convention picked up as each day passed. On the second day, I heard people expressing regrets they missed the Clinton speech, and expressing curiosity about Obama and Teresa Heinz Kerry.

I'm guessing that interest grew fairly quickly over the first two days. I was amused to learn a libertarian friend, one who normally shakes his head over Democrats, wound up watching it closely. He may still think that Democrats depend too much on government to solve all our problems, but he KNOWS that Republicans have worked hard to make government the problem. He hates the Patriot Act, the war, and the pious and censorious attitude of the fake Christian right. He's going to vote for Kerry this fall.

Suddenly, it's all reversed. The Democrats are the party of hope and patriotism, and the Republicans are the fearmongering and fretful scowlers whose patriotism and loyalty is open for question.

And it doesn't look like Kerry and Edwards are about to drop the political advantage that gives them.

Posted: July 30, 2004


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