The Democratic Party spent the first three days of this week choreographing and orchestrating its national convention to cast presidential nominee John F. Kerry in the best possible light Thursday night. Would or could the normally reserved, flip-flopping Kerry justify such an extreme flood of promotion?
High-profile personalities such as former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter provided highly effective scene-setting presentations. Clinton remains a spell-binder, as he proved during a speech in Lawrence earlier this year. Carter gave a penetrating and reasoned outlook about what needs to be done.
Barack Obama, a new darling of the party faithful, offered what some considered the outstanding performance of the convention. Sen. John Edwards, the vice presidential choice, exuded charm and warmth with his broad-based comments emphasizing the need for national optimism about the future. Kerry's wife, Teresa, provided a refreshingly conversational evaluation of what needs to be done and how her husband can lead the nation in positive directions. Family members further prepared the way for the presidential nominee. A nine-minute film reflective of Kerry and his background, with emphasis on his Vietnam War record, helped prime the pump.
After nearly four days of political theater at its best, finally it was Kerry's battle to win or lose, not so much in the convention hall but throughout the nation. Kerry needed to sparkle to prove he was more than just a desperation choice against a sitting president whose chances for re-election are currently regarded as no better than 50-50. Was Kerry a convenient pick, from a field of 10 hopefuls, just because President George W. Bush seems to be in some trouble?
Or is Kerry someone who can lead America in a new direction -- and perform as the strong, courageous and decisive president required to deal with a wartime environment, as well as pressing domestic issues?
Early evidence is that whatever the flaws in his acceptance speech, Kerry achieved what his supporters had been hoping to see.
Those who have followed his career contend his 46-minute talk showed more passion than they had seen him exhibit. His "help is on the way" promise was enough to keep the convention crowd in a steady frenzy, staged or not.
Nevertheless, what most people, regardless of political persuasion, wanted to hear or sense from Kerry was how effective he might be as a commander in chief of our armed forces, were he to take over a wartime situation with troops on the line and a vicious battle with al-Qaida terrorism likely to last for years. "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty," he began, to answer such questions. Kerry stressed, "I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president. I will never hesitate to use force when it is required." Kerry's edict for terrorists: "You will lose, and we will win. The future doesn't belong to fear. It belongs to freedom."
It remains to be seen what it will take for America to prevail in that struggle, whether it is led by John Kerry or George Bush. One analyst said a brief mouthful when he noted that basically the election outcome in November will come down to "personal perceptions of Bush, Kerry -- and events." The capture or killing of terror king Osama bin Laden would almost certainly give Bush the victory. More serious setbacks in the Middle East will benefit Kerry. Another analyst, noted for pragmatism, was asked who will determine the election outcome and his response was a chilling "al-Qaida." That may be more grim truth than fiction.
In the aftermath of Thursday's convention events, one commentator turned for views from the inimitable Bob Dole, a knowledgeable Kansan with as great a record of public service as anyone in our history. Ever brief and blunt, Dole said the Democrats would get "about a 10-point bump" in the polls for the next 30 days, then there would be a "leveling off to another horse race like we have had." Dole added the Republicans will then have their convention in about 50 days, will also get a bump in the polls, and then it's back to the "horse race status."
Ultimately, the election may indeed turn on events no one can anticipate. But John Kerry seemed to emerge from the Boston convention as a stronger presidential candidate than he was last Sunday.