What's Missing From the Democratic Convention?

As one would expect them to be, virtually
all of the prime-time speeches at the Democratic Convention have been
-- from a rhetorical perspective -- very well-crafted and
well-delivered. Bill Clinton's speech, in particular, deserves all the
plaudits it is receiving, both in terms of content and delivery. But as
competent, well-executed and even dramatic as the Convention has been,
at least as striking is what has been missing.

First, there is almost no mention of, let alone focus on, the sheer
radicalism and extremism of the last eight years. During that time, our
Government has systematically tortured people using sadistic techniques
ordered by the White House; illegally and secretly spied on its own
citizens; broken more laws than can be counted based on the twisted
theory that the President has that power; asserted the authority to
arrest and detain even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and hold them for
years without charges; abolished habeas corpus; created secret prisons
in Eastern Europe and a black hole of lawlessness in Guantanamo; and
explicitly abandoned and destroyed virtually every political value the
U.S. has long claimed to embrace.

Other than a fleeting reference to such matters by John Kerry in a
(surprisingly effective) speech which most networks did not broadcast,
one would not know, listening to the Democratic Convention, that any of
those things have happened. Even our unprovoked and indescribably
destructive attack on Iraq, based on purely false pretenses, has
received little attention. Those things simply don't exist, even as
part of the itemized laundry list of Democratic grievances about the
Bush administration. The overriding impression one has is that the only
things really wrong during the last eight years in this country are
that gas prices are high and not everyone has health insurance. Those
are obviously very significant problems, but they are garden-variety
political issues which don't begin to capture the extremism that has
predominated in this country under GOP rule, and don't remotely
approach conveying the crises on numerous fronts the country faces.

It's certainly true that the purpose of these Conventions are
principally political, and it thus makes perfect sense that Democrats
are choosing to focus on the issues they think will help win them the
election. The desire that they do anything else is both unrealistic and
misguided. During the television show known as the Convention, they
should devote the bulk of their efforts to the concerns most voters
have, and all polls demonstrate that those concerns are chiefly
grounded in economic insecurity.

But even while acknowledging those realities, the Democrats, as a
result of these omissions, are largely guilty of doing what they
typically do: appearing listless and amorphous by standing for nothing
other than safe and uncontroversial platitudes. The loudest reaction
Bill Clinton provoked last night was when he proclaimed, in passing and
without elaboration, that Obama is "ready to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
So much of the case against the Bush administration -- much of what has
fueled high-level Democratic energy to remove the GOP from power -- has
been driven by the GOP's radical transformation of the core political
values of the country, trampling on the Constitution and overtly
embracing policies that are completely anathema to how Americans
perceived of their country.

Republicans often use their Conventions as an opportunity not just to
feed voters what they want to hear but to induce them to see the world
the way the GOP wants them to see it. Even if it's true that the voters
who Democrats are targeting care little about these issues -- and
that's a precarious assumption -- the Convention is still an
opportunity to persuade them why they should care and, at the very
least, to fuel Democratic resolve to win and to demonstrate to
non-core-Democratic voters that there are political values that
Democrats actually "stand for." They've done very little of that. The
virtual nonexistence of these issues in the key Convention speeches,
the failure even to take a stand on virtually any of it, seems to be as
much of a political failure as it is a failure on the merits.

More politically damaging still is the absence of any truly stinging
attacks on John McCain. Even Joe Biden's speech -- billed as the
"attack dog" event -- almost completely avoided any criticisms of
McCain the Person, who will emerge from the four days here as a
Wonderful, Honorable, Courageous Man -- a friend to Democrats and
Republicans alike -- who just happens to be wrong on some issues. The
Republicans will spend the next four days mercilessly ripping Barack
Obama's character to shreds, as they did to John Kerry in 2004. Just
recall a few of the highly effective and deeply personal assaults on
Kerry from the featured GOP speakers in 2004:

Rudy Guiliani:

* [Kerry] even, at one point, declared that himself as an antiwar
candidate. And now he says he's a pro-war candidate. At this rate, with
64 days left, he still has time to change his position four or five
more times!

* Maybe -- maybe this explains John Edwards' need for two Americas:
One -- One -- One -- One where John Kerry can vote for something and
another one where he can vote against exactly the same thing.

* Remember -- Remember just a few months ago, John Kerry kind of
leaked out that claim that certain foreign leaders who opposed our
removal of Saddam Hussein prefer him. Well, to me that raises the risk
that he might well accommodate his position to their viewpoint.

Dick Cheney:

* Even in this post-9/11 period, Senator Kerry doesn't appear to understand how the world has changed. He talks about leading a "more sensitive war on terror," as though Al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side.
He declared at the Democratic Convention that he will forcefully defend
America -- after we have been attacked. My fellow Americans, we have
already been attacked, and faced with an enemy who seeks the deadliest
of weapons to use against us, we cannot wait for the next attack.

*Senator Kerry denounces American action when other countries don't
approve -- as if the whole object of our foreign policy were to please
a few persistent critics. In fact, in the global war on terror, as in
Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush has brought many allies to our
side. But as the President has made very clear, there is a difference
between leading a coalition of many, and submitting to the objections
of a few. George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend
the American people.

* Senator Kerry also takes a different view when it comes to supporting
our military. Although he voted to authorize force against Saddam
Hussein, he then decided he was opposed to the war, and voted against
funding for our men and women in the field. He voted against body
armor, ammunition, fuel, spare parts, armored vehicles, extra pay for
hardship duty, and support for military families. Senator
Kerry is campaigning for the position of commander in chief. Yet he
does not seem to understand the first obligation of a commander in
chief -- and that is to support American troops in combat

* On Iraq, Senator Kerry has disagreed with many of his fellow
Democrats. But Senator Kerry's liveliest disagreement is with himself.
His back-and- forth reflects a habit of indecision, and sends a message
of confusion. And it is all part of a pattern. He has, in the last
several years, been for the No Child Left Behind Act -- and against it.
He has spoken in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement --
and against it. He is for the Patriot Act -- and against it. Senator Kerry says he sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual -- America sees two John Kerrys.

Zell Miller:

* No
one should dare to even think about being the Commander in Chief of
this country if he doesn't believe with all his heart that our soldiers
are liberators abroad and defenders of freedom at home. But don't waste
your breath telling that to the leaders of my Party today. In their
warped way of thinking America is the problem, not the solution
They don't believe there's any real danger in the world except that
which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided
foreign policy.

* And no pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than
the two Senators from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.
Together, Kennedy/Kerry have opposed the very weapons systems that won
the Cold War and that are now winning the war on terror. . . . This is
-- This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of our U.S. Armed Forces?! U.S. forces armed with what -- spitballs?!

* For more than twenty years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John
Kerry has been more wrong, more weak, and more wobbly than any other
national figure. As a war protester, Kerry blamed our military. As a
Senator, he voted to weaken our military
. And nothing shows that
more sadly and more clearly than his vote this year to deny protective
armor for our troops in harms way, far-away.

George Bush:

* To be fair, there are some things my opponent is for. (Laughter.)
He's proposed more than two trillion dollars in new federal spending so
far, and that's a lot, even for a senator from Massachusetts.
(Applause.) And to pay for that spending, he's running on a platform of
increasing taxes -- and that's the kind of promise a politician usually
keeps. (Laughter.)

* My opponent recently announced that he is the conservative -- the
candidate of "conservative values," which must have come as a surprise
to a lot of his supporters. (Laughter.) There's some problems with this
claim. If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood,
I'm afraid you're not the candidate of conservative values. (Applause.)
If you voted against the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, which
President Clinton signed, you are not the candidate of conservative
values. (Applause.) If you gave a speech, as my opponent did, calling
the Reagan presidency eight years of "moral darkness," then you may be
a lot of things, but the candidate of conservative values is not one of
them. (Applause.)

GOP's attacks on Kerry in 2004 were mocking, scornful, derisive,
demonizing and deeply personal -- in speech after speech -- and they
were also highly effective. They weren't the slightest bit deterred by
the fact that Kerry was a war hero who was wounded multiple times in
Vietnam while George Bush and Dick Cheney. . . . weren't. Has there
been anything remotely approaching those attacks on McCain by any of
the prime-time Democratic speakers?

The GOP assaults on Barack Obama will be -- have already been -- even
more vicious and personalized, which means by the end of their
Convention next week, John McCain will be, by all accounts, an
honor-bound, principled and courageous patriot (who, at worst, is wrong
on some issues), while Barack Obama will be some vaguely foreign, weak,
appeasing, super-ambitious, exotic, empty-headed, borderline
un-American liberal extremist. Democrats seem to be banking on the fact
that the agreement which most Americans have with their policy
positions, along with widespread dissatisfaction with the current state
of things, will outweigh the effects of this personality war -- a war
which they, yet again, have allowed to be one-sided.

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