Primary victories, and thus party nominations, are still measured in delegates. But the delegates themselves, most of them pledged to a candidate based on the voting in their respective states, are reduced to extras in the tightly scripted play that is a 21st-century national convention.
This week in Boston Democrats repeatedly insisted that they are just as committed as Republicans to providing for the common defense. The trouble was, whenever the featured players read from that part of the script, the extras were on a different page.
On Wednesday John Edwards promised that a Democratic administration
will strengthen and modernize our military. We will double our Special Forces. We will invest in the new equipment and technologies so that our military remains the best equipped and best prepared in the world. This will make our military stronger. It'll make sure that we can defeat any enemy in this new world.
None of this drew a reaction from the crowd. Only on the next line did the applause come:
But we can't do this alone. We have got to restore our respect in the world to bring our allies to us and with us.
Bored by talk of strengthening the military, delegates were enthralled with an appeal to the Clintonian conception of foreign policy as popularity contest.
Last night, in the midst of rushing through his acceptance speech, John Kerry assured us:
I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger American military.
Again, nary a peep from the crowd. But this nakedly isolationist dig at the campaign for hearts and minds drew loud cheers:
And we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in the United States of America.
When the delegates did cheer for, say, the bravery of our troops, it was rarely with the same furor as Democratic bread-and-butter; when Kerry promised to "roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals who make over $200,000 a year, so we can invest in job creation, education and health care," the wild applause began at the word "individuals." Wesley Clark -- reinvented once again, this time as a hawk -- was reduced to begging:
American men and women in uniform have served with honor. They've given us so much; they've asked for so little.
Tonight, please give them a round of applause. Honor them, our veterans, our families. Give them a round of applause. We love our men and women in uniform.
They have given so much.
I want all America to see our party and how we respect the men and women who serve.
He didn't add because there are cameras here, you idiots, but the crowd got the message: the applause, politely granted when he first asked for it, rose to cheering on that last line.
Of course, the crowd had little use for poor Joe Lieberman. There were no cheers when he so rudely compared "Islamist terrorists" to "Nazis and Communists." Lieberman declared:
We must support our brave troops; they are the new greatest generation, they have liberated Afghanistan and Iraq from murderous tyrannies, and they are fighting tonight in both of those nations to defeat terrorists and allow democratic governments to grow there.
The crowd had no reaction, until Lieberman followed up by lauding Kerry and Edwards for their commitment "to supporting them and their families when they come home."
In fact, the delegates were happiest when the script was trashed altogether. Al Sharpton departed from his six-minute script and ad-libbed for nearly a quarter-hour, bringing his speech to 20 minutes, and all but equated Bush to Bull Connor. The crowd loved it.
None of this is a surprise: If they cared about guns as much as butter, most of these delegates wouldn't be Democrats at all. And that's why a tack to the right on defense can only take Kerry so far. Whatever Kerry's rhetorical stance of the moment, there remains a foreign policy liability built into the D next to his name on the ballot.
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