I’d say Kerry’s speech is comparable to Edwards’: it hiet each of the major points it needed to, with some good moments that were memorable in the short-term but seem un-likely to get re-aired on on C-SPAN at future conventions, and some low points too.

I’d say he did a largely effective job of talking sympathetically in about his own life in a way which personalized him while tying him to a national narrative and avoiding appearing self-aggrandizing or apologetic. His explicit gendering of his parents was irritating. His unapologetic ownership of the accomplishments of 60’s movements was gratifying. His refusal to mention gay liberation, or the gay community, was not.

It was good to hear the word “poverty,” but disappointing not to hear more about it, and particularly not to see Kerry’s support for raising the minimum wage and recognizing card count neutrality agreements touted as centerpieces of his economic plan. I did think he set forth his stance on the Bush tax cuts with admirable frankness and simplicity, and in a way which doesn’t leave the Republicans much room to maneuver.

I remain pleasantly surprised to see Kerry talking about spending more money on Head Start instead of the prison system, a welcome departure from Clinton’s strategy of apeing Republican rhetoric on crime. The fact that the line has the entire staff of The New Republic apoplectic is a good sign. Calling the “family values” crowd on not valuing families is well-deserved and long overdue. Reaching out to those who self-identify as people of faith is all well and good, but you don’t need to announce that you’re doing it. The Lincoln quote is one of the great ones in American politics, and put here to great use.

All that said, it’s an exciting night.


I’d say Edwards accomplished what he set out to do with his speech: he put forward a broad and attractive plan, shared a set of sympathetic values, and projected energy, confidence, and optimism. No big surprises, but I don’t think there were intended to be (there are all manner of big surprises I would’ve liked to see, generally falling into the category of John Edwards morphing into John Lewis). “Two Americas” works as a unifying theme, contrary to the grousing of the National Review crowd, because it speaks to a reality which most Americans intuitively recognize and implicitly sets forth an ideal most Americans are ready to work and sacrifice for. Glad to see Edwards at least intimating the connections between different forms of social, political, and economic equality in this country – in education, in healthcare, and such. And it was heartening to hear this graph:

We can also do something about 35 million Americans who live in poverty every day. And here’s why we shouldn’t just talk about but do something about the millions of Americans who live in poverty. Because it is wrong. And we have a moral responsibility to lift those families up. I mean the very idea that in a country of our wealth and our prosperity, we have children going to bed hungry. We have children who don’t have the clothes to keep them warm. We have millions of Americans who work full-time every day to support their families, working for minimum wage and still live in poverty. It’s wrong. These are men and women who are living up to their bargain. They’re working hard, they’re supporting their families. Their families are doing their part; it’s time we did our part.

And that’s what we’re going to do, that’s what we’re going to do when John is in the White House. Because we’re going to raise the minimum wage. We’re going to finish the job on welfare reform. And we’re going to bring good paying jobs to the places where we need them the most. . And by doing all those things we’re going to say no forever to any American working full-time and living in poverty. Not in our America, not in our America. Not in our America. Not in our America.

Obviously, it’s urgent to assert that the New Deal is something which creates a middle class, not something which saps it, and certainly anyone running for office in this country should speak to a strategy for expanding and securing the middle class. But that said, the ongoing invisibility of the American poor in Democratic party rhetoric of the past decade is disgraceful. It’s a tragic abdication of the responsibility of a real social contract. As Edwards reminded Kerry during the primary campaign, while Kerry was heading off voluntarily to war, Edwards was trying to figure out how to afford to go to college. And as Sharpton reminded Edwards, not everyone then – or now – could get a job as a mill worker. So the recognition of the plight and the promise of the working poor in the Vice Presidential acceptance speech is a step in the right direction, even if “finishing the job on welfare reform” sounds somewhat macabre. Let’s hear more about the working poor from Kerry tomorrow.

Hope is a winning theme. “Hope is on the way,” is a frustrating formulation though. Some of us who’ve had the pleasure of several rallies with the Rev. Jesse Jackson like to joke about the frequency with which the “Keep hope alive” slogan is repeated, but that’s fundamentally a good slogan because it offers an urgent, achievable imperative. “Hope is on the way” is inherently top down, and Edwards’ use of it – tell each of the beleaguered people you know that hope is on the way – reinforces the idea that the Kerry-Edwards ticket is some sort of superhero flying through the city saving victims. I’d like to hear less about hope being on the way and more about how we’re going to join together to take on the work of bringing it into being.

A strong speech by John Kerry this morning, although also one whose sometimes somewhat stilted delivery provided a good reminder of one of the great benefits of having John Edwards on the ticket. Kerry hit the right marks:

John Edwards and I are going to work together to build one America for all Americans.

We need a President whose working as hard to keep Americans’ jobs as he is to keep his own.

I have worked with John Edwards side by side and sometimes head to head…I know his skill, I know his passion, I know his strength, I know his conscience. I know his faith.

And he quoted Langston Hughes’ tremendous “Let America Be America Again.”

And the crowd loved all of it.

The talking heads are already making hay of Edwards’ supposed inexperience. I’d say Edwards brings exactly the experience George Bush (and arguably John Kerry) lacks: Experiencing the hardship of poverty and personal tragedy, building a career and securing economic security for himself and his family, and working to secure justice for other working people wronged by powerful interests (that, and he was on the Senate Intelligence Committee). That’s not to say that the policies Edwards (or Kerry) advocates to bridge the two Americas are as radical as the ones that I and friends of mine with personal experience as members of the American underclass would like to see. But it is worth noting that between them, Kerry and Edwards bring to bear the experience of facing poverty at home and of facing war abroad, of a lifetime of public service and of building a tremendously successful career on one’s own while serving others – and that George Bush has none of the above experiences. He came to Washington with neither the independence of an outsider nor the experience of an insider. When he ran, he’d experienced neither the ravages of war nor the ravages of poverty – and he still hasn’t. Only this time around he can run on the experience of presiding over a three-and-a-half-year trainwreck for our jobs, our economy, our healthcare, our social security, our homeland security, our international leadership, and our civil liberties and civil rights. I’d likely support a ticket running against that record from the left (even if from not far enough to the left) from whatever personal experience. But if Ken Mehlman and Karl Rove want to make an issue of experience, bring it on.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has officially removed his name from consideration for Vice-President. This seems to be a largely symbolic move at this point, since Richardson’s name, which was being thrown around a great deal six months ago, had gone more or less unmentioned for a while based (according to Washington types and some friends in New Mexico politics) in large part on a reputation for maritial infidelity. Richardson’s fall from the short list strikes me as an unfortunate development; while some of his politics (particularly fiscally) were somewhat more conservative than I’d like, he’s a tremendously popular Latino executive from the South with a reputation for a strident populist progressivism and a savvy and pragmatic political instinct. So given that John Lewis didn’t seem to be on the table this time around, I would likely have taken him over Gephardt or Edwards.

The latest chatter seems to be that a Vice-Presidential announcement (read: leak, followed by later announcement) will come in the middle of this coming week. If, as many have suggested, it comes down to Gephardt or Edwards, my vote’s for Edwards. While both men campaigned to the left of Kerry on trade and arguably on jobs, Edwards was immeasurably more effective in articulating and demanding a vision for working America. While both men, like Kerry, voted for Bush’s War, Gephardt as Minority Leader is personally responsible for orchestrating the party’s shameful surrender on the issue. It was perhaps the defining moment of Gephardt’s sad tenure of compromise to the Republican party as a Democratic leader; at risk of sounding trite, Gephardt gives off the impression of a fading star, Edwards a rising one.

In this race, as in the Presidential primary, everyone seems convinced that Gephardt is labor’s candidate except for those actually involved in the labor movement, perhaps in part because (near) everyone outside of the labor movement visualizes it as the Teamsters. But absent a real progressive, Edwards is my pick, is SEIU’s pick, and hopefully will be Kerry’s as well.

Perhaps the most interest feature of the Times’ write-up of today’s debate is the short shrift given to half the candidates, who in the earlier draft were mentioned only as “other candidates” until the last paragraph which noted that Kucinich “has no chance” and that Sharpton “complained” about being ignored. The longer version up now is slightly, although not significantly better on this count. Kucinich and Sharpton at least made it into the photo – given that Sharpton was sitting right between Kerry and Edwards, it would have been hard to find any other way to take it.

The Times’ write-up of tonight’s debate suggests that Kerry and Edwards, both of whom oppose both gay marriage and a constitutional ammendment to ban it, chose to stake out less than bold stances on the issue:

“What’s happening here is this president is talking about, first, amending the United States Constitution for a problem that does not exist,” Mr. Edwards said. “The law today does not require one state to recognize the marriage of another state.”

Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, attacked Mr. Bush for raising the issue in the first place.

“He’s trying to polarize the nation,” Mr. Kerry said. “He’s trying to divide America. You know, this is a president who always tries to create a cultural war and seek the lowest common denominator of American politics, because he can’t come to America and talk about jobs.”

Needless to say, being told that your rights needn’t be excised from the constitution because they don’t yet pose much of a threat of being realized anyway is, one suspects, less than comforting to millions of gay couples in this country. And while there is of course truth in the oft-repeated argument that the Republicans exploit social issues to distract people from their economic interests, you don’t win people over to your side by telling them that your stance on the issue isn’t something they should be concerned about. Kerry deserves credit for voting against the Defense of Marriage Act, and it was good to see Edwards try to position himself to Kerry’s left on the issue by offering greater certainty that he would vote against it today, but there remains a serious lack of moral leadership on this issue.

Kerry was right on target, on the other hand, on the death penalty, saying pretty much exactly (with the exception of his support for executing convicted terrorists) what every Democratic candidate should when asked why he wouldn’t want to see perpetrators of heinous murderers killed:

“My instinct is to want to strangle that person with my own hands,” he said. “I understand the instincts, I really do.” He added: “I prosecuted people. I know what the feeling of the families is and everybody else.

“But we have 111 people who have been now released from death row ? death row, let alone the rest of the prison system ? because of DNA evidence that showed they didn’t commit the crime of which they were convicted.”

Edwards, unfortunately, took this one as a chance to move to Kerry’s right.

Then there’s this troubling continuation of Kerry’s muddled record on trade:

On trade, Mr. Kerry was asked to square his support for inexpensive clothes and goods from overseas for consumers with his support for labor unions seeking better wages and job protections.

“Some jobs we can’t compete with,” he said. “I understand that. But most jobs we can.” Mr. Edwards seized the issue, as he sought to draw a sharp a contrast by noting different votes the two men have cast on trade pacts over the years.

Kerry did get something else right though:

Mr. Kerry was then asked to name a quality of Mr. Edwards’s that he wished he had himself, but appeared not to entirely grasp the question. “I think he’s a great communicator,” Mr. Kerry said. “He’s a charming guy.”

Looking at the transcipt, Sharpton effectively called Edwards on his support for the PATRIOT ACT:

I don’t see how anyone that supports civil rights could support the Patriot Act. You talk about a difference of direction, Senator Edwards, the Patriot Act…The Patriot Act that you supported is J. Edgar Hoover’s dream. It’s John Ashcroft’s dream. We have police misconduct problems in California, Ohio, Georgia, New York, right now…And your legislation helps police get more power. So I think that we’ve got to really be honest if we’re talking about change. Change how, and for who? That’s why I am in this race.

And he provided the needed historical perspective on gay marriage:

I think is not an issue any more of just marriage. This is an issue of human rights. And I think it is dangerous to give states the right to deal with human rights questions.

And Kucinich (who, incidentally, captured 30% of the vote for second place in Hawaii) tried, with limited success, to focus the debate on the policy differences between the four candidates rather than the personal differences between two of them:

I think the American people tonight will be well- served if we can describe, for example, why we all aren’t for a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system. I think the American people will be well-served if we can describe why, for example, Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are not for canceling NAFTA and the WTO, as I would do, because that is how you save the manufacturing jobs. And I think they’d be well-served if they would be able to see the connection, as I will just explain, between the cost of the war in Iraq and cuts in health care, education, job creation, veterans’ benefits, housing programs. See, this debate ought to be about substantive differences which we do have.

And I have the greatest respect for Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry, but we have substantive differences along these lines that I think it would help to explicate here tonight.

He hit this one just right:

Well, I’m glad to point out something that all those people who don’t have health insurance and all those people who have seen their premiums go up 50 percent in the last three years already understand. And that is that Washington right now is controlled by the insurance interests and by the pharmaceutical companies. And our party, our Democratic Party four years ago, John and John, I went to our Democratic platform committee with a proposal for universal single-payer health care. And it was quickly shot down because it offended some of the contributors to our party.

I just want to state something: We must be ready to take up this challenge of bringing health care to all the American people. And that’s what I’m asking everyone here to make a commitment to. Single payer…

Dean’s speech tonight – while more faltering than usual for him – resoundingly articulated the lasting legacy of his campaign: a stronger, more combative, more visionary Democratic party. He also talked a lot in the past tense about the campaign, and quite vaguely in the future tense. “We are not done yet.”

Edwards found the perfect soundbyte to celebrate his surge while spinning Kerry’s narrow win: “Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.” And he does a tremendous job of looking like he doesn’t expect the applause but is happy to go along with it.

Kerry’s right to focus, in his speech now, forward on his vision for the country and to direct his anger at the sitting President. “Some of us know something about aircraft carriers for real.” And here come the three words again… There they are. He’s still a less than inspiring speaker though.

CNN has Edwards narrowly ahead of Kerry, 40 to 37%, in Wisconsin, having gained substantially from support among independents. Dean is hovering in the teens. Edwards just gave a good performance on CNN. As before, he’s emphasizing his record on his trade and his personal background as his major differences with Kerry. He struck a charismatic balance between looking forward to “a two man race” and expressing praise for the voices Dean, Kucinich, and Sharpton have brought to the table, and respect for their right to stay in as far as July.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think the conventional wisdom, expressed on CNN by both Bob Dole and George Mitchell, that the Democrats are stronger with a short primary is off the mark, as I think Dubya’s falling approval ratings over this contested primary have shown. A longer primary is certainly better for the left, as it helps keep the candidates honest and accountable.

David Corn slams Howard Dean over Roy Neel:

There has always been a disconnect in the Dean campaign between the man and the movement. If two years ago someone cooked up the idea to create a progressive, reform-minded grassroots crusade that would focus on harnessing “people power” to confront Washington’s money-and-power culture and a leader for such an effort was needed, Dean’s name would not have jumped to mind. Senator Paul Wellstone maybe, not Dean. Yet thousands of Americans were yearning for such an endeavor, and Dean found a way to tap into their desires. It was not the most natural or conventional of couplings, but it happened. And he was propelled to the front of the presidential pack.

Is Dean filing for divorce?

Maybe what we’re seeing here is the Kerry, Edwards, and Clark campaigns becoming more like Dean’s just at the point at which his is becoming more like theirs…

Watching the Democratic Debate now. A couple thoughts so far:

Somewhat should ask Joe Lieberman what it means to be “strong on values.” Also, what it would mean to be weak on values, which of his competitors are weak on values, and whether the Bush administration could be characterized as “strong on values.”

Glad to see David Kay’s charges getting some play here, given the way they’ve been underplayed by the media – or arguably overshadowed by the primaries. Dean is right to point the finger at Cheney, and Kerry did a deft job of avoiding either disputing or echoing his charge. I’m not sure what Edwards has in mind when he calls for a comission organized not by Congress but by “us, the people,” although I’m all for it. Also, Edwards is in Congress too…

Sharpton has joined Kucinich in calling for everyone to stay in for a long race to mobilize all their constituencies. I think there’s a strong case for that. Also, he’s right to point out that unlike John Edwards’ dad, his couldn’t have gotten a job as a mill worker.

My predictions for tomorrow:

Kerry comes in first, simply because Dean hasn’t had enough time to catch up after recovering from whatever combination of his combative stance in Iowa/ his overly-apologetic response to his combative stance in Iowa/ his insufficiently apologetic response to his combative stance in Iowa/ media harping on an imagined combative stance in Iowa/ some combination of the above one may choose to blame for the beating he took in the polls in the past week. Dean comes in second and he and Kerry both pitch themselves as comeback kids; Kerry as usual finds the media more credulous than Dean. Dean comes in closer to Kerry than to the Edwards, who comes in third behind him, lacking the committed and organized constituencies Kerry and Dean have mobilized. Clark does not much, if any, better than he’s been expected to the past few days, and likely even worse – in any case drastically worse than he was expected to a few weeks ago before Kerry stole his part as the anointed “Anti-Dean” and his campaign fumbled and failed to advance a coherent vision or take advantage of what could have been a real head start to build a machine in New Hampshire. If Clark does particularly badly, he strikes me as more likely than any of the other candidates to drop out shortly after, thus ending further embarassment and leaving his Presidential run as a whimsical coda on what many see as an accomplished career as a military public servant. Lieberman does worse than Clark, claims that he exceeded expectations, and argues that Kerry and Dean are both soft on defense and that only he represents a real choice between extremists. Kucinich does much better than Sharpton.