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Born in the west wing

When Kerry got to that line-- preceded by the ham-fisted “now, I’m not one to read into things, but guess which wing” and a goofy smile, there was much wincing in my house.  Janet actually left the room and began to pace in the hallway, fearing that this would be one of the worst presidential-nomination acceptance speeches since Ulysses S. Grant stumbled to the podium in 1868 and said, “sure [hiccup], what the hell.”

Really, with all the bloggers covering this campaign, can’t someone provide this guy with better warmup material? 

And those gestures!  I turned to Nick and said, “it’s like he took a correspondence course from Gesture School but didn’t quite understand the illustrations.” Out of sync, distracting, nervous-- and what was with the subtle swaying back and forth?

So after half an hour of truly wonderful setups from Alexandra and Vanessa, from Jim Rassmann, and most of all from Max Cleland, we were having ourselves an uneasy five or six minutes, to say the least.  And then:

As President, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House.

The first zinger of the night!  And what’s Bush gonna do, run on the Onion headline, “Bush 2004 Campaign Pledges To Restore Honor And Dignity To White House”?

And then:

I will be a commander-in-chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a Secretary of Defense who will listen to the best advice of our military leaders. And I will appoint an Attorney General who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States.

Much cheering.  And also:

And it is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.  You don’t value families by kicking kids out of after school programs and taking cops off our streets, so that Enron can get another tax break. . . .  You don’t value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service, if you deny veterans health care, or if you tell middle class families to wait for a tax cut, so that the wealthiest among us can get even more.

We like it when people mention Enron.  Nice bit about the body armor, too.

And we were thoroughly surprised to hear the Saudi royal family called out by name-- well, Kerry lost any chance at their support right there, I guess.  And he picked up the red/blue thing from Obama, a few hints of economic populism from Edwards, and an unexpectedly effective “all-in-the-same-boat” closing.  All in all, pretty good stuff-- and a terrific recovery from those first five or six minutes.  (Whew.)

However:  it was not a home run.  Nor was it a touchdown, a three-pointer, a shorthanded goal, a try, or a perfect 10.  Kerry did not get a hole in one, he did not google a six, and he did not do that thing in curling where someone does something good in curling.  In fact, the speech wasn’t anything like a sporting event, so I don’t know what all these other commentators are talking about.  I think they should get out more and see some actual sports.

I don’t know what Matt Yglesias is talking about either.  Usually this kid’s very bright, but maybe he isn’t familiar with this here genre yet.  You don’t lay out the ten-point plan for salvaging Iraq in an acceptance speech.  You don’t explain the details of what will have to be an exceptionally complex fiscal policy (for the reasons Brad DeLong described a few days ago) in an acceptance speech.  You just try, usually in pretty general terms, to convince people to trust you, to see you as President, and-- in some cases-- to care enough to get out and work for you.

Well, he did the job in this house:  we’re off to Harrisburg to help welcome the Kerry-Edwards team to Pennsylvania.  I’ll be back tonight with a report from the rally (to make up for the fact that I was too damn stupid to apply for press credentials and try to get to the convention) and a new posting policy for August.

Posted by on 07/30 at 07:47 AM
  1. OK, I dunno if we just think alike or whether I’ve just been reading your blog long enough that I’ve fallen under your spell or what, but you outlined the exact applause lines in my house.  I gave him a one-man standing ovation at the Attorney General line, and was cheering at the same moments after that you pointed to.  I love the sports metaphor paragraph here, too. Good post.

    Posted by David Morgen  on  07/30  at  09:52 AM
  2. For Kerry, this speech might have been a home-run as I’ve heard/seen him speak elsewhere, and he’s got a Lurch-like quality to him that I think he was trying to suppress...hence the swaying.  However, back to Edwards’ speech - I SWEAR HE HAS THESE NEIL DIAMOND IN CONCERT GESTURES. That’s his thing.  It’s the face, the hand gestures, the whole package… he’s Diamond.  I want to be the first to break the story that Edwards studied Neil Diamond concert footage to prepare for his speech - those were NOT the body movements of a trial lawyer. 

    But seriously, note that in that very effective litany, Kerry did not say, “And I’ll appoint a Sec’y of State who will stand up to me and tells me he’s going to resign because he can’t endorse my misguided policies.” But that’s another argument I can’t make in a “Comment”. 

    Posted by Marianne  on  07/30  at  10:23 AM
  3. Under my spell?  Now there’s an idea.  Readers of this blog:  you are getting sleepy, very sleepy.  Swing voters:  you will stampede toward Kerry and elect him decisively.  Wingnuts:  you will keep sleeping until I clap my hands sometime in 2028.  Sports fans:  you will explain curling to me.

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  10:23 AM
  4. Michael - If I can’t convince you of the beauty of road cycling, WHO can convince you of the beauty of curling?

    “Lance for 7” Campaign

    Posted by Marianne  on  07/30  at  10:25 AM
  5. I was not expecting Kerry to call himself “the peace candidate” or anything, but I’m fast tiring of the “Vietnam as a noble testing ground” revisionism going on throughout the party. I’m casting a vote to dump Bush and little more. I thought the intros by the Kerry daughters touching.  Too bad they couldn’t manage to make their Dad look more life-like.

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  10:37 AM
  6. Yeah, the first few minutes had me a little worried.  But by the time I turned off the TV around 11-ish I was feeling uplifted.  Overall I think it was a strong, positive speech. He covered most of the issues, cleverly defended his record and style, and invited the GOP to bring on the negative so the nation can see the contrast.


    I couldn’t help thinking that Kerry’s presence on the stage and the generalities of his message wasn’t the future of the party.  Some of this may be sour grapes on my part, having grabbed onto Dean’s candidacy like a drowning man, and somehow still thinking he would show up to accept the nomination.  But I couldn’t help feeling like we were back in 1996--a youngish governor from a southern state who avoided military service, running for a second term, apparently vulnerable, being challenged by an elder statesman of the oppositing party, a U.S. Senator and war veteran, running on his resume and character, pledging to restore trust and dignity to the Office.  I couldn’t help feeling like this is all an interlude until someone like Edwards or Obama or Ford heads the ticket, uncumbered by a war in Iraq and a $600 billion budget deficit.

    My other line of thought was that the speech was high on rhetoric and short on straight talk, geared towards eliciting responses from the crowd and media rather than from skeptics and disallusioned.  While I agree that a ten-point plan on Iraq or health care wasn’t necessary here, I think he missed an opportunity to talk plainly about the situation in Iraq, acknowledge the divisions in the country about the course of the war there, discuss the reasons for the troops’ continued presence there, and the obstacles to ensuring the peace and bringing them home. 

    And then there’s the fuzzy math.  He pledged near universal health care coverage, a stronger military with 40,000 more troops, increased funding for education, slicing the budget deficit in half, and continued middle class tax breaks all for the cost of rolling back Bush’s tax cuts for those making $200,000 and over.

    In short, I think Kerry could have gone further in gaining the voters’ trust by letting people know that correcting the problems of the present won’t be easy or born by only the few.

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  10:40 AM
  7. Didn’t google a six?  You mean he failed to perform an internet search for a common number?  smile (http://members.tripod.com/~sccwa/cktlist.html#EtoH for more)

    It was probably 20% too smarmy for me, but then I’m a foreigner so a) I have a lower smarm threshold than the average American, and b) what the hell does my opinion matter, I can’t vote?

    Now Barak’s speech, that was a winner.

    Posted by Paul  on  07/30  at  11:16 AM
  8. >> Nice bit about the body armour too.

    Just one bit of information from Kerry’s piece that I took 5 minutes to debunk.


    Pure bull. Absolute carnard. Before you go passing on another bullshit urban legend why don’t you take a few moments to check out the truthfulness of it.

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  01:15 PM
  9. Daniel, like most Republicons you focus on the irrelevant and miss the important part: Bush misled the country into war without giving the military what it needed, and soldiers, especially national guard troops, were indeed writing home and telling their families that they did not have up-to-date body armor.  The detail about bake sales is irrelevant, especially since Kerry was using it as a rhetorical device without any claim to its literal truth. It was, and is, essentially true, unlike anything that spews from Bush’s mouth.

    You remind me of the Nixon familiar who, when asked why the Secret Service had sealed an office, replied that it had been the FBI and then proceeded to explain the difference between the two. When he finished, he asked for the next question.

    Understand this: the National Review is the last place you should look for truth. Republicon talking points (read: utter bullshit), yes, but nothing else.

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  01:29 PM
  10. For those too young to remember, Richard Nixon’s approach to the Vietnam War in 1968 was to proclaim that he “had a secret plan” to end it.  Despite much pressure to do so, he never revealed the content of his “secret plan.” Didn’t stop him from winning. 

    Defining his plan would merely set Kerry up for potshots.  “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” is better strategy.

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  05:31 PM
  11. Well, call me old fashioned, but I thought Kerry’s speech was a rouser.

    The build-up toward his presentation was, as Paul says, smarmy, but it played well. 

    I had seen a number of clips of Kerry’s presentations on the campaign trail, and, as you noted, Michael, his hand gestures were awkward and ill timed, leading me to doubt his ability to pull off a good convention speech, because it caused him to look as though he was groping for ideas. 

    Convention night, he was still awskward at times and occasionally interrupted the flow by rushing through applause opportunities.  But he appeared sure of what he wanted to say and got off some excellent lines as mentioned by Michael and other commenters. 

    The important aspect to me was that the speech fit nicely into the context of the evening and created a wonderful emotional effect, I thought, leaving a good taste in the mouth.

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  06:22 PM
  12. Also wanted to mention (to bolster my position?)

    I notice Eric Alterman gave the speech good marks and I saw Kevin Phillips on Now tonight, and he appeared downright giddy in his praises. 

    Thought those were good signs of something good going on!

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  06:28 PM
  13. I definitely think that Kerry is a failure for not saying something like, “I’m going to lay down my super-detailed and nuanced policy proposals that I will push through and implement easily, just like magic, even though the opposition party will still likely control at least one house of the legislature.”

    Of course, for now I’m a “Satan Himself” Democrat (// “yellow dog"), so Kerry could say that he routinely eats kittens for dinner and I’d still vote for him. 

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  07/30  at  06:48 PM
  14. Hi Daniel!  Welcome to the Other Side.  Over here, we’re familiar with rhetorical gestures like “holding a bake sale to buy X,” and we understand them to be rhetorical gestures that say true things in sometimes colorful ways!  Since you’re new to the site, I’ll explain.  Some liberals in the 80s sported bumper stickers that read, “it’ll be a good day when schools get all the funds they need and the Pentagon has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.” I myself have often said that in states like Illinois and Pennsylvania, where I’ve lived for 15 years, college towns have well-funded school systems but in the surrounding rural areas the schools have to hold bake sales just to come up with the money to turn on the lights in the morning.  For, you see, “holding a bake sale” is actually a common rhetorical term that suggests something is being underfunded, usually at the cost of something else.  Americans use this term all the time!  In this case, Kerry was suggesting that troops hadn’t been adequately supplied with body armor, and he was suggesting this because it is true.  Now, I’m sorry that Ms. Johnson filed such a colossally stupid article with National Review, but that’s what NR interns are there for-- to learn the trade.  (Remember the student in Florida who had to stand in her classroom?  Remember how dogged right-wing research showed that she was actually kneeling in the aisles, and not standing at all, thus proving that Gore was a liar-- even though he was completely right about school funding?  Now you’ve got the idea.)

    Oh, and I almost forgot.  Thanks for Abu Ghraib, John Ashcroft, mercury-flavored water and the $450 billion deficit.  You guys rock!

    Posted by  on  07/30  at  07:25 PM
  15. Wow, that’s exactly the same reactions here. By the time we got to the west wing line, I turned to my wife and said, “He’s got about three more minutes of my time, and then I’m gone”. We were both rolling our eyes. Yes, yes, John, you’re a human being, you had a mother and father; I had not assumed you were born of the Holy Spirit.

    And then he turned the corner and all was good. Now I’m sure his handlers need to keep reminding him of how to react if some reporter at a debate asks him what he’d do if someone raped his wife and all that, but he’d be a lot better off if he avoided talking about Cub Scouts and shit from now on. 

    Posted by Timothy Burke  on  07/30  at  07:30 PM
  16. How can a Canadian not understand curling?  The appropriate line would be Kerry got two in that end.  So maybe it’s for the best we don’t mention it.

    Oh yeah, could we say Kerry hit a century?  Or, that he took the checkered flag?

    At any rate, it was a very good speech in our house.  We’re pumped.

    Posted by Brey  on  07/31  at  05:57 AM
  17. Michael,

    Thanks for another great post, capturing my feelings exactly.

    I wonder why you are even bothering to respond to Danial though. If he gets his info from NRO, enough said.

    As for Matt Y, in my mind he has truly been sipping the koolaid. I am having a simliar feeling about Kevin Drumm. What’s going on with these usually very readable and intelligent men?

    Posted by  on  07/31  at  06:56 AM
  18. Well, Scott, it’s the New Civility.  We’re taking the high road on this blog.  As for Matt and Kevin, smart guys both, I think they’ve managed to convince themselves that the acceptance speech should have been addressed to them.

    Posted by  on  07/31  at  07:37 AM
  19. Though neither a Republican nor a conservative, I was very disappointed by the “bake sale” line in Kerry’s mostly-fine speech. 

    I don’t see how a neutral observer could hear that line as purely rhetorical, considering the bluntly factual content of the surrounding lines (tax cuts for Enron paid for by cuts in childrens’ services, cuts in veterans’ health care, cuts slanted towards the rich) and the fact that other people have been reporting the “bake sales for Kevlar” legend as fact.  If Kerry wanted to use it purely as a rhetorical device, he could have put it in the subjunctive, he could have phrased it in the general way he had in earlier speeches, or at the very least he could have not put it in the middle of a list of facts.

    Much as I wish I could find a nicer explanation, it looks to me like Kerry repeated as a fact what he should have known was false.  Where I come from, they call that lying. Lying about your opponent’s failings in your acceptance speech is pretty low. 

    I’m not saying this makes Kerry’s speech, or Kerry himself, terrible. But it was a big point against him. 

    Posted by  on  08/01  at  12:49 PM
  20. Actually, trilobite, by this standard, the line about “kicking kids out of after school programs and taking cops off our streets, so that Enron can get another tax break” isn’t true either-- for how do we know that those specific programs were affected by those specific tax cuts?  Maybe it’s really the case that tax cuts for Bill Clinton and Ben Affleck were made possible precisely by a little-noticed provision in the 2003 farm bill.  Didja ever think of that?  Another Kerry lie right there, another big point against him!

    And as long as we’re being absurdly literalist, let’s zero in on the actual words: Kerry said “you don’t value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service.” He didn’t say anything about a bake sale this time around, but what the hell-- perhaps there’s an enterprising soul out there who would like to point out that the Bush administration has never “forced” any American family to do any such thing?  Certainly we cannot stand idly by while Kerry tells us that Bush has forcibly compelled families to raise funds for their children’s body armor.  And when Kerry used the phrase “take up a collection,” does anyone think that maybe Kerry was suggesting that this body armor was bought with local church funds from the collection plate?  My goodness, now that you think of it, there are so many ways to prove that Kerry was lying-- let’s get creative, people!

    Posted by  on  08/02  at  05:38 PM
  21. Posted by  on  08/03  at  07:33 AM
  22. Posted by  on  08/03  at  07:34 AM
  23. Of course, the left would never encourage a robust offensive reaction to evil, just let it fester and keep blaming America.

    I’ll take this as a rhetorical gesture, Daniel-- completely without condescension, too-- since I laid out my support of war in Afghanistan and my opposition to war in Iraq only a few days ago, on July 27, on this here very site.  (And my position is based on one premise:  opposition to al-Qaeda.  Don’t forget, we on the left were opposed to the Taliban back before it was cool.  And we don’t appreciate Bush doing such a bang-up recruiting job for bin Laden.)

    And as for “is”:  please don’t pretend there isn’t a long history in the West, beginning with the pre-Socratics, of debating the meaning of “is.” I know this is a common right-wing sound bite now, akin to “Gore invented the Internet,” but Clinton, for all his manifest foolishnesses and personal failings, was right to challenge that grand juror’s insistence that “sex is sex.” Was his reply Jesuitical?  Yep, it sure was.  But them’s the Jesuits for you-- a bunch of latte-sipping Georgetown professors sitting around debating the meaning of “is.”

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  10:09 AM





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