Politics & Policy

A Bad Start

What happened to looking ahead?

Judging from the preview reports this Democratic convention was supposed to be forward looking and focused on the positive, on what John Kerry would do for us if elected president. It was going to strike a moderate tone and avoid Bush bashing, which might alienate moderate voters. Well, if Monday night was any indication, it isn’t off to a good start.

If one wants to be forward looking, it’s probably not a good idea to kick off an event with a failed president of the past and a vice president who narrowly lost the election. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico introduced Jimmy Carter by informing the crowd that the one-term president had lowered energy prices. Seemingly that double-digit inflation of the late 1970s was just an illusion. The video about Carter prominently displayed his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. Carter then followed it up by showing what a venal, petty man he is:

I served under two presidents, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, men who represented different political parties. Both of whom had faced their active military responsibilities with honor…. Today, our Democratic party is led by another former naval officer–one who volunteered for military service. He showed up when assigned to duty, and he served with honor and distinction.

One might hope such cheap shots would make the Nobel Committee cringe. But that hope is futile: Carter’s award shows the committee lost all common sense long ago.

Al Gore insisted, “I didn’t come here tonight to talk about the past.” But he made four “humorous” references to his loss in 2000 in the first minute of his speech. Later, he threw the crowd the red meat they wanted: “Let’s make sure that this time every vote is counted.”

In his speech, Bill Clinton also added fuel to the “stolen election” fire:

…Al Gore, my friend and partner for eight years, who played such a large role in building the prosperity and progress that brought America into the 21st century, who showed incredible grace and patriotism under pressure, and who is the living embodiment that every vote counts.

The speakers also brought out all the left-wing complaints about the war to liberate Iraq. According to Carter, “in the world at large we cannot lead if our leaders mislead.” Gore asked, “Wouldn’t we be safer with a president who didn’t insist on confusing al Qaeda with Iraq? Doesn’t that divert too much of our attention away from the principal danger?” And Clinton let it be known that we have upset the French: “Republicans believe in an America run by the right people, their people, in a world in which we act unilaterally when we can, and cooperate when we have to.”

Then there was the typical Democratic politics. Senator Barbara Mikulski spoke for all nine women Democratic senators. Flanked by the likes of Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, Mikulski managed not to say much other than to let us know that it was wonderful that there were nine women Democratic senators. Later, Representative Stephanie Tubbs-Jones claimed, “Twenty-eight years ago, on a night not unlike tonight, history was made when Barbara Jordan, the first African-American woman to represent Texas in the United States Congress, gave the keynote address at our party’s convention.” She also assured us that John Kerry will “enforce trade laws so that there’s a level playing field for our workers to compete on and win. And he will always, always defend the right to organize.” Feminists, minorities, and organized labor: The more Democrats insist things change, the more they stay the same.

Finally, there was the hubris. Jimmy Carter–the man under whose watch the Soviets invaded Afghanistan–counseled us, “Let us not forget that the Soviets lost the Cold War because the American people combined the exercise of power with adherence to basic principles, based on sustained bipartsan support.” According to Clinton, during his eight years in office we had “a modernized defense force, strong efforts against terror, and an America respected as a world leader for peace, security, and prosperity.” One wonders whether that will make the papers; it will certainly make the rounds of conservative websites.

There were a few bright spots. Hillary Clinton managed to give a rather restrained speech. Reverend David Alston, one of Kerry’s shipmates in Vietnam, gave a moving tribute to Kerry’s honorable service. Yet since it was on the first evening of the convention, few people will see it. Alston should have been asked to introduce Kerry on Thursday night for maximum effect.

Anger over the 2000 election and the Iraq war, identity politics, cheap shots at Bush’s National Guard service, and trying to convince America that their weaknesses were really strengths: The Democratic Convention is off on the wrong foot. Traditionally candidates get a bounce in the polls after the convention. At the rate the Democrats are going, this convention may be the exception that proves the rule.

David Hogberg is a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute, an Iowa-based think tank. His blog site is “Cornfield Commentary.”

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