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Jul 30, 2004 3:17 pm

DNC Reflections

Now that the convention is over, I haven't really changed my mind on these gatherings having outlived their usefulness--but they are, nonetheless, fun to watch.

Best Speeches:

1.) Barack Obama--Much like Mario Cuomo's address at the 1984 SF Convention, 10 years from now Obama's talk will be the only thing most people recall about this convention.

2.) Bill Clinton--A reminder of why the Dems would be better off with him as their nominee.

3.) Hillary Clinton--One of the best speeches I've heard her give, and she made a point--that the 9/11 Commission never would have occurred without the efforts of the 9/11 families overcoming the opposition of the administration--that deserves much more emphasis.

Worst Speeches (no order):

1.) Al Sharpton--Lest we forget about how vile a figure he actually is, there's nothing like a speech 18 minutes over the allotted time filled with glowing tributes to how"Reverend Al" can be a model for young black youth.

2.) Teresa Heinz Kerry-- Andrew Sullivan said it best.

3.) Joe Lieberman--I don't like Lieberman much, period. But as a diplomatic historian, to hear a senator glibly assert that there's some sort of"Democratic" war tradition that links the foreign policies of Wilson, FDR, Truman, JFK, Carter(!), and Clinton is absurd. And if there is such a tradition, surely LBJ would also have to be part of it?

Worst/Best Strategic Move: Making Obama the keynote speaker was the best move; not giving the featured slot in his evening's address was the worst.

Historical Analogies:

1.) 1964--This is the campaign, obviously, that I know the best, and LBJ's acceptance speech was the worst address he gave in the entire campaign, because it was an address by committee. Kerry's acceptance speech struck me as similar--too long, parts of it obviously written by different people.

2.) 1960--The last time that the Dems ran to the right of the GOP on foreign policy issues. I don't think they made the case as well as they should, but a powerful argument exists that Bush has totally botched the war on terror. To make the case effectively, however, would have required more specific criticisms, countering the disinclination to make"negative" attacks. I agree with Jonathan Chait that this was a failure of the convention.

Bow to Political Cynicism: Commentators always complain about how people are too cynical about politics, but it's hard not to understand why after this convention. This is a party, after all, that enthusiastically, twice, nominated a draft-dodger, and that now just completed a convention that, unless you were really paying attention, communicated a message that a veteran is ipso facto more qualified to serve than a non-veteran. Yet you can bet that the same people making that argument this week will dismiss it as irrelevant should Kerry lose and the Dems nominate Clinton or Edwards in 2008. Obviously, given Bush's hypocrisy, the temptation to raise this issue must be overwhelming, but it could have been done in a less heavy-handed way.

Item to watch: The debates. I was teaching at Williams in 1996, and so watched the Kerry-Weld debates. Weld was a sensational debater, and Kerry nonetheless destroyed him. The three debates, rather than the acceptance speech, are a better forum for Kerry's political skills.

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Richard Henry Morgan - 8/9/2004

Couldn't agree with you more. I can't for the life of me imagine Ike approving a plan without detailed knowledge of the assault area (he wouldn't take a claim at face value that, what turned out to be coral reefs, was seaweed), and wouldn't approve a loading plan that put all the commo equipment on one boat. The plan, as it was, was a bad joke from the point of view of the military arts.

mark safranski - 8/8/2004

"....and which Ike claimed he never would have approved."

Well....I think Ike was finagling here. It might be more accurate to say " would never have approved the version of the plan that Kennedy did". It's useful to recall that Ike sat awake at night pondering the probability range of casualties for D-Day and still said " go ". He also was quite ruthless about humiliating Anthony Eden, an old ally, over the Suez. I doubt he'd have lost sleep over an invasion of Cuba.

Richard Henry Morgan - 8/4/2004

I tend to agree that Kerry is not running to the right of Bush on foreign policy issues. The Cuba experience with JFK, however, was a case of too smart by half.

Before the debates, Dulles briefed JFK on plans in the works for dealing with Cuba. JFK was left in the position of being a spectator. If Ike moved before the election, then it could prove favorable to the Republicans. Therefore JFK went on the attack in the debates, saying that the present administration had proven reluctant to deal with Cuba in any meaningful way. Thus, if Ike moved, it would look like it was at JFK's urging. If Ike didn't act, it was more evidence for JFK's claims of inaction. Nixon was stuck with silence, as he couldn't discuss plans being formulated.

JFK thus entered office having taken an aggresive position on Cuba, and had at his disposal only a half-formed off-the-shelf plan, which Ike had never greenlighted -- and which Ike claimed he never would have approved.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/3/2004

I haven't been following the debate schedule, which probably means that the Dem/Rep parties have agreed to shut out Nader and all others and there's no discussion on format to speak of.

Are there three presidential debates scheduled, or is it two presidential sandwiching one vice-presidential? September's going to be busy if they all have to come after the Republican convention (which makes sense, as Bush is only the presumptive nominee until then).

mark safranski - 8/3/2004

KC Johnson wrote:
"1960--The last time that the Dems ran to the right of the GOP on foreign policy issues."

The difference here is that in 1960 Kennedy really was taking foreign policy positions to the interventionist right of Richard Nixon. Kennedy campaigned on " the missile gap" and moving away from the Eisenhower-Dulles " massive retaliation" defense posture that stinted on conventional arms spending. Nor was this merely muscular rhetoric from Ted Sorensen - JFK followed through with activist measures in Cuba and Southeast Asia and measured brinksmanship, at least in public, over Berlin.

Nixon by contrast, was tied to Ike's policies which were geared toward putting out feelers toward Khrushchev,rebuffing our own allies during the Suez crisis, downplaying ( correctly) the actual importance of Sputnik, de-escalating tensions in Laos while building a string of encircling " tripwire " alliances around the Soviet periphery. Kennedy clearly was the activist in foreign affairs in the election of 1960.

Kerry by contrast is putting a great deal of energy into packaging himself as a more reasonable, more competent, more multilateral executor of Bush's policies. Not only is he not " to the right " of George Bush on the war I'm pretty dubious that he would go even half as far as his acceptance speech would have the public believe. I say this as someone who would like there to be more of a " vital center " on the war and I appreciate at least the PR shift the Democrats made in Boston. It's a long way from Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich and that's a good thing.

Aside from the impression that Kerry appears to have no will to pursue victory as opposed to managing the terrorist problem from a reactive/defensive position, there's little in his record to indicate otherwise. As a politician he's extremely risk-averse in staking out policy positions and I don't see that changing if Kerry becomes president. Instead, I see him selecting the politically safest options from a least common denominator menu prepared by State, DoD and the NSC.

Competence is not a decisive factor in possible outcomes if you essentially choose to stand still.

Robert KC Johnson - 7/30/2004

That's true--and also the convention presents an opportunity for fundraising for those congressional candidates who choose to use it--longshot House nominees such as Brozak (NJ and Socas (VA), for instance.

Brian Ulrich - 7/30/2004

I think the main point of a modern political convention is similar to that of an academic conference. Floor action can be bland, but the meat is in the networking and all-in-one-place presentation of ideas floating around.

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