Live Review of Kerry's SpeechJuly 29, 2004
Here is my review of John Kerry's acceptance speech, focusing on the quality of the writing and whether it serves his political purposes, rather than the actual politics of it. You can read the text of the speech online here.
Simply put, I am shocked at how bad this is.
"I'm John Kerry...reporting for service" accompanied by a salute?
Over five minutes on his parents, including details about scouts, trees, and baseball gloves?
A very weak joke about being born in the west wing of a hospital?
And then, when he finally starts to get into substance, he marries himself to the idealistic liberalism of the 60's by praising the years of marches, announcing that they did change the world, and that they're not done yet? The primary causes he has focused on during his introduction to the country are women's rights and the environment.
Here is the first moment when a huge percentage of the country is sitting down at the same time to finally give John Kerry a chance. They've heard bits and pieces over the past few months, including many claims that he is the most liberal member of the senate who just happens to be from the same state as a gentleman named Dukakis. However, American's are a generous group who like to make up their own mind, so they gather in front of their televisions to give this man a chance.
And this is the best 15 minutes they could come up with? If I'm watching this with a relatively open mind, I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, they were actually right about this guy!"
"I promise to restore truth and credibility to the White House. I ask you to judge me by my record. As a young prosecutor, I fought for victim's rights and made crimes against women..."
Sorry, what does this have to do with truth and credibility? Have we already moved past that and are now working through your public service record? I can't remember a once-in-a-lifetime political speech that has been as disorganized and lacked any real flow or purpose. He hasn't even accepted the nomination yet.
Kerry has now moved on to attacking the president (mislead the public into war), the vice-president (secret meetings to rewrite environmental laws), the secretary of defense (ignoring military advice), and the attorney general (failure to uphold the Constitution).
I'm horribly confused at this point. I watched Clinton's address, the keynote address by Barack Obama and John Edward's acceptance speech. All three were far, far better than I expected, especially the last two. There were many reports about how the Kerry campaign had required the convention rhetoric to be toned down and direct attacks against the administration be limited. In fact, both Obama and Edward's were nearly entirely positive and rarely attacked the Bush administration directly. And you know what? It worked! It was refreshing to have the opposition party paint their vision without a constant drumbeat of negativity and attacks.
So, why oh why would you save that for your nominee? Why would you leave it to your nominee to give the party faithful the red meat they were waiting for? So far, Kerry is coming across as an angry, dour, liberal. Could that possibly have been the intention?
After finally accepting the nomination, he has now spent over five minutes on Edward, Teresa, each of his children, his veteran friends, and each person he beat for the nomination. This is the part of the victory speech after a primary when all of the networks cut away from the live feed. Why would you use the first 20 minutes of your introduction to the country to talk about Sharpton and Kucinich?
Kerry is now celebrating his approach to complex issues and accusing the president of being simple-minded. This is certainly an attack I would expect, but in a normal convention you would have your VP take care of that for you. I also find it a bit funny that he attacks the president for fighting a war "on the cheap", when first, few people (including critics) would claim that and, second, Kerry himself voted against additional funding (for what, I am sure, were "complex" reasons).
His speech at this points sounds more like a lecture, as if he is talking down to us. He is not nearly as a good of a speaker as any of the three mentioned above. He steps on his own lines regularly and I'm sure his handlers are chagrined as the sweat grows across his face and shots of him wiping his forehead become more common, even though he's only at the half way point.
After some details of economic and education plans, and a goofy reference to his web site, Kerry uses a fairly common trick, asking that the president join him in an optimistic campaign free from attacks, with the request and nearly all of the speech featuring just those sort of attacks.
In summary, I have high expectation for an acceptance speech and would hope that the words would stand the test of time. For me, there were far too many gimmicks. The speech was inconsistent and flowed almost randomly from personal tales and family references to rhetoric to policy decriptions. I would expect a much better, more coherent speech from President Bush in a month, which seems odd considering common expectations.
Update: The fact that in the post-speech wrap-up, Tom Brokaw claimed there were no attacks on the president, and Tim Russert said it appeared to be a homerun, indicates to me that professional journalists are as succeptible to the sight of 20,000 cheering, flag-waving partisans as you might expect. Every significant political speech, of either party, ends with the network achors calling it a complete success, with soaring rhetoric and an impressive delivery sure to win over a skeptical public. The only criticism I can recall hearing is of the length, which is probably the only thing a network actually cares about. Only later does a speech gather a more nuanced reputation. It would be so helpful to have the relatively objective press offer a more thorough evaluation instead of having to tune into the assorted pundits giving their entirely predictable opinions.