The Essential Convention
Kerry Acceptance Speech to Display Vietnam Experience
By Mark Stencel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2004; 8:50 AM
The Essential Convention is a daily digest of The Washington Post's coverage from Boston and is published each morning of the Democratic National Convention.
BOSTON, July 29 -- John F. Kerry claims his party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday in an acceptance speech that will culminate a night intended to showcase the candidate's experience in Vietnam.
During Thursday night's proceedings, Kerry is expected to appear on stage to embrace Max Cleland, the former senator from Georgia who lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam and who was ousted from his seat in the Senate after attacks ads questioned his patriotism. "It promises to be the most emotional scene of the convention: the gaunt presidential candidate from Massachusetts stooping to embrace the broad-faced triple amputee from Georgia -- fellow Vietnam vets and former Senate colleagues, both encircled by the aging warriors they call the band of brothers, including the Swift boat crewmates who served with young Lt. Kerry along the Mekong Delta 3 1/2 decades ago," wrote staff writer David Maraniss. "The imagery is only a metaphor for something more profound, Cleland says, a culminating moment of personal and generational affirmation that sharply defines Kerry's rise and lends significance to the unresolved struggle of Cleland and many other Vietnam vets."
The Kerry campaign will revisit Kerry's Vietnam experience as often as it can in Thursday's convention proceedings, including a pre-acceptance speech biographical video that was previewed by media reporter Howard Kurtz.
Staff writer Laura Blumenfeld, who has profiled Kerry several times for The Post, also revisited the candidate's stint in Vietnam, writing that "Kerry went to Vietnam for many reasons, but a key, and often overlooked motivation was curiosity."
The theme of Kerry's war experience has been front and center since the candidate's arrival here Wednesday, "surrounded by 12 veterans of the Swift boats he captained in Vietnam and by Jim Rassmann, a Green Beret he rescued from a river in the Mekong Delta," according to staff writer Jim VandeHei.
VandeHei also noted that Kerry's campaign was touting the endorsement of a dozen former senior military officers to bolster his and his party's credibility on national security issues. "The campaign announced that 12 former generals were endorsing Kerry, as aides proudly pointed out that only one backed Bill Clinton in 1992," VandeHei wrote. "The unspoken message: Kerry served in combat, while George W. Bush served stateside in the National Guard. And Kerry's tougher and more respected than any Democratic presidential candidate in recent history, including the two-termer Clinton."
The Clinton Factor
Speaking of Bill Clinton, staff writer John F. Harris, who also is finishing a biography of the former president, wrote that reviving the policies of the Clinton administration is a significant theme that runs through Kerry's policy proposals -- many of which have been championed by or embraced by senior members of the last Democratic government.
"Beneath the personal storms of Bill Clinton's presidency, certain ideas about national governance reigned so sturdily within the Washington policy and intellectual establishment, even among many Republicans, that they provoked scant argument during the 2000 election campaign," Harris wrote.
Kerry was officially nominated Wednesday night in a roll call vote of the state delegations after his running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, delivered his speech to the convention. As staff writers Dan Balz and Lois Romano reported, Edwards "quickly showed off the rhetorical skills that carried him from the plaintiff's bench to the Senate and eventually to the thick of the Democratic race, promising that 'hope is on the way.' . . . "
"The speech was long on promises, but did not address how Kerry would deal with the big budget deficits run up under Bush or the looming challenge," Balz and Romano wrote.
Several of Kerry's rivals in this year's Democratic primaries -- including Al Sharpton, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Florida Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) -- also appeared Wednesday night to speak for the Massachusetts senator, preceding Edwards's act as the night's headliner.
An analysis of Edwards's speech by staff writer John F. Harris noted that Edwards "told reporters he went through 30 drafts of his speech on yellow legal pads. That preparation suggests the effort by which Edwards's conversational style -- the easy-flowing cadences and natural pauses -- is produced, especially in light of the fact that much of what he said is material he has delivered countless times before."
Despite all that work, Edwards's speech did not satisfy Post television critic Tom Shales, who wrote that "the Democrats' namby-pamby decision to go positive -- not to attack the arguably very, very vulnerable administration of George W. Bush -- has put a pall of niceness over the proceedings that, try as they might, cranky-minded TV commentators haven't done much to dispel."
Staff writers Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei preview Kerry's convention address, which they report "will strike a highly personal tone" and was "penned . . . longhand with the input of a few speechwriters, family members and letters his father wrote his mother long ago, aides said."
• Style staff writer Hanna Rosin profiled Kerry's daughters -- Vanessa and Alexandra.
• "Reliable Source" writer Richard Leiby checked out the convention's largely un-televised proceedings, which kept the columnist out until 3 a.m. after Tuesday's session was gaveled to a close. "We party at the Democratic National Convention so you don't have to," Leiby wrote.
• Staff writer Evelyn Nieves examined the mood of African American delegates, who she wrote "sound genuinely happy about Kerry -- more so every day."
• Media reporter Howard Kurtz looked at the pundits' reactions to Teresa Heinz Kerry's convention speech Tuesday night. "While a few pundits defended Sen. John F. Kerry's wife as refreshingly unorthodox, her moment in the FleetCenter spotlight seemed to crystallize the media portrait of her as a bit of an oddball," Kurtz wrote.
• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi met with Washington Post reporters and editors Wednesday and "laid out her decidedly hard-headed (and hard-hearted) philosophy for recruiting and funding candidates in the drive to regain the House majority this fall," according to a report by congressional correspondent Charles Babington and political researcher Brian Faler.
• Metro staff writers Michael D. Shear and Tim Craig checked in on the local delegation.
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