Speakers at the Boston convention have highlighted John Kerry’s rescuing a fellow American from the waters of Vietnam, using this to spin out various water analogies with Kerry as the steady captain of the ship of state. But Ted Kennedy, notable for not rescuing an American from dying in water, wisely avoided water analogies. Kennedy did, however, speak about history, glorying in Boston’s past, though one couldn’t imagine John Adams recognizing gay-marriage Massachusetts as the state he built. Kennedy’s regard for himself as a giant in the line of Bostonian greats was revealed in his choice of an introducer: Robert Caro, the sort of sycophantic historian the Kennedys love to keep on retainer, who was happy to describe Teddy as the incarnation of the Founding Fathers’ idea of a senator.
Kennedy’s speech was somewhat muted (per instructions from the party), but of course condemned Republicans for all the tactics he usually deploys. He said America should be multilateralist, then quoted the Declaration of Independence as if that were one of the great multilateralist documents of history. Kennedy quoted its “decent respect for the opinions of mankind,” which just means that Kennedy respects the opinions of mankind whenever they advance his indecency.
Howard Dean gave a lobotomized version of his campaign stump speeches. He seemed almost to be speaking in code at times, saying repeatedly “proud to be a Democrat” when he obviously meant proud to be a liberal.
The Democrats were acting as if the hyphenated America they have spent decades creating was a mutation of the Republican Party. The we-are-just-Americans line is difficult to take from a party that so dwells on differences that it features the Pledge of Allegiance being recited in foreign languages. Barack Obama’s successful speech rested on repudiating an anti-intellectualism in the black community that the Jesse Jacksons have spent their careers spreading. And even as Obama spoke of transcending identity politics, he generated huge applause from a line about “Arab Americans” being rounded up by the Bush administration.
Obama also got a lot of applause when he said everyone deserves a “decent shot at life.” And then the delegates applauded just as loud when Ron Reagan followed him and said the opposite — that not all life is worth preserving. According to Ron Reagan’s atheistic theology, nine-day-old embryos shouldn’t have a decent shot at life, because they don’t have any interesting qualities. “They have no fingers and toes, no brain or spinal cord. They have no thoughts, no fears,” he said. No hands, no feet? Sorry, you are not human. Were the handicapped wheeled out earlier on to the Democratic platform listening to Reagan’s ghoulish talk?
Reagan’s speech was more than just an endorsement of shucking human embryos for scientific research; it was also an outright endorsement of cloning. Ron Reagan, who plays at science like he plays at journalism, casually sketched out a self-cloning scenario. “How’d you like to have your own personal biological repair kit standing by at the hospital?” he said. Reagan’s idea is that you clone yourself, then destroy your mini-self so that you can have a Brave New World repair kit on hand in case of disease: “The nucleus of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed…These cells will generate embryonic stem cells containing only your DNA…And you’re cured.”
Reagan’s atheistic faith was leaping to all sorts of simplistic solutions, but he cast himself as nonideological and purely scientific while denigrating the faith his father used to champion. “But it does not follow that the theology of the few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many,” he said, as if his stem-cell fantasies weren’t superstitions of his own faith. A faith in a corrupt humanism popular in the Democratic Party that always speaks loudly of equality for the voiceless even as it denies it to them for the sake of a powerful elite.
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