Politics & Policy

Convention Rapid Response Team

Boston, Day Two.

Dan Casey

Where to begin, where to begin.

His voice breaking repeatedly (no doubt stress-induced from feigning ardency for the imperative of having a “unitah” as president) that old uniter Ted Kennedy gave a decent imitation of himself giving a rousing convention speech.

At times hard-hitting, sure, but nowhere near his Bork-baiting of younger days. Still not a lot of red meat–more like a liberal sausage stuffed with the entrails of liberal programs of yore–spiced with some finely ground Bush. (There is a metaphor run amuck.)

CNN cut away to someone who looked suspiciously like Rob Reiner asleep in the presidential box. Apparently not enough meat for Meathead.

Howard Dean passes into history having left no trace at this convention. Someone told me he gave a speech tonight.

Mr. Obama seems like a very smart, nice young man. Very good speech. Even more than Clinton’s, his speech reached well beyond the base. Plenty of conservative rhetoric (ala Bill Cosby) with a well performed paean to traditional liberal touchstones. It was an uplifting speech but not at all a selling job of Kerry. We will be hearing more from Mr. Obama.

About 30 seconds into Ron Reagan’s one-note speech, I realized there was something vaguely familiar about it. Another 30 seconds, and it came to me: He sounded just like the Jurassic Park cartoon figure who describes how they managed to make dinosaurs from mosquitoes trapped in amber. I really couldn’t concentrate on the speech after that.

But I’m sure that the next time America sees little Ron, he will have found a career he might actually succeed at–doing late-night drug infomercials.

Speaking of drugs, they must have slipped some to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Her low-keyed speech played against her budding typecasting, and to her strength, which is that of a smart polyglot. She sounded wounded, almost on the verge of tears, for most of the speech. She came across as sympathetic, but the jury is still out on whether she is an asset or ticking time bomb. My money is on time bomb.

Dan Casey is a public-affairs consultant and Republican strategist.

Barbara Comstock

Sally Field as First Lady? “I Love You, Too” gushed Teresa Heinz Kerry to the convention audience tonight. (“You like me. You really like me…”) This was Teresa’s hey-I’ve-got-the-mega-millions-and-I-can-demand-a-prime-time-speech night. Miss the part about John Kerry’s “strengths”? Well, tonight was all about Teresa. The speech had to have been personally written by Teresa. No self-respecting speechwriter (even a Democrat one) would be caught near this self-indulgent vanity play.

“It is time for the world to hear women’s voices–in full and at last,” Teresa pontificated. What country has she been living in? Perhaps this is more a personal issue than political. “Hey, John, are you listening?” we can imagine her saying–”I have something fascinating to observe about the environment.” “We can, and we will, create good, competitive, and sustainable jobs while still protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the health of our children, because good environmental policy is good economics.” (You don’t have to imagine that, she really said it tonight). And Teresa can say really brilliant stuff like this in five languages

“Isn’t it time we began working to give parents more opportunity to be with their children and to afford to have a family life?” she asked. Gee, never thought about that. Maybe Kerry’s higher taxes could allow me to spend more quality time with my kids?

Anyone having to “listen” to this drivel wouldn’t want to “hear” this woman’s voice; but that’s not a gender issue. “Opinionated” is just a more polite way of saying “inane” in the case of Teresa. Teresa proved tonight that she could be as mind-numbingly self-absorbed, elitist, and dull as her husband. So we get two odd ducks for the price of one multimillionaire.

There’s nothing Teresa said tonight that couldn’t be lifted from a lefty pamphlet at an Earth Summit or Save the Rain Forest rally. The truth is Teresa Heinz Kerry has been getting a free ride because there’s no reason to take on a prima donna, control freak, flaky spouse. (Remember the scene where she was pulling the thumb out of the mouth of cute little Jack Edwards?) But it was certainly fascinating tonight that Teresa Heinz Kerry had more positive words to say about alternative fuels than she did her husband. Really gave us a “window” into the Kerry’s.

Barbara Comstock is a former Department of Justice spokeswoman and currently a principal with Blank Rome Government Relations.

John McLaughlin

Last night I took a more strategic and thematic view of the convention, trying to deduce the Kerry strategy to win. That’s even clearer after Tuesday’s slate. Blur ideology and issues and define the contrast on the character traits of strength and wisdom.

More on that later.

Tonight it’s time to take a more realistic look at the “not ready for primetime Democrats.” The reality is that relatively few voters watched. The networks have quite correctly declared that they don’t want to participate as the unpaid studio audience of a taxpayer, special-interest-funded infomercial.

In 2000 a record 105 million Americans voted. If this race remains close there will be more. However, the early ratings from Monday night showed only 10 million watched the DNC on the nets and only another 7 million on cable. NBC, CBS, and ABC’s convention coverage got blown away by the primetime lineup of the WB.

Tuesday it could be less than that, and I can’t argue with people who would rather watch sitcom repeats. Look at what the nets passed up in primetime: Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean (who almost got me excited when he started listing states…Utah, Idaho, Texas, but then left out his Iowa shout), Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan’s son, and Teresa Heinz Kerry. But they’re not half as bad as the relentless talking heads who tell us what to think.

Where’s the excitement? Where’s the real debate? Where’s the real media scrutiny?

There is none. With the exception, perhaps, of Fox, what reporters have bothered to challenge the assertions of the DNC prime time lineup? After Teresa Heinz Kerry’s speech CNN commentators used the words “likeable,” “georgeous,” “warm,” and “earthy,” “spectacular,” “sexiest spouse,” “opinionated,” “handled it perfectly.” No wonder people are voting with their clickers! And they are voting the Kerry campaign off their TV sets. I’ll bet the highest rated cable program was O’Reilly only because he chose to debate Michael Moore. Is this what the Kerry campaign wants?

Maybe so–because they know that Katie Couric and Ben Affleck will be on in the morning telling them what they missed. However, by falling into their contrived and constricted convention-a very boring one–they are losing their audience.

One has to wonder if the standard for softball and boring coverage will remain the same for the Republicans in New York? I doubt it. But ironically, when the media gets tougher and more controversial, the audience will increase.

That will be the real test of character, leadership, and strength between Bush and Kerry and their respective parties.

John McLaughlin is a Republican strategist and pollster, a partner at McLaughlin and Associates.

Peter Robinson

Women’s rights, the Peace Corps, and environmentalism: In substance, Teresa Heinz was all left of center and no center. On style? Her hauteur was inescapable. She speaks five languages and wants everyone to know it. And when she spoke of the need to make America a “moral nation,” she displayed just the sort of self-righteousness of which the Democrats accuse George W. Bush. She made no effort–none–to establish any rapport with ordinary American women. Not a word about the dignity of working at home, of caring for families, or of motherhood.

What we have in Teresa Heinz Kerry, I believe, is a more elegant version of the early–which is the say the ardently liberal–Hillary Clinton. And like Hillary, I believe, Teresa will prove polarizing. Will that help her husband win the election? I don’t see it.

Peter Robinson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and host of Uncommon Knowledge, is author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life.

Larry Sabato

This is the night no one saw, when the convention crashed in the forest with no major network TV camera to broadcast it. With apologies to the 24-hour news channels and our beloved C-SPAN, no one but the hard-core junkies watched much of anything political Tuesday evening. Few saw Ted Kennedy stumble through his speech, or Howard Dean give a strangely emotionless and anticlimactic version of his ‘take back America’ stump scream, or Senator-designate Barack Obama deliver the most ballyhooed keynote speech in the entire television age. (Cliches aside, Obama proved himself a superb rhetorician.) Ron Reagan, who all but endorsed the Democratic ticket, also found a new home in the party of his native liberalism, alongside the Hollywood pals he made not at Dad’s side but on the stage of Saturday Night Live, running around in his underwear, back in the 1980s. (What a courteous way for young Reagan to repay the sweet eulogies delivered by the Presidents Bush at his father’s funeral just weeks ago.)

The speech by Teresa Heinz Kerry may be the most remarked upon of the night. Heinz Kerry is a highly intelligent woman, but I suspect she will be an acquired taste for most Americans. She gave an odd address, strangely structured and delivered. The camera cutaways to Hillary Clinton may have been appropriate, because it surely did sound like “two for the price of one” all over again. Can there be any doubt that Heinz Kerry will be an extraordinarily powerful and strong-willed first lady? If Americans voted on the basis of First Ladies, George W. Bush would have gained quite a few points tonight—but they don’t, and he didn’t. Still, the Kerry campaign may be lucky that this feminist state-of-the-world speech was delivered without major network coverage.

To avoid coming across a media outrage like Larry King’s Monday night quizzing of that magnificent political analyst Ben Affleck on CNN, I often found myself drifting to C-SPAN2, to re-live some of the truly great convention speeches of the 20th century. Substance once mattered much more, and the glitz and the high-tech and the interior-decorator designs mattered much less. 2004 keeps reminding me in some ways of 1968, when another war dominated the political landscape. And suddenly on the C-SPAN screen were Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, delivering acceptance speeches that were easily the equal, or the superior, of any I have heard so far at this convention. I was fascinated, and I stayed with C-SPAN until my eyelids got heavy.

Larry Sabato is professor of politics and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. He is editor of the just released GET IN THE BOOTH! A Citizen’s Guide to the 2004 Election.


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