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Kerry's Speech

To put it politely, I thought that was crap.

Every smart person I've expressed this view to who disagrees with me, has disagreed by going meta. "No, no," they say, "Kerry did what he needed to do." Or, "well of course you wouldn't say something like that in a speech." Perhaps this is right, perhaps this is wrong. But while there's nothing wrong with meta, you shouldn't address meta-issues until you've decided what your own first-order reaction is. My reaction is that it was crap.

Not every speech needs specifics and not every speech needs to be short, but if your speech is going to be long, then it really ought to have some specifics. Otherwise it's just bloated. Mainly, I'm pissed about Iraq. How to handle Iraq is the most important question facing the president and he just punted. On other looming foreign policy issues (Iran, North Korea, Sudan) where, again, the president can pretty much do whatever he wants we are left with no idea of what a President Kerry would want to do. Nor do we even have a particularly smart backward-looking critique of the Iraq War. It's bad, of course, that the president wasn't straight with the American people about the case for war. Nevertheless, if the deception had been in service of a wildly successful policy, this would be the kind of thing one could more-or-less shrug off. Similarly, contrary to Kerry's accusation Bush didn't go into Iraq without a plan, he went in with a bad plan. But Kerry doesn't get into any of this. Nor did he so much as mention our general strategic situation in the Middle East, offering an opinion one way or the other about the alliances with Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

And then there was the silliness about outsourcing which I'm quite sure Kerry doesn't believe but couldn't risk throwing in anyway. Even worse, though, is that he gave a speech touching on trade issues and didn't say anything at all about supporting programs that help compensate the losers in trade. So we propose one "solution" that won't, in fact, do much for the victims of globalization while ignoring initiatives that actually could help the people in need.

Domestic stuff was mostly blah. Kerry seems to have misdescribed his own health care plan, which is too bad because it's a good plan. Instread, he read Dennis Kucinich's health care speech. If it's "a right, not a privilege" then why doesn't Kerry have a policy proposal that reflects that sentiment.We had a kind of veiled reference to gay marriage, but no mention of actual gay people. I could go on and probably will tomorrw, but for now I'm tired.

Crap.

And, yes, Bush's will be worse, Bush is always bullshitting.

July 30, 2004 | Permalink

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» John Kerry's Convention Speech from Outside The Beltway ™
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Comments

It's late, you might be drunk and you need some sleep. When you wake up, take some aspirin and come to your senses, you'll realize that this post is crap and that Kerry's speech was just fine.

Posted by: ccobb | Jul 30, 2004 4:06:24 AM

http://www.pandagon.net/mtarchives/003004.html

Matt, you expected him to lay out details on how to save the world? Um, he's trying to get elected!

You can always vote for Nader.
;-)

Posted by: MattB | Jul 30, 2004 4:12:17 AM

So uh, what color is the sky in your world?

Posted by: haavaad.reject | Jul 30, 2004 4:14:15 AM

Well, what *should* have Kerry's specifics been on Iraq? You seem to have something in mind --and right now, if you've got a solution, that's a whole heck of a lot better than a lot of folks in Washington...

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 30, 2004 4:32:30 AM

As most commentators have noted, this was John Kerry’s best speech. He highlighted the substantive points of policy he will implement and many visions & ideals that will shape his administration. I was impressed and did not expect such a well shaped message and charisma from Kerry. I believe he has improved his viability for office with undecided voters who watched this speech.

I only have a few criticisms. A strong focus on God, however since this secularist understands the importance of this issue with the majority of Americans , I can live with this focus. However he did make one statement of faith that I completely agree with, the place for faith in America:

"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 religion 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. "

Additionally, constant reminders of his efforts as a solider in Vietnam were overdone, but I understand the message consistency was designed to convince voters of his “strength”. Nevertheless, early in his speech he stated:

"I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a secretary of defense who will listen to the best advice of the military leaders. And I will appoint an attorney general who will uphold the Constitution of the United States."

These concise and forceful points clearly shaped the criticisms and hesitations a large proportion of Americans have with the current administration on their hawkish desires for war. These points were stated in an indirect manner that relies on a continuing storyline of this administrations weaknesses.

Kerry also adds:

"And let’s not forget what we did in the 1990s: We balanced the budget. We paid down the debt. We created 23 million new jobs. We lifted millions out of poverty. And we lifted the standard of living for the middle class."

Kerry carefully draws the audience attention to historical Democratic accomplishments in a happier time in American life. Democrats has always had an incredible strong record on job creation. The economy has always done better under Democratic leadership. The stock market performs ~50% better under Democrats (~8% R -> 12% D). Democrats have always implemented policy to improve the standard of living for the working class.

Strong visionary words:
"We value an America that controls its own destiny because it’s finally and forever independent of Mideast oil. What does it mean for our economy and our national security when we have only 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves, yet we rely on foreign countries for 53 percent of what we consume?

I want an America that relies on its ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family.

And our energy plan for a stronger America — our energy plan will invest in new technologies and alternative fuels and the cars of the future, so that no young American in uniform will ever be held hostage to our dependence on oil from the Middle East."

Incredible words. If Kerry can deliver on this vision and priority, America’s economic prosperity and security will have a strong outlook. Our future economic strength will rely on our ability to control our energy production and we must ensure that the coming rise in oil prices will have minimal effects on our economy. If America needs to rely on Middle Eastern oil, then we are in incredible trouble. I don’t think Bush has this idea anywhere in his priorities.

It’s the energy stupid. It’s price, creation, and environmental consequences is fundamental my people.

He also directed these critical words to President George 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."

The Federal Marriage Amendment was a clear political device to divide America for the express political benefit for his and the Republican’s party electoral chances. The president claimed to be a uniter and not a divider, however he has prove time and time again that he anything but a uniting figure in America.

The levels of partisan rancor and vindictiveness developed over George Bush’s term is pulling Americans away from focusing on issues that help brings success to more families and individuals. Our President should seek to do the best for all of America and not for solely his party or supporters.

I’d like more substantive talk from commentators on issues and ideas; the tone of the convention and the requests from the speakers is a strong call to unite us. Nevertheless, the political campaign run by Republicans has been dominated by negative campaigning. I don’t expect any change from this group as they don’t have any options. If they went positive on Bush’s record, what would they have to talk about?

-Nicholas
http://www.engagingthought.com

Posted by: My thoughts... | Jul 30, 2004 4:35:24 AM

"How to handle Iraq is the most important question facing the president and he just punted."

Good lord, Matthew!

What possible advantage would there be to laying out a specific agenda on Iraq?

You can go listen to Joe Biden for that. People would NOT be saying "Kerry did what he needed to do" if he'd followed your advice. Running for President is not a foreign policy confab.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 30, 2004 4:36:00 AM

So you believe Kerry should have given a Gore 2000 speech? As an experienced journalist, I'm surprised that you're unaware of the ineffectiveness of giving highly specific campaign speeches. I give it about as high a rating as possible for a Kerry campaign speech and thought he did very well delivering it. Of course I'd prefer more specific details in all campaign speeches, but then I recall how Gore lost in 2000 by doing just that.

Campaigning is all about marketing and there's nothing marketable about laying out long, specific, boring plans. The Republicans know this all too well. Bush hardly presented any details to his plans in 2000, but the press didn't care as long as he fed them flashy one-liners. Phrases such as "fuzzy math" should have been an embarrassment to the Bush Campaign, but were instead heralded as a sign of his quick thinking.

This is another reason why I don't have the stomach for politics. Democrats like to think that there is more substance to their platform and that they're above having to use quick one-liners for a victory. Unfortunately, people are not so attentive and the quick one-liners always win out.

hasta la vista, et al.

Posted by: rob | Jul 30, 2004 4:37:51 AM

Wow you are way off.


If Iraq was a simple problem, the elders of the Republican party would have gotten together and laid it out for Bush by now and they would be trying to implement it and pull his ass out of a historical-reputation-destroying-fire. Brad DeLong talks about this sort of thing related to, I think, Reagan's second term. Or maybe it was it was Reagan raising taxes after the massive deficits his initial tax cut caused.

Posted by: KevinNYC | Jul 30, 2004 4:42:26 AM

As you can see from the above posts, you are seriously short of DLC Kool-Aid. I suggest you drink lots of it.

No, really, nice post.

Posted by: MFB | Jul 30, 2004 4:44:51 AM

One more thing Matthew. From this point onward I believe the main goal of the Kerry Campaign is to project a positive message, while, at the same time, keeping the Bush Campaign on the defensive. The angry rage expressed by Democrats early helped to knock Bush down, but it won't win the election for Kerry, as Americans always vote for the most positive candidate. At this point nothing is as important as presenting a strong, positive image of a future President Kerry. This is more important than details and details should be left out if they interfere. At the same time presenting a positive image must come across as passionate and not dishonest. This is accomplished by noting Bush failures and providing solutions short enough, such that they don't drag down the positive message they entail.

Posted by: rob | Jul 30, 2004 5:08:49 AM

You couldn't be more wrong. Kerry's challenge tonight was to form a positive emotional connection to this convention of passionate liberals while also making a strong connection with the TV audience of relatively cynical, conservative, uncommitted voters. He did a superb job of meeting those two objectives.

Posted by: spg | Jul 30, 2004 5:19:54 AM

Could somebody explain to me how Yglesias wonkish critique is NOT a meta-criticism?

Posted by: xc | Jul 30, 2004 5:27:24 AM

Sorry, Matt - I think you got the Rx wrong. To borrow a phrase from Pauline Kael (appropriately referring to "An Officer and a Gentleman"), it may be crap, but it's crap on a motorcycle. That seems, to me, exactly what was called for - broad strokes, minimal wonk, a fat dose of romance.
Kerry's been a punching bag for nuance for months - therefore the defense of complexity in that one line; a detailed program for fixing the Iraq mess at this early moment in the campaign would court, and provide grounds for, instant evisceration from the Bushies. A full blown shadow foreign policy? Puts our troops in limbo, and undercuts their security for close to 6 months! Better Kerry and his team deliver this incrementally, and in response to specific events in Iraq. Who knows what back-channel stuff they might have going on?
Right now (and it's late here, too), I suspect you hungered for something that just was not reasonable for Kerry to attempt, in July. Patience, bud.

Posted by: grishaxxx | Jul 30, 2004 5:32:33 AM

I liked it. A whole lot actually. The only time I started getting nervous was when I thought he would go into MORE detail than he did, then he always dodged that bullet. Look at Krugman's article today and remember, Kerry gave more detail on all of his stances and policies than the TV media has given on them in 60 days. He's still being more rigorous and defined than the general press. Don't blame him for their failure to elevate the debate at all.

He gave a good vague outline of Iraq that won't really constrain all any of his options, which is crucial because by January he may have to select a totally different option. Also, there was no plan for the rebuilding of Iraq, that's quite clear from the number of ludicrous policy shifts in Iraq that seem to have occurred not with deliberation but simply with whoever was able to wring control.

I liked the speech, it was appropriate for the current level of our discourse, it got in a lot of good shots at Bush without being too negative, it hit on a lot of fundamental Democratic themes and gave a few tastes of policy. If you wanted something with more specifics than that, you quite simply don't understand the modern media.

Posted by: MDtoMN | Jul 30, 2004 5:43:43 AM

I thought it was brilliant.

As someone who only relluctantly came to support Kerry, and never expected anything out of him other than being better than Bush, he shocked and amazed me by hitting just about every progressive talking point there was to hit.

Matt, I don't know how you could listen to that speech and not be inspired.

Posted by: Voodoo Chile | Jul 30, 2004 5:47:02 AM

he shocked and amazed me by hitting just about every progressive talking point there was to hit.

Well, that's the problem. No substance, no style, just a checklist of things he has to say.

I don't know how you could listen to that speech and not be inspired.

Inspired to do what, exactly?

Let's get this nightmare over with so that the Democrats can field a real candidate in '08. Hillary, Lieberman, whoever. Don't care. But it's looking very much like four more years of Bush first.

Posted by: Pixy Misa | Jul 30, 2004 6:01:23 AM

The danger is that no-one wants specifics more than George W. Bush. Remember a few months ago when Kerry did outline some specific plans for Iraq which Bush a) immediately adopted and b) offered as proof that since there was no substansive difference between himself & Kerry on this issue, there was no need to switch from him to Kerry?

At this point, laying out specifics which GWB can cherry-pick to implement over the next hundred days to keep the gap between himself and Kerry narrow enough to keep the skittish from bolting to Kerry only ensures that he'll get four more, entirely unfettered years to implement HIS agenda.

Undoubtedly, more specifics will come out during the campaign on any number of issues. But the more Kerry pressures Bush to have to go on record with his plans first, the better off we'll all be.

Posted by: Jennie | Jul 30, 2004 6:52:13 AM

But the whole convention is "meta", since it is an exercise in two things: (1) Making people who need to be inspired, well... inspired, and (2) sounding cool, or firm, or smart, or whatever it is people are looking for in a candidate.

Granted, these two things are ridiculously shallow, since needing to be "inspired" is a sign of moral weakness (!), and being undecided is an indicator of a lack of a worldview--but candidates have to deal with that shit.

If someone wants to know exactly what Kerry stands for, they can just visit his website (like Kerry himself suggested, by the way) or, if they don't have easy online access, they can just ask their nice, local Democratic Party official.

Matt, you already know his position, so why do *you* want to hear policy? You know that doesnt work for (1) or (2)...

Posted by: Nick | Jul 30, 2004 6:55:52 AM

And here I went to bed feeling good about the whole thing... I think Matt may have had some unrealistic expectations - an acceptance speech is about broad outlines, not a lot of policy specifics. I think Kerry started weak ("reporting for duty" and "born in the West Wing" were mannered and leaden), but got better - much better - as he warmed to the topics. I thought of "Bring it On" as rhetoric - he brought it to the GOP and said he wasn't afraid to talk to the stuff they say Dems can't talk about - religion, security, war policy. I think the endlessly optimistic, "we can do better" rhetoric appeals to a basic hopefulness in the American story. And he didn't just speak in complete sentences, he spoke in complete thoughts. Unless Bush is planning to seriously amp up his speaking style, I'm hard pressed to see him match the depth of thought (which is not the same as saying he can't meet the rhetoric. I think he can answer Kerry, but I expect that answer to be smaller and meaner).

This week has been somewhat revealing to me about the depth of the fears and apprehensions many people, partticularly older white men, have about war and security and what happens next. The rejection of anything except the defensive crouch, the angry posturing, and the fear that underlies it runs deeper than I could possibly have imagined for some. This election, I suspect, will turn on the number of people who've put away their fears vs. those who will give into their fears. Fear of change is a fairly natural reaction in the best of times. And these are not the best of times.

I'm not sure what Matt expected, and I'm not sure, given some of his posts lately, that he's been able to fully articulate just what he thinks foreign policy should be that would increase his comfort level, with either party. I don't necessarily expect that from a young man in his twenties, however engaging his writing is - men twice his age still labor to articulate similar ideas unsuccessfully still. But I do think Kerry's speech last night offers some real notions about an alternative to Bush that don't shirk our responsibilities around the world, while asking that we address those respopnsibilities in a better, more thoughtful way. That's what I wanted. What did you want, Matt?

Posted by: Weboy | Jul 30, 2004 6:56:53 AM

Well, that's the problem. No substance, no style, just a checklist of things he has to say.

What the hell? John Kerry absolutely did not have to hit just about every progressive cause to be named. In fact, conventional wisdom says to not touch that stuff with a ten foot pole. Trashing the Saudi Royal family? You're telling me John Kerry "had" to say that? John Kerry hit a bunch of points that would have made Michael Moore blush, and he certainly did not "have" to say them.

Inspired to do what, exactly?

Inspired to support John Kerry, hit the pavement, write letters, make phone calls, whatever it takes. Man, you're cynical... I'm certainly inspired not to wallow in my own sense of ennui.

Let's get this nightmare over with so that the Democrats can field a real candidate in '08. Hillary, Lieberman, whoever. Don't care. But it's looking very much like four more years of Bush first.

If you prefer Lieberman (who agreed with Cheney 100% during the debates) to the John Kerry you saw tonight, then you may as well just go vote Nader or Bush.

Posted by: Voodoo Chile | Jul 30, 2004 7:30:17 AM

I'm not going to jump all over Matt--speeches are about gut reactions, and Matt's gut reaction was bad.

However, let me offer a counterpoint reaction. This speech didn't make me a Kerry supporter; I was that, somewhat relunctantly, already.

This speech made me a Democrat.

Posted by: Nick Simmonds | Jul 30, 2004 7:38:15 AM

Matthew,
Out of curosity, what is /your/ recommendation and plan for Iraq?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jul 30, 2004 8:11:55 AM

I thought Kerry succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. He "knocked it out of the ballpark"!
You seriously need to get some sleep and rethink your premises. Sometimes you intellectualize to the extent of obscuration.

Posted by: Anna | Jul 30, 2004 8:13:24 AM

How to handle Iraq is the most important question facing the president and he just punted.

Maybe it is to you from your position of comfort, but millions of Americans have far more pressing concerns on their mind. Like how to get by on a minimum wage. Like how to pay for healthcare. (I'm 26 years old, and I don't have health insurance. I can barely eat sometimes because I am in serious need of dental care.) Like how to pay for childcare. Like how to pay for higher education so that we can lift ourselves out of poverty.

Your pontificating on things is getting old. If you wanted to be a pundit when you grew up, you are well on your way!

Posted by: robin | Jul 30, 2004 8:30:20 AM

Iraq? You're kidding right? As much as you think it should be, Kerry's main goal is not to try to persuade liberal hawks to love him.

What could Kerry say? Either one of two big things with varying details: pull out or stay the course. A pull out move would open him up to undermining the troops and weak on defense. A stay the course would revitalize a Nader campaign.

Add to all that that Iraq will either be on the path to elections come January or it won't be and anything said today is moot 3 months from now much less 6.

Posted by: Rob | Jul 30, 2004 8:30:32 AM

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