A brief note or follow-up on the Kerry speech.
A number of readers have written in to say they were wowed by the speech and ask why I led off saying that it wasn't a 'stem-winder'.
To me there's no contradiction. The term 'stem-winder' isn't simply an evaluation of the quality of a speech, but also -- and more so -- a description of a certain kind of performance. I thought this speech was very impressive, about at the top of the guy's form. To say it wasn't a stem-winder is simply to say that it wasn't like Barack Obama's speech a few nights back, or Clinton's, or even Clark's or Sharpton's for that matter.
But I don't think that's the kind of public speaker Kerry is. And he was wise not to try to be something he's not. He didn't try to be a master of rhetoric or tear into the crowd like those others. This was a well-written, powerfully delivered speech. And what occurred to me as I listened to it was how well the convention planners had used the earlier evenings events and speeches to tee the moment up for him.
I mean that not just in the sense that there's an effort to build excitement for the main event or talk up the candidate --that's a given. I thought they did a good job at playing Kerry up as a forceful and decisive leader. And that allowed him to suit his strengths as a speaker to the moment, to slide his speech-making right into that path they'd carved for him when his moment came.
Of course, I still haven't seen the video of the actual TV-version of the speech. I'm still going on what I saw in the hall, watching the back of his head as he delivered. So perhaps my opinions are still premature.
And a final point, for what it's worth. I talked to numerous reporters in the minutes and hours after the speech. And I think it would be fair to say that every person I spoke to told me that Kerry had exceeded their expectations.
Great work CNN! (You'll understand soon enough ...)
Not a stem-winder -- and Kerry would have been foolish to try. But a solid speech. And I thought he hit all the right points -- with the right emotional tenor. In a way, sitting in the hall and watching the back of Kerry's head most of the time is no way to judge how it appeared on TV. But that's my snap judgment.
"I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family."
Paging Adel Al-Jubeir ...
For the last four days, this convention hall has always been in motion -- people milling on and off the floor, in and out of the stands, the ever-present floor ushers -- the only real extremists in the whole place -- hustling people out of the aisles. But, now, like it is at the tail end of every national party convention, everyone is stationed in their place.
No one is moving from their seats. No one is leaving the floor, because if you do, you can't go back down. I'm sitting just up and back to the side of the podium and looking out over the crowd, it -- or they -- look like nothing so much as a vast carpet of people, all watching intently, no floor to be seen anywhere.
The crowd was certainly more roused in Barack Obama's speech; but not at any other time has their attention been more rapt.
Cleland just introduced Kerry. More later ...
Actually, apropos of the previous post, the real sucker on this one seems to be MSNBC rather than CNN. At least thus far. As of 5:43, the Ghailani capture is the headline on the MSNBC website, while it gets lesser billing on CNN. MSNBC is even blaring it more than Fox News (oh the infamy!).
As with the earlier post, I'd be much obliged if anyone can tell me whether any of the MSNBC talking heads note the earlier published report in one of America's most respected political magazines (see previous post) about the White House's pressure on Pakistan to produce an al Qaida bad guy during the Dem convention.
Finally, right now I'm watching Wolf Blitzer on his little CNN news perch right off the convention floor doing a live shot. If he's talking up the al Qaida story, why not have on Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, to talk about their above-mentioned story? I'm sure Peter would be happy to come on. And I just saw him here in the Fleet Center not more than twenty minutes ago.
See CNN's Breaking News Alert: "Security forces have captured a high-level al Qaeda operative in a raid in central Pakistan, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said."
Then, after you see that, remember that we noted in May and then The New Republic reported out extensively early this month, that this White House has been telling the Pakistanis for months that they wanted to see a big-time al Qaida leader -- hopefully bin Laden -- produced during the Democratic convention.
Reuters is reporting that the guy they've served up may be a Tanzanian involved in the 1998 African embassy bombings. So apparently they couldn't come up with bin Laden himself.
But here's the thing. I'm not going to be able to watch the television coverage of this throughout the day. But many of you will. So I'd be very, very curious to hear whether when, oh say, CNN goes on about how this al Qaida guy has been hauled in they will mention at all, or with any consistency, that one of the most respected political magazines in the United States reported just weeks ago on the pressure the administration has been placing on the Pakistanis to serve up an al Qaida bad guy on this day.
Will they make the obvious connection? Or will they just ignore it?
This is just the latest, but perhaps the most blatant, example of how this administration has placed politics and, really, political dirty tricks above national security itself, and along the way persisted in defining political deviance down until tactics we used to associate with banana republics start to seem commonplace here.
And while we're at it, this is yet another example of how truly important it is that we democratize the Middle East. Because once we have, some of them will be able to come back here and redemocratize us.
A few thoughts on Edwards.
Friends who I watched the speech with, down on the floor just to his left, thought Edwards was about 75%. I don't know how much it appeared that way on TV. He may only have come off that way if you'd seen him a lot on the campaign trail.
His voice was slightly hoarse and cracked on certain phrases. He seemed to me like he might be getting sick.
Still, with all that, he has an irresistible charm. And he does wind the themes of this convention together in a unique, compelling way. One point: listening to Edwards tonight, and thinking back to the themes he struck during the primaries, it occurred to me how many of them have been incorporated into the message coming out of this convention.
Another thought ... There was a line down towards the end of the speech that stuck in my head: "We have to restore our respect in the world to bring our allies to us and with us. It's how we won the World Wars and the Cold War and it is how we will build a stable Iraq."
Makes perfect sense, no objection -- either on substance or on politics. But it rattled in my head. Because with those words he committed their administration to the herculean task of holding together all the centrifugal forces that are cutting that country apart.
There's nothing I disagree with in the sentiment. And it is notable (and it's been much noted) that the word was a 'stable' Iraq, not a 'democratic' Iraq. Still, a very tall order. I think Kerry is going to win this election. And I'm optimistic in general. But it has occurred to me more than once that that hypothetical next administration could be brought to grief by the occupation (and it is still an occupation) that this president has embarked the country upon. Those were fateful words, even if correct or inevitable ones.
And finally this. As I said above, I watched the Edwards speech in a standing crowd of journalists and Democratic operatives down to Edwards' left on the convention floor. At my back were two of those alchemists and engineers of sound and color, message and image, the ubiquitous handlers and speechwriters who play such an outsized role in the theater that is so much of politics.
As Edwards finished his speech and began his round of thumbs-ups and pumping fists, and as everyone else in crowd was whooping and screaming and clapping, one of those guys at my back turned to his friend and said, with quiet satisfaction and unfazed observation, "right on time." In other words, all wrapped up just minutes before eleven o'clock. Perfect television.
And it was.
Another legacy of Bill Clinton's impress on the Democratic party.
Early this evening I noted that the tone of the Democratic party assembled here in Boston really is quite different than it was in New Hampshire, and much different from what it was in mid-2003. Democratic 'rage' and 'Bush-bashing' was to a real extent a product of Republican spin. But not altogether.
So why the difference? Certainly it's not because opposition to the president has waned in any way. And I think the fact that the convention is meant to appeal to the swing voting audience actually doesn't play that great a role in the change.
I think there are two main reasons -- and they're fundamental rather than cosmetic.
Reason number one has to do with understanding the dynamics that animated the 2003-04 primary contest. On the surface, the fiery rhetoric and animus of 2003 and early 2004 were directed at President Bush. And to some degree of course they were. But the punch of that rhetoric derived not so much from Democrats' antipathy for President Bush as from a pitched battle, almost a rebellion, within the Democratic party -- the grassroots of the Democratic party insisting that Washington Democrats were compromising with the president over particulars when he was leading the country in a direction that had to be opposed across the board. Fiery rhetoric against President Bush was fiery rhetoric against compromise and accomodation with him. In other words, it was to a very real degree aimed at other Democrats.
The specifics and the rights-and-wrongs of that intra-party debate are complicated and needn't detain us here. But understanding that intra-party debate explains why the tone here is so different. The Democratic party is now deeply united around the proposition that President Bush is moving the country in the wrong direction on almost every front and must be opposed head-on. With that question settled within the party, what is there to be angry about? Is there anger at President Bush? Sure. But no one here is talking to President Bush. So opposition, yes. But anger, much less so. Unity isn't simply a reason or a tool to stifle anger. In a sense, it has eliminated it.
Point two is related to point one. Anger is often, and rage is almost always, an emotion rooted in powerlessness. That was certainly the position of Democrats in early 2003 (on so many levels), though less so as the year went on. These Democrats don't feel powerless. The mood is one of cautious optimism that they can drive the president from office, that the wind is at their backs. That too changes the emotional tone dramatically.