Politics & Policy

Convention Rapid Response Team

Boston, Day Four.

Dan Casey

The face of the Kerry campaign received a large injection of rhetorical botox tonight as the extreme makeover finished up.

The six-hundred-million-dollar man (pre-nup notwithstanding) now contains a straighten spine of Cheneyum, replacing a spine of Kofianium formerly bent in supplication to the United Nations. (“We can rebuild him….”)

Okay, I can’t go on like this.

Kerry will get his bounce.

The Speech accomplished the basics and more. His war service, heroism, the flag, and call for a larger military positions him (to the average undecided voter tuning in) as a strong patriot and a strong leader. Commander-in-chief material. That’s gotta be worth a few points.

It will take a sustained attack on Kerry’s liberal 20-year defense voting record to bring his public image more in line with reality.

By my calculations, his 5,221-word speech (thank you, Mr. Drudge) contained exactly 71 words about his 20-year Senate career. That is the dog that didn’t bark tonight.

RNC chief Ed Gillespie has that 20-year record memorized and that dog barks and bites.

Kerry also used The Speech to try and steal away from Republicans the “values” issue just as Republican-strategist extraordinaire Jeff Bell had predicted.

The domestic-policy “initiatives” (if they can be called that) were mostly the usual Democrat bread and butter stuff. Nothing too interesting there. I guess we must wait for the unveiling of his “middle-class tax cut.” Shades of 1992!

Although the average voter had no idea what he was referring to, Kerry’s “let’s never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States” was directed to gay-marriage supporters. He was signaling how he intends to oppose the very popular Federal Marriage Amendment, while also opposing same sex marriage. A classic Kerry straddle on an issue not mentioned once during prime time at the convention but a potential sleeper issue of the campaign.

On to New York.

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

Barbara Comstock

Again, tonight, I might be missing something, but I just don’t see the homeruns coming out of this convention. However, there are some things that did strike me about this odd man.

John Kerry once administered CPR to a hamster. This was one of the poignant vignettes we learned tonight from one of his daughters. Is there some gerbil-loving swing demographic out there we are trying to connect with? His daughter told this story as if we could all relate to this “human” moment of mouth-to-mouth contact with a rodent. I think I can speak for most parents, that while we might lay down our lives for our children; we see no need to swap spit with vermin.

John Kerry did not tell us the answer to what type of tree he would like to be, but we were given the “moving” revelation that his mother taught him to see “trees as the cathedrals of nature.” And since Mom gave birth to him in the “west wing” of the hospital, he apparently has been destined ever since for the Oval Office.

John Kerry’s such a great son that he made sure to tell Mom on her deathbed that he was going to run for president. She reportedly said, “It’s about time.” (The deathbed scene was brought to us by one of the daughters who must have been spending too much time with the Gore family.)

John Kerry may have been able to breath life into a hamster; and he may have been able to breath some hope (or is it help?) into the gerbil-loving delegates; but he’s still a strange, Herman Munster-like figure to me.

Most of Kerry’s night was the flip-flop, boilerplate “complex” Kerry droning we’ve come to know. I’m still confused on how many Americas these guys think we have and what the colors are for the one or two Americas and whether they are going to hope for them or help them. But as far as Herman’s opening line–”I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty”–shouldn’t some of that duty involve some accomplishment in his 20 years in the Senate? Isn’t that what is relevant to leading this nation in perilous times? (Even Kerry cheerleader, Al Hunt, said in his column today: “For the past 20 years John Kerry has been only an average senator.”)

Kerry’s relevant record on defense and intelligence is devoid of accomplishment and includes voting against every major weapon system we use today. And as for reporting for duty on intelligence issues–during Kerry’s eight years of duty on the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, there were 49 open, public hearings. How many did Kerry attend? Eleven (just 22.4 percent). One of those that he missed was that of June 8, 2000, when there was a hearing on the report of the National Commission on Terrorism. Seems that hamster got more focused attention from John Kerry than the nation’s intelligence.

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

John McLaughlin

It’s amazing that the establishment-media-driven lobotomy of America is on track. Kerry’s “positive” convention ripped the Republicans, with Kerry not only attacking Bush but his Cabinet as well.

I don’t know how much I can take. I’m a Republican and this week the “positive” Democrat campaign has portrayed Republicans as segregationists, thank you Al Sharpton.

John Edwards portrayed us as special interests. Thanks Mr. Trial Lawyer.

Etc. Etc.

It’s good that after all these years John Kerry is ready to serve. But why isn’t any of the mainstream media holding the Kerry Democrats accountable for their records of raising taxes and cutting defense? The real failure is not the media, but the failure of the Bush-Cheney campaign to properly frame the campaign agenda on the issues.

Tonight I watched the Kerry speech with friends who are classic swing voters. Conservative and moderate Catholics on the Jersey shore.

They are not all with Bush. The economy is growing. Iraq is stabilizing. But they don’t personally like George Bush and they are taking Kerry on face value, believing he will strengthen the military and cut taxes. They have no idea about his record. What’s worse is that if I hadn’t brought up Kerry’s speech to the convention they wouldn’t have watched at all–but they all vote.

Most Americans didn’t watch this speech. But the establishment media is gushing and allowing Kerry to frame the issues and rewrite his record and the facts to win the middle.

Ellen C, a schoolteacher and Mom who voted for Reagan and Bush said she’s still voting for Bush, but her niece Kristen won’t vote for Bush. Personally for her things are good. But she doesn’t have confidence in Bush for the next four years. She’s even worried about her husband just working in Manhattan during the Republican convention.

Imagine Bush has kept America safe from attack from fanatical terrorists for three years and it’s not to his credit?

It’s time the Republican party get into this campaign and regain the issues of security and prosperity.

Kerry is the creation of the failure of the president’s reelection campaign to frame this agenda and the stakes for the next four years. It’s time that campaign step up to the issues and win the debate.

The stakes for the Republican convention in New York are high politically, but they have never been higher for the security and future of the United States.

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

Peter Robinson

That was the best speech I have ever seen John Forbes Kerry deliver–and even at that it wasn’t much good. A memorable line? Just one? Not that I heard. Somehow or other the man acts as a negative life force: Whereas listening to John Edwards makes one feel more energetic, listening to John Kerry makes one feel…depleted.

Even at that, the speech was acceptable–and there’s quite a lot to the good in Kerry’s candidacy. He seems fundamentally honest. We can trust him, I think, to do his best to lay out the basics of his agenda, the standard Democratic stuff of more government here and higher taxes there, and not to engage in the sort of slipperiness or “triangulation” that made it so difficult for voters to know where Bill Clinton actually stood. And Kerry appears to have little impulse to traffic in the kind of vulgar class warfare that marked Al Gore’s acceptance speech four years ago. What we have in John Forbes Kerry, in other words, is a candidate who will stress our fundamental unity as Americans while offering voters a sharply defined choice. The Democrats could have done worse.

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

On Monday, at my Crystal Ball site, I made a rare, flat prediction: “The chances of John Kerry’s succeeding in his Thursday night convention speech are 99.9%.” Finally, a prediction has come true!

It’s not that Kerry gave a speech that will live in history. Quite the contrary, since there were few memorable lines other than borrowed, obvious ones such as, “help is on the way.” Nor was the speech terribly revealing about Kerry personally, as had been promised. Nor was Kerry very precise in his proposals for change. (What exactly is different about Kerry’s Iraq policy from the incumbent’s? I’ll be damned if I can figure it out.)

Rather, Kerry won the acceptance-address game because it was preordained. Hundreds of people spent months preparing a physical set designed to suit the nominee perfectly. Wordsmiths by the dozen were consulted for their best lines, jokes, and arguments. (Apparently, judging by the length of the talk, they were all used, so there are no hurt feelings.) Personal attendants got the suit, the tie, the hair, and the make-up just right. Thousands of true-believing Democrats filled the Fleet Center, ready to cheer John Kerry’s every utterance, even if he had chosen to read the Boston telephone directory. Lastly, the anchors and reporters knew their roles well. The last night belongs to the nominee, and on “his night”, the praise from their corner should be heavy on “amens” and short on any real criticism. (We’ll see if the media change the rules for President Bush’s “night.” The temptation will be great to do so, however unfair it would be.)

Kerry’s delivery was far from perfect. He rushed through it so fast that I wondered if he was on speed! Did he think the networks would cut away from his address? Not a chance, even in this era of less (politics) is more. Then there were Kerry’s flailing hands and sweating brow. Neither was presidential. One also got the sense that the delegates were feeling cheated. They wanted to scream their lungs out, but Kerry stepped on virtually every attempt to do so.

None of this mattered. Viewers at home heard all the tired, canned phrases from the dons of TV: “Kerry gave the speech of his life. He hit a homerun and knocked it out of the ballpark….” As usual, and despite the mutterings of false prophets, Kerry’s poll “bounce” will kick in–at least a few points and maybe a half dozen or more. Most of them will fade in the weeks to come, but such is the fate of events that don’t matter anymore. Conventions are in that musty category. So on to the summer Olympics, and some records that will last.

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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