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Democrats sell themselves as the party of strength
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Former President Bill Clinton echoed the theme of the Democratic Convention -- strength -- in his speech to delegates Monday night. (Photo by HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)

Boston, Mass. — (AP) - Democrats have wrestled their message down to one word: strength.

A strong economy. Strong community. All under the vision of a strong leader. They can't use the word or its variations enough at their national convention.

They used it 106 times in the text of the platform they were adopting in Boston on Tuesday, a document called "Strong at Home: Respected in the World."

In 1988, they used it 11 times.

But that was the old Democratic Party, the one that picked pastel colors for its convention that year because officials thought they would look nice on TV. The Republicans had a field day with that.

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Image A Stronger America

After that came Bill Clinton with his support for the death penalty and budget surpluses, and now John Kerry, with his vow to give no quarter in the war on terrorism.

Wishy-washy colors are out and so are wishy-washy words in the speeches, signs and documents the party most wants voters to see. Bleeding hearts have given way to blood, sweat and tears.

"We recognize that we are at war with an enemy that must be destroyed," Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said when introducing the national security portion of the platform to the convention. "We must be strong, we must be innovative and we must be bold. ... John Kerry understands we must keep our military the strongest in the world."

Overhead, a video screen that stretched like a ribbon most of the way around the oval convention center flashed the words: "A Stronger America."

In 2000, George W. Bush introduced himself with two essential words: compassionate conservative. Now Democrats have gone one word better on brevity.

"Strength is the message and the reason is to overcome that disadvantageous perception of Democratic weakness" on national security and foreign policy, said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas in Austin.

We need new leadership that is both strong and wise.
- Al Gore

Clinton picked up the theme when he spoke to the convention, while adding a second descriptive - wisdom - that also proves popular. "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values," he said. He said Republicans feel they must "portray us Democrats as simply unacceptable, lacking in strength and values."

Former President Jimmy Carter ran with it, too. "We lack neither strength nor wisdom," he said.

So did 2000 nominee Al Gore: "We need new leadership that is both strong and wise."

Strength was a less common touchstone before the terrorism attacks - in 2000, the Republican platform used "strong," "strength" or a variation 66 times; Democrats, 51 times. The 2004 GOP platform hasn't come out.

For all of that, the Democratic Party still has its many strains of thought. Contrary opinion, while subdued, has not gone away.

Some in Boston think the Patriot Act is a flat-out assault on civil liberties, that the Iraq war was an awful mistake, that attacking a country before that country attacks you is immoral, and even that America should have stayed out of Afghanistan.

Those are not the voices being heard from the stage in prime time, if any time.

"They are zippered up and behaving themselves and staying in the background," Buchanan said. "The liberals and activists identified with a single issue have bought into the idea of falling in line behind Kerry."

Carter did, however, venture beyond strength in remarks that harked back to days of softer hues.

"I want a government as good and as honest and as decent and as competent and as compassionate as are the American people," he said. Americans can't be more secure "if we place in jeopardy what is most precious to us, namely the centrality of human rights in our daily lives and in global affairs."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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