In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to The 2004 Democratic National Convention
DocumentThe 2004 Democratic National Convention
DocumentMPR convention coverage
DocumentList of Minnesota delegates
DocumentSend a question to the convention coverage team
DocumentEditors Notebook
DocumentMPR Campaign 2004 coverage
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Kerry defines himself as a soldier, father and man of values
Larger view
"I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty," was the opening line -- along with a salute -- of the Democratic presidential candidate's acceptance speech at the DNC in Boston Thursday night. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Boston, Mass. — (AP) - Soldier, father and man of values - John Kerry sought to define himself Thursday night to an American public still unfamiliar with the Democrat determined to replace President Bush.

Kerry accepted his party's nomination in the embrace of an adoring hometown crowd, an affectionate introduction by his two daughters and a loyal lineup of fellow Vietnam veterans. He waded across the convention floor through more than 4,000 delegates who waved flags and signs. They roared their approval when he snapped a crisp salute.

Larger view
Image Kerry greets supporters

The people who packed the Democratic National Convention know his biography intimately, but Kerry was reaching beyond them to the million of television viewers who do not. The convention, and particularly his prime-time speech, were attempts to define Kerry on his terms - rather than Republican depictions of him as a liberal whose convictions change with the political winds.

Democrats chose as their nominee a man of exceptional privilege who was raised around the world, attended boarding schools in Europe and New England, graduated from Yale and has married two exceptionally wealthy women. But, as countless convention speakers have reminded, he volunteered for service in Vietnam and has spent almost his entire adult life in public office.

His daughters told funny and affectionate stories about the father who resuscitated a hamster and taught them to love their country.

Reminders of his service in Vietnam were the chief theme of the night. Thirteen of the men who served with him on swiftboats in the Mekong Delta were sharing his stage, a 9-minute introductory film featured footage Kerry took during the war and his final introduction was from former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam.

Cleland said the Democratic presidential candidate's testing in that unpopular war will help him turn the United States once again into a country "worthy of generations of sacrifice."

Larger view
Image Former Sen. Max Cleland

Cleland said the Navy crewmates Kerry commanded as a swift boat captain in Vietnam are a living testimony to his leadership, courage and "willingness to risk his life for fellow Americans."

"There is no greater act of patriotism than that," Cleland said.

"I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president," Kerry said. "Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required."

The sentence was designed to sum up what has sometimes been a confusing position on foreign policy. And it was meant to reassure voters that even though he opposes the way Bush has waged war in Iraq, he also could be a tough military leader.

In the most important speech of his long presidential campaign, Kerry decided to confront Bush head-on about Iraq, an issue the White House once had thought would win re-election for the president but instead has turned into a vulnerability.

"I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war," Kerry said in one of the most pointed lines of his address, criticizing the president for asserting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that have not been found.

As president, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: the United States of America never goes to war because we want to. We go to war because we have to.
- John Kerry

Kerry's speech, while laced with uplifting themes, broke with three days of toned-down criticism of Bush.

"Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so," Kerry said. "And proclaiming 'Mission Accomplished' certainly doesn't make it so."

In a key passage of his speech, Kerry said:

"As president I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics. And as president, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: the United States of America never goes to war because we want to. We go to war because we have to."

When he finished his 45-minute speech, Kerry was joined at the podium by his running mate, John Edwards, their spouses and children. Thousands of red, white and blue balloons and glittery confetti floated through the FleetCenter.

He sought support from conservative Democrats and independents who turned away from the party because they believe it has abandoned their values. He tried to expand the definition of political values - from social issues such as abortion and gun control that favor Republicans in rural and suburban America to economic equality, health care reform and other Democratic standards.

"For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans," the Massachusetts senator said.

"It's time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families," Kerry said. "You don't value families by taking kids out of after school programs and taking cops off the street so that Enron can get another tax break."

Among other promises, Kerry said he would:

Larger view
Image Victory salute

- recruit allies to help rebuild Iraq and add 40,000 active duty troops to the military, including a doubling of special forces to fight terrorism.

- cut the deficit in half in four years.

- cut middle class taxes, funded by a repeal Bush's tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year.

Kerry skipped over left-leaning positions he staked during the primary to make a more centrist appeal. He never mentioned abortion rights, but said he made violence against women a priority as a prosecutor. He boasted of bucking many in his party to vote for a balanced budget and invoked the biblical commandment of honoring parents in promising not to privatize Social Security.

Kerry hit Bush on the economy, which has improved in recent months but in some ways still is worse off than when Bush took office from President Clinton three and a half years ago. With many voters still unsure about Kerry, he tied himself to the policies of a former president, Clinton, who still remains more popular than either Bush or him.

"Let's not forget what we did in the 1990s," Kerry reminded. "We balanced the budget. We paid down the debt. We created 23 million new jobs. We lifted millions out of poverty, and we lifted the standard of living for the middle class. We just need to believe in ourselves, and we can do it again."

He criticized those who question the patriotism of Democrats.

"I fought under that flag, as did so many of those people who are here tonight and all across our country," Kerry said. "That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology. It doesn't belong to any party. It belongs to all the American people."

With polls showing a tight race, Kerry sandwiched his acceptance speech between two cross-country tours. He tried to clear his mind from the grueling pace Thursday with an afternoon bike ride along the Charles River, two Secret Service agents in tow.

Early Friday morning, he and Edwards were heading out on a two-week, coast-to-coast excursion that will take them through 21 states by bus, train and boat. Aides hoped the post-convention excitement combined with personal visits to nearly every state in play could give the campaign an edge. Actor Ben Affleck was bringing some star attention by coming along on the weekend stops in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

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

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects