Vision, In the Eye of the Beholder

John Kerry’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last night generated some strong views — pro and con — but it certainly got everyone talking (or typing).

Matthew Yglesias declared it to be “crap,” although he concedes he’s taken some heat for that view. He writes:

Not every speech needs specifics and not every speech needs to be short, but if your speech is going to be long, then it really ought to have some specifics. Otherwise it’s just bloated. … How to handle Iraq is the most important question facing the president and he just punted.

Domestic stuff was mostly blah. Kerry seems to have misdescribed his own health care plan, which is too bad because it’s a good plan. Instead, he read Dennis Kucinich’s health care speech. If it’s “a right, not a privilege” then why doesn’t Kerry have a policy proposal that reflects that sentiment.

By contrast, the speech dazzled Ezra Klein, who confessed, “I’m inspired. I forgot what this felt like.”

Atrios, who boasts that he got an advance copy of the speech — “even before Drudge!” — characterized it as “the ultimate judo move”:

What Kerry did was take everything the Republicans had been throwing at him and [the] Democrats over the past few years, grab it and flip it over, including throwing their 2000 election campaign refrains back in their faces (“help is on the way,” “restore honor and dignity”). It was particularly impressive how he managed to seize on the issue of “optimism” that the Bushies have been pushing and completely redefine it, to remind people what the concept of American optimism really is.

“Speechless” is how Dave Pell summarized his response to Kerry: “Kerry tried to rescue the meaning of patriotism. … John Kerry tried to put religion back where it belongs. In our homes and hearts and not as the core of our policy. … The way I look at it, government is there to help fix what’s wrong. I don’t need my President to tell me what’s right. If it’s morning in America, I can open my curtains and see it for myself. I want government to bring the umbrella when it rains.”

And speaking of mornings in America, National Review’s Jim Geraghty thought the speech lacked vision. Except for one kind: “the vision was that George W. Bush has been wrong about everything since he took office.”

Jesse Walker at Reason had a hard time staying on the message being delivered in Boston. He kept flipping over to reruns of past conventions. “Last night I saw George Bush ‘88 promising never to raise our taxes. Tonight I saw Bill Clinton ‘96 promising to protect our airlines from terrorists. Kind of puts the week in perspective, no?”

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.