Campaign Crawlers

Soft on Terrorism

Kerry wanted to sound tough yet couldn’t bring himself to use that very word.

By 7.30.04

Send to Kindle

It was a mistake to have House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speak nearly two hours before John Kerry. Think how much better Kerry would have looked had she spoken just before he did. That monotone! I've heard nails across chalkboards more melodious than that. Get that woman a voice coach.

In her speech, Madeleine Albright claimed that "John Kerry will lead America and its allies to defeat and destroy terrorist groups around the world." Does anyone else find that assurance ironic coming from someone who served in an administration whose biggest blow against terrorism was the destruction of a Sudanese aspirin factory?

Okay, let's get to Kerry's speech. As for the initial remark by Kerry that he will make us strong at home, and respected by France and Germany…er, the world: During Clinton's term we were respected by France and Germany while al Qaeda was laughing at us. I'll take France and Germany's disrespect in exchange for thugs like al Qaeda, Muammar Qaddafi, and the mullahs of Iran being scared to death of us any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Overall, it doesn't seem that Kerry closed the deal with the American public last night, for two reasons. First, it seems unlikely that the speech will persuade the voters that the Democrats are ready to take national security seriously. The word terrorist appeared only three times in the speech. The word terrorism? Not at all. Ditto for Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, and al Qaeda. Iraq was mentioned only three times, and one of those was to note that there were no WMDs there.

Furthermore, Kerry didn't so much tell us what he would do in the War on Terrorism as he told us what he wouldn't do:

Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response. I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger American military.

Trying to reassure the American public that you won't pursue a left-wing foreign policy isn't too confidence inspiring.

Worst of all, he left those fighting for democracy in Iraq twisting in the wind:

We will add 40,000 active duty troops, not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended, and under pressure.

The second reason is that it seems Kerry has gone from being dull to being anxious, and not just because of the sweat that beaded up on his chin. His tone was elevated through most of the speech, coming off more as a harangue than a conversation. An effective speaker -- think Reagan -- alternates between a relaxed tone and an impassioned one. Kerry almost never came off as relaxed.

Kerry was anxious because he was carrying a double burden. Not only did he have to sell himself to undecided voters, he still had to sell himself to many Democrats. Consider one of the more eloquent passages from Kerry's speech:

Remember the hours after Sept. 11, when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran up the stairs and risked their lives, so that others might live. When rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon. When the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation's Capitol. When flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.

Then compare it to this one:

I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a secretary of Defense who will listen to the best advice of our military leaders. And I will appoint an Attorney General who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States.

It was the latter passage that generated bigger applause among the convention delegates. That suggests that many Democrats are still more fired up by anti-Bush rhetoric than by words that are intended to unite. In an article for National Review yesterday, Gary Andres pointed to a lot of poll data showing that a large plurality of Democrats are not voting for Kerry as they are voting against Bush. That is not usually a good position from which a candidate can make a winning bid for the White House. Kerry's speech suggests that he knows this.

Thus, we get the Democratic boilerplate about the War in Iraq: "Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so." Kerry will make sure that "America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to," and that we never "have to go it alone in the world."

And there was the rhetoric that bordered on the extreme: "You don't value families by kicking kids out of after-school programs and taking cops off our streets, so that Enron can get another tax break." He also urged, "let's respect one another; and let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States." It was as if Kerry's speechwriters ripped a page from the Howard Dean playbook.

Surely, Kerry had a difficult task last night. But all who run for President have big hurdles to overcome. Kerry had to sell himself to his base and the undecided. His acceptance speech may have achieved the former but not the latter.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.