Boston was an interesting choice for the Democrat national convention. It is a historic city associated with the American Revolution and freeing the people of America from British rule. The Boston Tea Party occurred in the city.
Boston is a city very much associated with the Kennedy family – John F Kennedy was seen as the saviour of the Democrats in the early 1960’s and the ‘golden boy’ of American politics. His brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, got more than 100 members of the extended Kennedy family to this convention.
|“Not only is he (Ted Kennedy) the undisputed grandee at the convention, he has had a more important role in this campaign than any since his failed bid for the (Democrat) nomination in 1980.”Alec Russell, ‘Daily Telegraph’.|
Ted Kennedy and John Kerry are an interesting association. The Bush family are now considered America’s senior family, but for decades the Kennedy’s held that title. In the autumn of 2003, Kerry’s bid for party nomination was faltering. It was then that Kennedy stepped in to publicly support the senator and lent him his chief of staff, Mary Beth Cahill, who is credited with turning around Kerry’s nomination campaign. Kennedy has had a long political career and has built up many connections over this time and his support was crucial for Kerry in his campaign for his party’s nomination.
|“Teddy Kennedy helps the world see the warm side of John Kerry. He led the way out there with the labour unions and with the people who respect Teddy Kennedy. He introduced John Kerry to America.”Diane Saxe, Democrat from Massachusetts|
Ted Kennedy dominated the first day at the convention. Whether this was a good or bad thing will only be seen in the fullness of time. Ted Kennedy is a political figure that is either loved or loathed and there are many in America who remember his chequered past. However, to many he is the classic liberal who has always espoused liberal causes and his support may sway the swing voters. “He is the grand old man. He embodies what we believe the party stands for. He makes us very proud.” Carol Alois, delegate from Massachusetts.
Another celebrity making the rounds was Jerry Springer. He announced his intention to run for governor of Ohio in 2006. However, his presence was not universally greeted by the Kerry team as some see his television show as trite (even Springer referred to his show as “silly”) and not in the image that the Democrats want to portray themselves.
As with any party convention, past political giants were rolled out – Al Gore, former president Jimmy Carter and Bill and Hilary Clinton. Former senior military figures were also present, including General Wesley Clark who ran against Kerry in the Democrat’s nomination race.
The only two negatives in the early days of the convention:
Mrs Heinz Kerry telling a journalist to “shove it” for apparently printing something she said which she claims she did not. This was captured on television and has received large coverage in the media. Kerry defended his wife by saying that “I think my wife speaks her mind appropriately.” Some campaign managers have privately expressed their concerns that Mrs Heinz Kerry may say something embarrassing to Kerry in Boston (she is known to say what she thinks) while others believe that her forthright personality may greatly appeal to voters.
Kerry threw the first ball at the Boston Red Sox baseball game versus their main rivals, the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, the throw fell short and basically was not very good. More of an image concern was that in Boston, a city usually associated with the Democrats, a number in the stadium booed Kerry while he was doing this.
Probably Bill Clinton made the most important impact. In 2000, Al Gore did not want Clinton to overshadow his Los Angeles convention. Therefore, in 2000, Clinton, the outgoing president, played a relatively minor part at the convention. Many Democrats later believed that this was a major mistake and one not to repeat. In Boston, Clinton was rapturously received by the party faithful (he had promised to give his speech and then “leave town”). True to his word, Clinton spoke for the exact amount of time given to him by the convention managers.
|“Since we are all in the same boat, let us choose as the captain of our ship a brave, good man who knows how to steer a vessel through troubled waters to the clam seas and clear skies of our more perfect union. We know our mission. Let us join as one and say in a loud, clear voice: Send John Kerry.”Bill Clinton|
Of the speeches made, there has been little negative campaigning. Comments have been made about the record of Bush since January 2001, but the verbal sledging that was a tradition of past conventions was not seen at Boston. There was criticism of Bush but it was all seemingly done in a ‘nice’ manner. This may set the tone as when the Democrats had a short remembrance for 9/11 when a solo violinist played ‘Amazing Grace’ against a backdrop of New York, the Republicans recalled that the Democrats had strongly criticised Bush for using 9/11 imagery in a recent re-election advert – but the tone of the Republican comment remained ‘nice’. Probably the most outspoken speaker who has directed his comments against Bush has been former president Jimmy Carter who was outspoken in his criticism of the Bush government’s record on foreign policy.
Kerry himself arrived in Boston surrounded by Vietnam veterans. He had flown in to Logan airport and from there had boarded a ferry, the ‘Lulu E’, which took him across Boston harbour with the former veterans. The previous night, his wife in a speech to the convention, had referred to her husband as someone who had actually put his life on the line by serving his country in Vietnam – no mention was made of G W Bush and his service in the Texan National Guard (and non-service in Vietnam) but anybody who heard the comment about Kerry and his service would have known about this. Ironically, polls done at the end of July indicated that this was not a major issue with those who were polled. So if Kerry was trying to play the patriot’s card, he may find that it is not a major issue nationally. He might also be reminded of his comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 when he denounced the Vietnam War and America’s participation in it – some could see that as an unpatriotic act.
Kerry’s speech went down well at the convention – as would be expected. It was also well received in the media that stands to the left of politics but criticised by those to the right – as you would expect. The main theme of the speech was on foreign policy; that America needs to regain the trust of the world etc. Kerry also claimed that he would be a commander-in-chief of the military that would use it where it needs to be used, but would not lie to the public as to why it needs to be used. Kerry also stated that he would expand Medicare, childcare and the provision for education by increasing the tax of the top 2% earners in America.
“We have it in our power to change the world. But only if we are true to our ideals – and that starts by telling the truth to the America people. As president, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House.”
“I will be a commander-in-chief who will never mislead us into war.”
“I will ask the hard questions and demand hard evidence.”
“My fellow Americans, this is the most important election of our lifetime. The stakes are high. We are a nation at war, a global war on terror against an enemy unlike any we have known before. And here at home, wages are falling, healthcare costs are rising, and our great middle class is shrinking.”
A national convention does allow a party to give a very public opportunity to people deemed future ‘stars’ of the party.
At the Democrats convention, Hilary Clinton clearly made her stake to be a serious contender for the party in 2008. She was first introduced as one of nine female Democrat senators. However, on stage she clearly separated herself from the other eight women and took the applause of the delegates as if she was the only person on stage.
When she next appeared on stage, it was to introduce her husband as the main speaker for the day. Her introductory speech proved to be one of the longest in recent convention history setting out her stall in what she believes America needs to move forward. She then introduced her husband. Some may have criticised her for this but it was a golden opportunity to get her message across with America’s media looking on – and for free!
However, the future ‘star’ of the Democrats is thought to be Barack Obama, a law professor from Chicago. Barack is an African-American who is running for a Senate seat for Illinois in November 2004. Many believe that he has a good chance of winning – thus becoming the only African-American serving in the Senate. The 42 year-old gave a 20 minutes address to the convention that concentrated on the all-inclusiveness of his beliefs and that he would not solely work for just one section of society – the African-Americans. Obama is not a firebrand speaker in the mould of Jesse Jackson. A supporter of Adam Smith’s economic beliefs, the Harvard law graduate comes across as an erudite man (as indeed he is) who has the necessary intellectual ability to challenge the economic policies of G W Bush.
The African-American vote went the way of the Democrats in 2000 (91% to Gore and just 9% for Bush) and it is hoped that Obama will help repeat this. However, the African-Americans as a group have never historically turned out in force for elections – nor have they registered their right to vote in great numbers. It is hoped that Obama will act as a magnet to draw out more voters for the Democrats in November.
There is no doubt that the African-American community does feel excluded from politics. In the 2000 election, large numbers of African-Americans were turned away from polling stations in Atlanta and in parts of Florida – both due to a “misunderstanding”.
Obama and the Democrats are being helped by the hip-hop music industry. Russell Simmons, a leading hip-hop producer and concert promoter, has arranged for people to come to his concerts for free – the price of entry is proof that you have registered to vote in the November election. It would be fair to assume that very many of those who do register in Illinois will vote for Obama and the Democrats.
Quotes from Obama’s speech to the convention:
“My parents shared not only an improbable love (his father is from Kenya and his mother from Kansas), they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or ‘blessed’, believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.”
“(People) don’t expect government to solve all their problems, but they sense that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.”
“There is not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America – there is the United States of America. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”
“(I believe in) hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope. In the end, this is what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?”