Thursday, July 29, 2004

Kerry's Speech

I only caught the last 15 minutes on the radio, but have read the Drudge Report version of the transcript. My first impression: it sounds like it was written by Andrew Sullivan. With a few exceptions, it was optimistic, patriotic, faith-friendly and pro-military. I am as skeptical as anyone that Kerry can keep this tone for the rest of the campaign, much less impose it on the Democratic party throughout a possible presidency. And no one really believes Convention speeches anyway. But there is no doubt that Kerry said the right things, and I think that is worthy of note.

But even if we don't believe them, it is profoundly encouraging that the Democrats have taken a rhetorical turn to the right. That indicates that they have recognized the overwhelmingly conservative character of the American people. I would love to believe, as Mr. Sullivan seems to, that the Democratic party has finally shaken off the influence of its left wing and has re-emerged as the populist party it was in the first half of the 20th Century. I don't actually believe that. But it would be nice to live in an America where the political differences were truly matters of policy, of how to achieve our shared ends, not over the ends themselves. The fact that the Dems have adopted our rhetoric gives me hope that such a scenario is possible, even if not immanent.

But I mentioned there were exceptions to the positive message, and I think those are worth emphasizing. I do not have time to do a thorough fisking of Kerry's speech (and it will probably be done better by others anyway) but the following points stand out as problematic:

As President, I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system - so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics. And as President, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: the United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to.

If Kerry wants to reassure people that he will not go soft on the War on Terror, this seems like a culpable misunderstanding. The suggestion, of course, is that Bush didn't need to take us to war against Iraq because we were not in immanent danger of attack. But Kerry himself made the connection between Saddam and terrorism and even disagreed with McCain whether the issue of an actual attack on the US was the primary danger. Suggesting that we went to war because we "wanted to" is simply slanderous.

But it gets worse:

And on my first day in office, I will send a message to every man and woman in our armed forces: You will never be asked to fight a war without a plan to win the peace.
I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as President. Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response. I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger American military.

I'm glad to hear the line about building a stronger military. But, given his record in the Senate, we only have his word to go on that he has finally seen the light and won't veto legislation for reasons of nuance and complexity. I, for one, am skeptical.

But the real problem here is the wait and see attitude. If we only respond to attacks we are handing the initiative over to the terrorists. That is the fundamental issue in the Bush doctrine. It may be that Bush deserves some criticism for his handling of the intelligence community, but he at least understood that it is better to risk a misstep than to wait for the enemy to show his hand. Kerry doesn't get this crucial point yet and that is frightening.

On the domestic front:
For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans. Values are not just words. They're what we live by. They're about the causes we champion and the people we fight for. 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.

We believe in the family value of caring for our children and protecting the neighborhoods where they walk and play.

Neither of these issues, education and police, are rightly federal responsibilities. If such problems exist, they were not caused by Bush policies, and they will not be solved by a Kerry administration. And don't forget about the gratuitous Enron reference. The fact is the Bush administration prosecuted Enron where the Clinton administration did not. This is just typical demagoguery and it is hard to see how this fits with the message of unity that Kerry thinks he is promoting.

We believe in the family value expressed in one of the oldest Commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother." As President, I will not privatize Social Security. I will not cut benefits. And together, we will make sure that senior citizens never have to cut their pills in half because they can't afford life-saving medicine.

Well, you really can't expect better from a Democrat, so I will pass over the point that not privatizing Social Security is the surest way force cuts in benefits. But my real concern here is with the false biblicism of this canard. We do not honor our fathers and mothers by foisting their care off on the federal government. The Commandment speaks to a personal responsibility, not an excuse to redistribute wealth.

Since we are quoting the Bible, how about this one Senator: "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly"? (Lev 19:15)
And let me tell you what we won't do: we won't raise taxes on the middle class. You've heard a lot of false charges about this in recent months. So let me say straight out what I will do as President: I will cut middle class taxes. I will reduce the tax burden on small business. And I will roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals who make over $200,000 a year, so we can invest in job creation, health care and education.

I guess that answers my question.

But let me end this on a positive note. I came in on the radio broadcast at about this point:
I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush: In the weeks ahead, let's be optimists, not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity; let's respect one another; and let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States.

My friends, the high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And that's why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks. This is our time to reject the kind of politics calculated to divide race from race, group from group, region from region. Maybe some just see us divided into red states and blue states, but I see us as one America - red, white, and blue. And when I am President, the government I lead will enlist people of talent, Republicans as well as Democrats, to find the common ground - so that no one who has something to contribute will be left on the sidelines.

And let me say it plainly: in that cause, and in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them. 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.

I think this is a fair challenge. I have already suggested that I doubt Kerry's sincerity on these points or at least his ability to deliver. But the Republican party has a history of optimism and we are very well placed to meet Kerry's ante and raise him. I have long advocated exactly this approach to the political and social arena. We can beat them on the merits of our own arguments, without resorting to personal attacks, however clever.

UPDATE: And it already doesn't look like the left wing is buying Kerry's move to the right:
After three days of calm, protests turned ugly at the Democratic National Convention as demonstrators burned a two-faced effigy depicting President Bush on one side and Sen. John Kerry on the other.

UPDATE: It also looks like Pastorius' prediction was accurate as well:
Maybe Kerry wouldn't have the conviction and charisma to pull off such a statement. Don't count on it. I have a feeling he's going to surprise a lot of people tonight.

UPDATE: But it looks like I failed to predict Sullivan's assessment of this speech. Oh well, I guess that's why I keep reading him. He has exactly the same concern I mention about Kerry's wait-until-we're-attacked military policy. But overall he is less impressed than I was:
There will be time to judge his proposals against Bush's and to observe the progress of the war in the next few months. At some point both he and Bush will surely be asked what they will do about Iran. Their responses will be revealing (and probably indistinguishable). Until then, I think this convention has been a huge success, tempered by a bad candidate. They have found the right stance in general, but they may not have found the right general for the stance. Bush, in other words, may remain the luckiest man alive.

Coming from a man who obviously wants Kerry to be a viable candidate, that's gotta hurt.

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