Reprising a theme, pursuing a dream

The speeches of John Edwards and John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic convention echoed the basked-in-cheers words of the party’s most recent president and greatest living success.

As nominee in 1992, Bill Clinton professed belief in A Place Called Hope. On July 28 of this year, VP candidate Edwards proclaimed that Hope Is On The Way – or on the way back. Not only that, prospective president Kerry added a night later, but Help Is On The Way.

With determination, faith and our famous hard work, America can and will do better, always can and will do better. Seems fair enough. Seems fairly obvious.

The Democrats sustained a related theme that has been their staple since even before The Solid South slipped off to the other party: inclusion. They contradicted that by banging a drum they had not dragged out since the Kennedy years: national security. What a fine rhetorical extension of job security! Protection and protectionism introduced each other throughout four days of military heroes and working-class heroes.

The safety talk-and-dance preemptively struck at the Republicans, convening one month hence in Boston’s bullying but victimized Northeastern rival, New York. Like the Band Of Brothers fresh off Kerry’s ’Nam boat, National Security’s cameo was calculated to make this Democratic ticket more electable than Mondale-Ferraro, Dukakis-Bentson or Gore-Lieberman. Yet the lurking Islamic bogymen seemed straight from the Bush – even if, borrowing from Alan Jackson’s heartfelt song, the president still doesn’t know the difference between Iraq and Iran.

For all their inclusiveness, the Democrats merely matched the Republicans’ state-of-the-art unity. And when this convention treated absolute security as a right and the “war on terror” as a given, it endorsed the current administration’s gross – and insulting – underestimation of common Americans’ courage.

Yet the most resonant theme was a positive one, a theme borrowed from recent campaigns but also from the nation’s very beginnings: Optimism. Resurrecting Clinton’s Hope conjured a soft sun over Reagan’s Morning In America.


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