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John Kerry Delivers Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech

July 29, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: David, how do you — how would you — what kind of scores would you critique, would you give John Kerry on that mystical issue that everybody has been talking about, he had to show who he was as a person, issues aside?

DAVID BROOKS: I’d actually start with the two speeches by his daughters, which really set up in a way I’ve never seen him. You know, we’ve been thinking about him for quite a long time.

I thought they both did a superb job of setting him up and in the introduction of his speech he talked about his mother and the Girl Scouts and riding his bike in East Berlin. I said that was sort of new, not entirely new.

But, you know, it introduced him quite well to the American people. So this was a guy who opened up a little more than usual, and I don’t know if it will totally dispel the aloof charge but he did quite a lot better.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I agree totally with David on the daughters, both the Kerry daughters were terrific, and they gave again — what you wanted to get and leave voters with was an insight into John Kerry they didn’t have before this speech, before this evening, before this convention.

I think it’s hard to believe that anybody heard that speech listened tonight doesn’t walk away with a sense of, gee, I never knew that about him. That’s something new. That’s something different.

The second test, Jim, they had to meet was has the right position and values on social issues? Only 36 percent of voters have given him high marks and 32 percent have given him low marks.

I thought he handled the values thing brilliantly in terms of faith and the line obviously, if you — if we believe in family values, then we have to value families, and quite frankly as an amateur theologian myself, limited in talent, I never heard anybody so creatively use that Fourth Commandment.

JIM LEHRER: Excuse me, Mark, I just want to make sure that everybody knows that that little boy on the shoulders there is Jack Edwards, age four, and there, of course, is John Kerry with Barack Obama who gave the keynote address on Tuesday night and electrified this very same crowd and there’s Al Sharpton right there by him.

DAVID BROOKS: How did that happen, I wonder?

JIM LEHRER: There’s Jack Edwards, and he’s on the shoulders of Chris Heinz.

MARK SHIELDS: Trying to catch the balloons.

JIM LEHRER: –the balloons — as Gwen said, there are 100,000 of them. Without balloons they don’t have these political conventions and they are still coming down.

MARK SHIELDS: I wonder where this fits with John Kerry’s commitment to the environment. All these balloons are going to be exploded.

JIM LEHRER: You ought to ask David. There’s Dennis Kucinich talking to — it was interesting that John Kerry in his speech mentioned all of the other people who wanted this job.


JIM LEHRER: By name. Now that’s rather unusual.

DAVID BROOKS: That is unusual and that’s part of the unity thing. One of the things that –

JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. There’s Howard Dean, in fact –

DAVID BROOKS: — and one of the things this needs to do is change the Republican tactics. They can’t say you saw those Democrats, you shouldn’t like them for this reason.

They are going to have to go to a tougher argument which is those Democrats you saw are not the real Democrats and that’s a tougher argument to make.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, David, about Kerry’s very direct appeal to President Bush about let’s not divide this nation, let’s — let’s be nice people sort of thing?

Is that going to go down?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s not going to happen. Let’s face it. That’s because — what Bush — everybody has opinions about Bush, so what Bush’s main tactic is to try to get Americans to have a negative opinion about Kerry so they have a greater incentive to run a negative campaign against Kerry than Kerry does against Bush.

Kerry has the benefit of all the 527s, these independent expenditure organizations which can do all the negativity against the president as they want.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that, Mark, I mean, he’s trying to inoculate, is he not, or trying to warn the American people, look, they are going to attack me, and I’m a good guy and they’re not, and we’re not going to do that sort of negative stuff?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure right now there’s no question about it, Jim, and I think the gauntlet has been thrown down by this convention.

I mean, this convention, whatever one says about it, was not Bush-bashing. I mean, there was criticism of policy — there were a few references to Halliburton and Enron and tax cuts but it was not the Bush-bashing that the Republicans complain about in the Democratic primaries.

If New York turns into Kerry-bashing, then I think they could run the risk of really losing, the Republicans could, of losing their chance of winning those swing voters. Just to complete my thought on the Social Security, the Fourth Commandment, Jim, honor thy father and mother, and John Kerry very imaginatively said that somehow prevents the privatization of Social Security.

I have never heard that. I don’t think the council of Trent could have come up with that.

DAVID BROOKS: I think the Fourth Commandment put 2 percent share in private accounts, but not….

JIM LEHRER: What did you think, David, about the way John Kerry handled the patriotism angle?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, this is the interesting thing and I think, you know, we’ve had really since the early ’70s this advantage Republicans had of talking more comfortably about patriotism.

I frankly don’t think that many people were challenging Democrats saying they were unpatriotic. Nonetheless, Democrats couldn’t speak as comfortably about it.

Now if this rhetoric continues, I think what you saw is a Democratic Party very comfortable talking a nationalistic language, very comfortable talking about it and that sort of evens the playing field in terms of values, in terms of what used to be called the culture war.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s bring our historians into the discussion about the speech specifically. Richard Norton Smith, what did you think of the speech?

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Well, you know, a successful speech inspires confidence because it reflects confidence, and this was a very confident speech.

There’s no doubt about it. It was in many ways a bold attempt to frame the fall campaign.

In many ways it went right at some of the traditional strong points of Republicans and conservatives as our colleagues have said already: Redefining patriotism and family values, wrapping this party in almost a Reaganesque blanket of optimist, we’re the optimists, the can-do people.

At the same time, I’m not sure I agree that this is a text that would be interchangeable with what you hear next month in New York. Certainly the attack — the reference to Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft and the other thing that’s interesting is the appeal to President Bush to be an optimist, not an opponent, came three paragraphs after an attack on the Saudi royal family, that comes right out of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11″ so this was – it was a bold speech.

I think it will probably test the theory, the conventional wisdom, that there aren’t that many voters up for grabs, and that the bounce coming out of this convention might be limited as a result. I suspect it will test that theory severely.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Ellen Fitzpatrick, what did you think of the speech? What’s your markings on the speech?

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: My response to the speech paradoxically I’m looking at this incredible sea of confetti and balloons, and this extraordinarily celebratory moment, but I think what the speech did extremely poignantly was to bring full circle the — and to join the life of John Kerry and the experience of this nation.

Here was a man who 30 years ago asked how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? And alas that question he suggests in this speech is still relevant today, and so there’s —

JIM LEHRER: You mean in terms of Iraq.

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Yes, and I think many Americans are concerned, even those who supported the war, as did John Kerry, by the way, are asking themselves where are we going? How do we get out? How many more will die?

And I think that there is in this speech and he did it very skillfully an extraordinary convergence of the history of the United States in the last several decades and the life of this individual, and that’s a powerful combination.

He made it well tonight.

JIM LEHRER: Michael Beschloss, your thoughts.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think that’s going to help him a lot. And you know there are a lot of people this week, I think, including all of us at these tables, who said what John Kerry needs to do is make himself more lovable.

He made a little bit, sort of a half-hearted attempt at that early in the speech, it was okay, but his daughters I think did for him what he could never have done for himself.

Anyone with daughters like that I think you do not have to worry about seeming unlovable, but he did something that sort of is counterintuitive.

I think what was behind the speech was Kerry and his handlers said, look, we’re in an age after 9/11. People have to look for a plausible alternative to George Bush.

They want someone who looks like a president, and the way this thing was staged was he came from the back of the hall, walked up towards the podium and it looked to me on screen as if this was almost like a state of the union, as if he was walking into the well of the House from the back as the president does every year and shaking hands on both sides and walking up to the podium, and the speech had in a way the texture of the state of the union.

It wasn’t a crowd-pleasing speech of the kind of Bill Clinton but the most important thing for John Kerry it made him look very much like a president and as has been said by a lot of people, those who look like presidents oftentimes tend to become one.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Michael, all of the bars that were raised, all the standards, all of the goals that were raised going into this by all of us, in fact, everybody in all our conversations, do you feel that he met most of them?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think I sure do.

And I think he not only met them but I think this is going to be a very big plus and at a time in his campaign, at the end of the convention, when it’s going to help him a very great deal.

JIM LEHRER: David, looking at it if a Republican were watching this tonight, watching the speech, watching the end of this convention, how — what would be the way to combat this? How do they come back at him now? What do they say about this man?

DAVID BROOKS: I think one of the first things they do is — well, they change their clothes.

They have been sweating for an hour because it becomes much harder. I think what they will say this is not the real John Kerry.

This was just a magic show; that this is the guy that voted against the first Iraq war, there will be a whole series of votes. But that’s a tougher argument to make, here’s a guy who voted for various tax increases and things like that; that’s a tougher argument to make because the American people have seen images.

They have seen images of Vietnam. They have just seen this speech. They say, okay, I’ve seen this guy and the Republicans have to use words to try to combat that. In some ways this convention reminds me a little of the 2000 Bush convention.

There’s this old cliché that the Republicans are the daddy party and the Democrats are the mommy party. In 2000 George Bush tried to be the nurturing, make the daddy party seem more nurturing and more like the mommy party; this was an attempt to make the Democratic Party seem much more masculine, much tougher, and that’s a way that discombobulates people on the other side.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, looking at it just in cold political terms, did anything that he said leap out at you, and say, oh-oh, there’s something the Republicans could capitalize on, make him — that he shouldn’t have said that or he should have said that a little bit better or whatever?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I really didn’t, Jim. I thought the one part — I thought for a while he was going a little bit back to the future, to return with us now to those golden days of yesteryear, you know, as he talked about the great 1990s and evoked — but he resisted going into the litany of Democratic heroes and accomplishments and achievements.

I’ll tell you, I have to say the shipmates, those guys whom he served with really bring out the best in John Kerry. I mean, John Kerry’s reputation for aloofness….

JIM LEHRER: Let me just point out, there’s Kerry talking to John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO.

MARK SHIELDS: Mrs. Sweeney.

JIM LEHRER: Right, we just saw Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean in the shot.

That’s John Kerry’s sister there and Kate Edwards, the Edwards’ 22-year-old daughter who introduced her mother who introduced John Edwards last night.

MARK SHIELDS: Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, down there.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, right, right, right. And there’s — there’s another one of the — another one of the —

MARK SHIELDS: That’s the fellow John Hurley who runs veterans. He was the guy that organized the whole veterans effort for Kerry, that white-haired fellow behind the young Andre Heinz was talking to just there.

JIM LEHRER: There’s John Edwards. Well, this is going to go on for a while. I think what we — but we will not. Let’s go take our final whirl here.

We not only have the — we not only have John Kerry’s speech, we have three days — we have four days of a convention, and final thoughts here beginning with our regulars and beginning with you, Michael Beschloss, wrap up the whole thing.

What does this all add up to you for the Democrats but mostly for — for the Democrats and what this may mean for this campaign to come, this next three months?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, you know, we’ve been through four days and they have been interesting, but usually people tend to remember what happened on the final night when the nominee delivers his speech.

You know, remember 1988, Jim, when George Bush the elder went to New Orleans and much of that week was taken up with a big controversy over Dan Quayle’s service in the National Guard and whether he had avoided service in Vietnam.

Despite all that, George Bush the elder gave the speech of his life and it gave him an enormous boost to his campaign.

This convention did not have big problems, you know, a couple of unexpected moments like Al Sharpton pretty much on message, but I think history will remember it and probably most Americans will remember it just a week from now for what John Kerry did tonight which was, as I said earlier, a performance that I think is going to help him a very great deal.

JIM LEHRER: Richard, how will you remember this? You and history?

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: I’m not sure I am history, but, I don’t know, maybe.

You know, I was thinking tonight about Vietnam and this party; 40 years went by between a Democratic convention in the ’20s and one in the 1960s.

The first one actually by one vote refused to criticize the Ku Klux Klan by name, 40 years later the Democratic Party embraced the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Fanny Lou Hamer.

It’s been about 40 years since this party tore itself apart over Vietnam, and watching this week and particularly this night and particularly this candidate, one believes that maybe finally after 40 years this is a party that’s laying the ghost of Vietnam to rest and is coming to peace with itself and its history.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Okay. Ellen Fitzpatrick, your closing thoughts.

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Well, I feel sobered and saddened as I said earlier amidst the celebration that we find the continued relevance of the questions that Kerry asked and of the real struggles that the nation is dealing with at this moment in its history. I think he articulated those very well.

The Republicans are going to have some answers at the end of the month, and the election in many ways is I think an historic moment for the country.

JIM LEHRER: And for the same reasons that John Kerry said?

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Well, I don’t want to be partisan about the whole thing.

I thought he was quite persuasive, that, you know, we are at a luminal moment and I again would say it’s extraordinary the convergence of Vietnam and the worries about Iraq in the life of a presidential candidate and his ability to articulate and join those two things. That’s what we’ve seen happen over these past several days.


DAVID BROOKS: This was a party that six months ago seemed to be moving to the left, a lot of energy on the left, Howard Dean on the left, Michael Moore on the left.

What we saw this week was the rise of a muscular centrism, and that’s going to be quite effective, the Republicans are going to come back on their first night with their own version of centrism, Giuliani, McCain, Schwarzenegger. They’ve better be positive.

I think the lesson for Republicans is you’re not going to destroy this guy John Kerry. You’re not going to disqualify him from being president after this week. You’re going to have to make the other alternative that you’ve got your own version of muscular centrism.

Voters don’t have to risk with somebody new because they’ve got somebody acceptable. Maybe they do have to get a little more positive from here on out.


MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I really think, Jim, I think it really raises the stakes for New York for Republicans.

I think it becomes very difficult to run what had become the traditional campaign, the anti-Michael Dukakis campaign of 1988 who left with a 16-point lead from Atlanta. I mean, John Kerry’s bounce will not be as big because we have what analysts call a concrete trampoline.

Because the electorate is so locked in, there isn’t that much bounce there, but he will get a bounce of something out of this but I think you have to look at it and say they have accomplished everything they had to accomplish here. I mean, I don’t know what the flaw was in the strategy.

I mean, John Kerry comes out as a plausible, convincing, maybe even compelling commander in chief figure, certainly heroic figure, and you’ve got — you raise the question middle class squeeze and when he starts we call rhetorical grave robbing which is quoting Abraham Lincoln, I don’t — God is on our side but I pray humbly that we will be on God’s side; that was a wonderful way of sort of establishing values and stating values.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Mark, David, Ellen, Michael, Richard, thank you all five very much for a — for an interesting four days here in Boston, and that does end our coverage of this Democratic National Convention.

We will be in New York beginning August 30 for similar coverage of the Republican National Convention, but meanwhile we’ll be back tomorrow and every week night at our regular NewsHour time and online.

I’m Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night from Boston.