. . . Thursday July 29, 2004

Speechless

For days if not weeks we’ve been questioning John Kerry’s charisma, television charm and speech-giving prowess. The moment of truth came tonight in the Fleet Center after a week of endless build-up.

And the result?

It just didn’t matter. The speech was well written and he pulled it off. But that’s not what this was about.

Kerry tried to rescue the meaning of patriotism:

“We are here to affirm that when Americans stand up and speak their minds and say America can do better, that is not a challenge to patriotism; it is the heart and soul of patriotism.”

But that’s not what this was about.

John Kerry tried to put religion back where it belongs. In our homes and hearts and not as the core of our policy.

“I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don’t wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don’t want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God’s side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.”

But that’s not what this was about.

John Kerry hit upon one of my favorite points. Even when I first got into politics, I never understood the endless attacks on so-called pessimism. The idea has been that if you talk about what’s wrong with the country or your community, then you’re being pessimistic and un-American. The way I look at it, government is there to help fix what’s wrong. I don’t need my President to tell me what’s right. If it’s morning in America, I can open my curtains and see it for myself. I want government to bring the umbrella when it rains.

“We’re told that outsourcing jobs is good for America. We’re told that new jobs that pay $9,000 less than the jobs that have been lost is the best we can do. They say this is the best economy we’ve ever had. And they say that anyone who thinks otherwise is a pessimist. Well, here is our answer: There is nothing more pessimistic than saying America can’t do better.”

But even that’s not what this night was about.

The irony of the biggest speech in John Kerry’s life was that by the time he took the stage, words didn’t matter. Kerry, along with his swift boat comrades (wouldn’t it be nice if all vets could have this kind of week?) and the video biography pieces (the best political messaging I’ve ever seen), reframed the issue.

This was a night about deeds and behaviors. As Kerry said in a not too subtle swipe at Bush, “Strength is more than tough words.”

Up until now this election has been about George W Bush. And up until now, this week has been about whether or not Kerry could speak the lines.

By the time Kerry “reported for duty,” he had already successfully (and I’d say surprisingly) reframed both the former and the latter.

As I wrote above, for days if not weeks we’ve been questioning John Kerry’s charisma, television charm and speech-giving prowess. Tonight, John Kerry and his team set us straight by reminding us that we had the question wrong.


Concentration is important!