JOHN KERRY and John Edwards want to bring you a stronger America. It says so on their signs and the slogan flickers across the thin, ticker-tape video screens that ring the Fleet Center, repeating over and over and over. To that end, they've decided to open their convention with the two biggest losers in the recent history of the Democratic party: Al Gore and Jimmy Carter.
Introduced by Bill Richardson, Al Gore emerges to a warm, if not thunderous ovation. By way of introduction, Richardson notes that Gore was the choice of more Americans in the last election. That seems a little cruel. Imagine if Craig Ehlo spent his entire life being introduced as the man who got beat at the buzzer by Michael Jordan, or Guy Lewis was always introduced as the guy who lost the NCAA championship on Jim Valvano's last second prayer.
Gore is supposedly one of the two "untouchables" this week--speakers who are allowed to say as many mean things about George W. Bush as they want. As such, there's some excitement about his remarks tonight, with many Republicans hoping he'll give a repeat performance of some of his recent, crazed harangues.
These Republicans stand disappointed. Gore's talk is casual and wistful. He makes a number of jokes about his 2000 loss ("You know the old saying: you win some, you lose some. And then there's that little-known third category.") Gore says that he "didn't come here to talk about the past," but that's all he really does.
"In our democracy, every vote has power," he says. "And never forget that power is yours. Don't let anyone take it away from you, or talk you into throwing it away." That's Gore's first reference to Ralph Nader. His second comes a few minutes later when he says, "For those who supported a third-party candidate in 2000, do you still believe that there was no difference between the candidates?"
Gore is so fixated on the past that he doesn't even mention John Kerry's name until nearly nine minutes into his remarks. After a brief, terribly unconvincing testimonial (Kerry's "word is his bond"), Gore says, "To those of you who felt disappointed or angry with the outcome in 2000, I want you to remember all of those feelings. But then I want you to do with them what I have done: focus them fully and completely on putting John Kerry and John Edwards in the White House."
It's a selfless and disciplined performance. Gore has jettisoned his angry, Deaniac persona and presented himself as a cautionary tale. Here is an Al Gore who admits he lost and makes no excuses for it. It's like a '50s health-class film strip on gonorrhea: Look at Al; if you're not careful, you could wind up just like him.
When Gore finishes, Tipper comes onstage. They reenact The Kiss from the 2000 convention, and then exit, stage right. Once upon a time, Al Gore was a Democratic heavy. Defeated, he became a fiery heretic. Defanged, he's now nothing more than a walking parable. Somewhere in a swing state, John Kerry is smiling. Mission accomplished.
A NUMBER OF SMART, important speakers followed--Glenn Close, Barbara Mikulski, a children's choir singing "This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land"--but the real excitement is in the box behind me when Michael Moore emerges, clad in a black shirt and blue jeans, with a green baseball cap. It's pandemonium. The nearest delegation is made up of folks representing Democrats Abroad. Their reaction is similar to what you would expect from a pack of 19-year-old boys if Britney Spears wandered, drunk, into their frat house. People vault over railings and push and shove their way up the short stairway to the balcony where Moore is holding court. Ever the gentleman, Moore smiles shyly and shakes hands and signs autographs. Dozens of expatriates can now die happy.
AL GORE'S defeat thus handled, it's time to get the other piece of Democratic detritus out of the way. By way of introduction, Bill Richardson says that President Carter gave us "a strong America." Hmmm. Now I'm just asking, but will John Kerry's "stronger America" be like Jimmy Carter's "strong America," only more so? Don't say you weren't warned.
President Carter gets a heartfelt and sustained ovation and emerges to "Georgia," which is appropriately slow and bittersweet. Unlike Gore, Carter mentions Kerry in his second sentence, before embarking on a prolonged, personal critique of George Bush.
Talking about his time in the Navy, Carter mentions that he served under Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, "both of whom," he notes pointedly, "had faced their active military duties with honor." When John Kerry was called to military service, Carter winks, "He showed up."
It's the former president's biggest applause line, and it represents a theme: Nearly all of his applause lines are attacks on President Bush. Carter rails against the "super rich" (oops!) and frets that the goodwill from September 11 "has been squandered." The current president, Carter says, has "misled" us.
At times, Carter veers into intellectual incoherence. He charges that "the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt for the first time since Israel became a nation." This is true, of course. Except that the screeching halt occurred on Bill Clinton's watch, with the dissolution of the Oslo Accords.
Carter also performs a neat bit of revisionist history, explaining that America won the Cold War because of "sustained bipartisan support" for "the defense of our own freedom and the promotion of human rights." Never mind that this sustained support was often not bipartisan and that Carter himself was nearly always on the wrong side of it. No, the stunning thing is that the former president is holding up the duty to promote human rights as an argument against the war in Iraq.
On the subject of Iraq, Carter criticizes the Bush doctrine of "preemptive war," before complaining that president should have gone after North Korea, instead.
Towards the end of his remarks, President Carter asks the delegates to repudiate "extremism" and worried about "extremist doctrines" which are pulling America into dangerous waters. I'm assuming he was talking about Bush, but you never know. After his speech, Jimmy Carter repaired to small box behind my workstation. There, the former president of the United States and his wife, Rosalynn, sat down next to Michael Moore.