Beauty, Honor, Country
Blogging from the Democratic Convention.
An hour before John Kerry delivers his acceptance speech, an aide walks through the press section handing out copies of the speech. It fills six pages. It could easily fill eight, but the campaign has sidestepped that embarrassment by printing it in a tiny font. We've heard it's going to run more than 50 minutes. I guess this guy really is Bill Clinton's heir.
Kerry arrives with a terrific opening line: "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty." The crowd roars. He'd like to acknowledge his parents, as Edwards did. But Kerry can't, because his parents are dead. So, he expresses his regret and tells a funny story about his dad grounding him for riding his bike into East Berlin. Kerry, being Kerry, kills the joke.
But humor isn't the point of the speech. Fire is, and Kerry has brought plenty of it. He raises the pitch and power of his voice, hammering home a series of indictments of the Bush administration. He frames every attack in affirmative terms, promising not to commit this or that sin of which Bush is implicitly guilty. When Kerry finally names the president, it's not an explicit accusation but a challenge to keep the campaign on the "high road"—in other words, an implicit accusation that Bush is playing dirty.
For this occasion, Kerry demonstrates an array of virtues he has conspicuously lacked on the campaign trail. He humbly acknowledges each of his Democratic rivals by name. "Thank you for teaching and testing me," he tells them. He expresses the awful beauty of Sept. 11: "It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us." He affirms his faith and its privacy: "I don't wear my religion on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day." He concedes his penchant for caveats: "There are those who criticize me for seeing complexities. And I do, because some issues just aren't all that simple."
I've heard people argue that Kerry needs surrogates to tout his military service because he can't talk about it himself. Not true. Tonight, he recalls patrolling the Mekong Delta. "I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president," he promises. He thunders that the flag belongs to no president or party. "Strength is more than tough words," he says.
As he finishes, the chords of "Beautiful Day" fill the FleetCenter. The two Johns, Kerry and Edwards, hug and wave. Kerry looks as happy as I've ever seen him. When you're amazed to be alive, every day is beautiful. 2:25 a.m. ET
The Kerry girls, Alexandra and Vanessa, enter the stage in evening dresses to hug the Heinz boys, Chris and Andre. It's a handsome illusion: two families campaigning as one. Vanessa, Kerry's blond daughter, draws frat-boy hoots as she takes the podium. I expected intimacy from Kerry tonight, but this is a bit more than I had in mind. Vanessa says she "knows all six feet four inches" of her dad and is here to "share some secrets" about him. She recalls how "he enveloped me with that dad hug that overwhelmed me." I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed myself.
Vanessa recalls the "long, cold" month of December 2003, when her dad was tanking in the polls. "There was not moment when he doubted his ability to win," she says. "He had the courage to take risks–ahem–our house. ... He stayed the course."
I remember those days. Kerry lived in a $10 million house because he had married the widow of a Republican senator who had inherited a fortune. He mortgaged the house for a cause greater than himself: his presidential aspirations.
This is courage?
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.