DENVER — The last time we heard from John Kerry, it was because he made a botched joke. Last night, he delivered a botched speech.
Kerry had his work cut out for him by speaking after Bill Clinton brought the house down at the Pepsi Center with the first speech of the Democratic National Convention that offered anything close to a coherent case for Barack Obama.
But after Clinton left the stage to a rousing standing ovation, Kerry made an appearance so he could to air his dirty laundry from his defeat in the 2004 election, starting off by reminding delegates that “we came so close to victory.”
The speech was littered with catch phrases from the last presidential election: “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time”; “mission accomplished” and “being for it before you’re against it.”
But mostly, it was a myopic, narcissistic, and belated attempt by Kerry to fight back against what he perceived to be unfair attacks that sank his presidential hopes.
Early in the speech, Kerry, who couldn’t hold a consistent position on Iraq during the last election, attacked McCain as a flip-flopper.
“To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician, I say, let’s compare Senator McCain to candidate McCain,” he said, adding that, “before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself.”
Then Kerry launched a completely inside-baseball assault on McCain’s campaign style:
Senator McCain, who once railed against the smears of Karl Rove when he was the target, has morphed into candidate McCain who is using the same “Rove” tactics and the same “Rove” staff to repeat the same old politics of fear and smear. Well, not this year, not this time. The Rove-McCain tactics are old and outworn, and America will reject them in 2008.
Later, Kerry said Obama “will be a president who seeks not to perfect the lies of Swift boating, but to end them once and for all.”
It’s an accepted narrative within Democratic circles that Kerry lost because of unfair character attacks, but while such arguments have resonance within the party’s activist base, the phrase “Rove-McCain tactics” has very little meaning to most normal people.
And then, the man who testified against his fellow soldiers before the U.S. Senate during a time of war declared that “this election is a chance for America to tell the merchants of fear and division: you don’t decide who loves this country; you don’t decide who is a patriot; you don’t decide whose service counts and whose doesn’t.”
Evidently, Kerry is the decider.
Beyond that, his actual critiques of McCain and President Bush were utterly incoherent. On the one hand, he argued that Bush’s foreign policies are a failure and that McCain will continue the same failed policies. On the other hand, he told attendees that Obama has been vindicated because the Bush administration has emulated many of the policies Obama has called for during the campaign (diplomatic engagement with Iran and a timetable in Iraq).
The speech was well-received by the party faithful who still believe that Kerry lost because of right-wing tricksters, but it did absolutely nothing to advance the case for Obama among undecided voters.