Beauty, Honor, Country
Blogging from the Democratic Convention.
Last night I joked that Tuesday was Failed Candidates' Night and that Wednesday was Really Failed Candidates' Night. Tonight seems to be Failed Candidates With National Security Credentials Night. Wes Clark, the former supreme NATO commander, kicks it off. Joe Lieberman will follow.
Clark calls himself a soldier and vouches for Kerry's manhood. The retired general does all the stuff that worked for him on the trail. He requests an ovation for veterans and their families. He takes a moment of silence to honor the fallen. He gestures toward the flag. Anyone who says patriotism belongs to one party "is committing a fraud on the American people," he thunders. The audience cheers enthusiastically. Clark reminds them that Democrats have fought for the flag and seen comrades buried under it. "And nobody will take it away from us!" he vows. The response is deafening.
Kerry will join a "great pantheon of wartime Democrats," Clark continues. He names Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and—in a nod to his own Kosovo service—Bill Clinton. The audience erupts with pent-up vindication at the tribute to Clinton, who, in Clark's words, "brought peace to a shattered land."
"War," says Clark. "I've been there. So has John Kerry. … John Kerry has heard the thump of enemy mortars." But Clark draws a telling distinction. Kerry "proved his physical courage under fire," says the retired general, but Kerry proved his "moral courage" in other ways. Kerry came home and fought for peace, "and I respect him for that," says Clark. He concludes that in voting for Kerry, Americans will choose a man of "physical courage, moral values, and sound judgment."
Clark's closing crescendo is drowned out by a corresponding crescendo from around the arena, but he has conveyed more than he intended. After Vietnam, no one can challenge Kerry's physical courage. It's his moral courage that arouses suspicion, as illustrated by his adjustable positions on the Iraq war and other issues. It's precisely because Democrats doubted Kerry's moral courage that Clark got into the presidential race nine months ago. Clark's defeat did nothing to erase those doubts. Neither does his speech. 9:05 p.m. ET
Nothing particularly interesting has been said yet tonight, so I'm going to go back to a subject I wanted to talk about a couple of days ago: stem-cell research. It's suddenly a political issue. At least half a dozen evening speeches at this convention have mentioned it. On Tuesday, the party gave Ron Reagan a slot in the 10 p.m. hour—a big prize—to talk exclusively about it. Hillary Clinton talked about it. Kerry talked about it for a whole week on the campaign trail, and he brought it up again a few days ago.
Obviously, the Democratic Party believes this issue is a big winner.
I haven't seen any polling that validates this belief, but no political party puts forward such an orchestrated effort to raise an issue's profile without survey data to back it up.
I thought the science of stem-cell research was too preliminary and arcane to parlay into a political issue. But Ron Reagan tried to prove otherwise in his address, and he did a pretty good job of it. He warned that it would be a bit hard to follow and conceded that the audience might decide it was a good time to walk away from the television and get "a tall cold one." He asked for patience and explained the basic biology in a couple of minutes, battling his way through eye-glazers such as "adequate dopamine." He concluded, "In other words, you're cured." The delegates applauded. In comments afterward, several indicated that for the most part, they understood it. And they responded overwhelmingly when Reagan charged that some opponents of the research "are just grinding a political axe and they should be ashamed of themselves."
As the research advances and patients and their families continue to organize politically, this issue will only get bigger. I'm curious to see how aggressively—and successfully—Democrats exploit it. 8:25 p.m. ET
John Edwards begins his speech at 10:21 p.m. He'll have plenty of time to finish, thanks to Elizabeth Edwards, who zipped through her introduction. This is in pointed contrast to Hillary Clinton, who took her time Monday night and kept Bill Clinton waiting till about 10:40, causing him to be cut off by some networks before he could finish. Either the Edwards' marriage is healthier, or the convention supervisors have learned from Monday's debacle to enforce the schedule more aggressively. Take your pick.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photographs of: Barack Obama by Gary Hershorn/Reuters; John Edwards on Slate's home page by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.