Before I get to coverage of the Edwards speech, I have to tell you how I got to see it.
I went into the FleetCenter (accosted by a publicist who pressed a book on me without breaking stride) because I wanted time to get up to CNN's fifth-floor skybox for an interview.
The fire department shut off access to the fifth and sixth floors because, ostensibly, there were too many people up there (what, this was a surprise at a political convention?). Couldn't sweet-talk my way past the guards, so I went into the hall.
Suddenly, I had a behind-the-speaker view of the man who had just taken the podium. You cannot imagine from television what it looks like to be there. It's like standing on home plate at Yankee Stadium. The crowd, which you see in a panoramic sweep, is deafening. There are literally thousands of red Edwards signs being waved. The neon signs that strip around near the arena's ceiling are moving. No one could stand there and not feel an incredible surge of energy -- and a little bit of nervousness.
John Edwards is a gifted speaker, and he let it rip.
Unfortunately for me, some guards eventually decided I couldn't stand in the aisle, so it was back into the hall, where I found a large monitor, took my place on the floor and watched as a group of Democrats cheered and clapped.
When he was done, I was able to get up to the skybox for the interview (about how much press coverage matters at these scripted events). Behind me echoed the roll call of the states, a nice old ritual that TV doesn't care about anymore. New Mexico was voting when I got on. Thanks to two earpieces, I was able to hear pretty well and got through unscathed. My reward: A long walk back to the hotel in the rain.
The remarkable thing about today's coverage is the wide range of positive and negative reviews, as if the journalistic armchair critics weren't all watching the same speech. Here's the gist of the Edwards performance, from the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2004/07/29/politics/campaign/29campaign.final.html?hp:
"Senator John Edwards, summoning all his skills as a trial lawyer and a populist, made an impassioned case for Senator John Kerry on Wednesday, hailing him as a battle-tested veteran ready to be commander in chief and a man who could restore economic hope and opportunity.
"'Hope is on the way,' Mr. Edwards declared to a cheering Democratic National Convention.
"The heart of Mr. Edwards's speech was the theme he sounded throughout his primary campaign, that 'we still live in a country where there are two different Americas,' one for people who 'are set for life,' the other for 'most Americans who live from paycheck to paycheck.' He proudly recounted his own rise as the son of a millworker, paying tribute to his emotional parents in the convention hall, and made the case for a return to Democratic economic and domestic policies to 'build one America.'
"But Mr. Edwards, who will officially become the Democratic nominee for vice president on Thursday, also tried to make a simple but politically crucial point: that Mr. Kerry, criticized by Republicans as too risky and untested to be a wartime president, is made of sterner stuff, with strong values that he demonstrated even as a young Swift boat commander in Vietnam."
Edwards is trying to pull off a charisma transfusion, the Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/9268728.htm?1c observes:
"He's on the Democratic ticket because of his deft gift for gab, because his honeyed words go down easy, and because he could probably charm a hound dog off the back of a meat wagon. Hence, his appearance last night as John Kerry's smoothest salesman, the sunny Southerner making his best case for the wintry Northerner.
"It's questionable that Edwards will ultimately move any votes in November - running mates are rarely pivotal - and it's doubtful that his acceptance speech will lodge for long in the memory. (Can you recite a single phrase from Joe Lieberman's 2000 address? Or Dick Cheney's?) But this tightly contested race is being waged one day at a time, and there's a reason why the Kerry campaign has been airing, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, a TV ad starring Edwards as pitchman.
"It's because Edwards often argues for Kerry better than Kerry argues for himself.
"Kerry has struggled to craft a memorable theme, but Edwards already has one - the 'two Americas' stump speech, in which he says there is one set of rules for the privileged and another 'for everybody else' - and now he's giving it to Kerry."
Nice gift -- but can one politician really transfer his message to another like a computer file?
Speaking of donations, the Chicago Tribune | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/elections/conventions/chi-0407290266jul29.story frames it this way:
"John Edwards cannot donate the optimism, which seems to run deep in his marrow, to John Kerry. He cannot graft his electric smile or transfer his energy onto the top of the ticket.
"But he can argue the case. That's the gift of the trial lawyer in Edwards: taking a set of facts, molding them, then persuading someone else to believe them. Now Edwards' client is Kerry. He has been making the case for the Massachusetts senator for months. But on Wednesday night, the audience of voters expanded exponentially. And Edwards deftly employed the same style that made him so appealing throughout the primaries, repeatedly bringing cheering Democrats in the convention hall to their feet."
But just how original was the Edwards address? The Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/politics/conventions/articles/2004/07/29/borrowed_words_bolster_edwardss_case_against_bush/ investigates:
"If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, John Edwards paid George W. Bush the highest of compliments last night. . . .
"Four years ago, in speech after speech, Bush promised Republicans and members of the military that ''help is on the way' after eight destructive years of the Clinton administration -- a line that drew standing ovations from conservatives desperate to regain power. Last night, for the most important political speech of his career, Edwards stole the line, then added a populist twist to make it the soaring refrain of his convention speech.
"More than just an innocent case of plagiarism, the borrowed punchline gives the Kerry/Edwards team a shorthand phrase to illustrate a fundamental element of the Democratic strategy in this campaign: invoking some of the most memorable pledges that Bush made four years back to argue that he never fulfilled him. For Democrats, promising to come to the rescue is another way of suggesting that Bush has failed to do so, but in a more positive tone."
So Edwards can't be prosecuted for theft?
The Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-assess29jul29,1,2016808.story?coll=la-home-headlines looks at the larger challenge for JFK:
"For three days, Democrats have built a frame for their nominee. Now, John F. Kerry has to fill in the picture. From the Rev. David Alston, a Kerry crewmate in Vietnam, to vice presidential nominee John Edwards and a procession of retired generals Wednesday night, Democrats have systematically portrayed their candidate as principled, politically courageous, optimistic, forward-looking and, above all, tough and decisive enough to protect America in a turbulent time.
"But many analysts agree that praise may quickly fade in voters' minds unless they see those qualities in Kerry when he stands before them, alone, in his acceptance speech tonight. . . .
"Senior Kerry aides, although cautioning that decisions could change at the last moment, said he was unlikely to detail significant new positions today on key issues such as Iraq. That means the speech's success is likely to turn on Kerry's ability to establish personal connections with voters that build trust in him as a leader."
National Review's David Frum | http://nationalreview.com/frum/frum-diary.asp is underwhelmed by the Edwards magic:
"10:29. John Edwards impresses too -- but in a very different way. To complain about hateful negativism at this convention? E is for effrontery!
"10:32. Two specific commitments in two minutes to a 'real patient's bill of rights' -- ie, one that permits lawsuits. Never let it be said that John Edwards neglects his base!
"10:38. Does this speech make any sense at all? They're going to raise taxes on almost nobody -- and pay for almost everything. Back in 1992, Bill Clinton -- to give him his due -- based his campaign on a highly specific policy document. That strategy has gone out the window this year. Gov. Granholm kept referring to Kerry's 'plan,' but there is no Kerry plan in any real sense of the word: just darts tossed at a board.
"10:47. And the foreign policy section is almost as baffling. A lot of what he has to say is sensible enough -- and then at the same time he is suggesting (or anyway allowing the hall to think) that a President Kerry will bring the troops home from Iraq almost immediately.
"10:52. 'Hope is on the way' -- not a well chosen slogan. You sort of think it's going to be 'help is on the way,' but apparently the Dems aren't quite prepared to promise anything as concrete as that. Edwards suggested you call your brother working late at the office and tell him the good news. But an overworked guy buried under tasks is not going to appreciate it that you take his time with a useless message like that.
"10:56. There are certain kinds of actors you watch and you say: 'Wow -- that guy was really acting.' Edwards is the kind of politician who makes you say, 'Yes, that guy's really a politician.' He was smooth, glib, emollient, full of promises that your hands can't quite grip onto."
The Weekly Standard's Jonathan Last | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/004/403avxdg.asp flunks Edwards:
"Back in New Hampshire, I noticed that while he's a naturally gifted politician, Edwards can, once in a while, come across as a slick, unappealing lightweight. This wasn't a major concern, of course, so long as he didn't pick his speech at the Democratic National Convention to have an off day. Oops.
"Edwards was not terrible. He was rocky; he had some nice moments; he had bad patches. The problem is, he's supposed to be the guy that added panache to the ticket. Kerry is the one who gets to be 'not terrible.'
"First things first: Whoever runs the speech shop at Team Kerry, needs pry the '?' key off of Edwards's speechwriter's computer. Whenever Edwards asks rhetorical questions, his worst features come out: the smarm and condescension. 'Aren't those the traits you want in a commander in chief?' 'Aren't you sick of it?' 'You can't save any money, can you?' The vice president is not supposed to be the nation's first-grade teacher."
Dan Kennedy's | http://www.bostonphoenix.com/medialog/index.asp insta-analysis:
"My first reaction to his speech: a hodge-podge of meaningless cliches, punctuated in the middle by a few specific bullet points. Maybe I'll feel differently in the morning, but there's a contrived quality to Edwards's public utterances that I've never much liked. Maybe he was trying too hard not to overshadow Kerry."
Slate | http://slate.msn.com/id/2104296/ does the debate thing, with William Saletan giving a thumbs-up:
"The speech is familiar to anyone who has heard Edwards speak during the primaries. My colleagues are unimpressed. But tonight's only important target is the folks at home who haven't heard him before. And while it's true, as my colleagues complain, that the speech is uneven, I doubt that will matter. What matters is that Edwards says several things the Democratic ticket urgently needs to say, and he says them perfectly."
And a thumbs-down from Slate's Chris Suellentrop | http://slate.msn.com/id/2104503/:
"I admit it. I don't get it. John Edwards is a perfectly fine public speaker, and compared to the likes of Bob Graham, he's Cicero, but I've never understood the press corps' crush on him. Of all the Democratic presidential candidates with whom I shared a small one-on-one encounter -- even a handshake and a quick question -- I found Edwards the least personally charming. Wesley Clark was a stiff shouter in speeches, but he had a likable way of engaging in locker-room razzing with the media. Howard Dean, the candidate whose stump persona (at least until he began messianic chanting) most closely resembled the one he put forth to the press, had a regular-guy air. Even John Kerry was hands-on, a guy who would put his arm around you to bring you into his circle. The awkward forcedness of the moment was part of its A-for-effort appeal.
"Edwards, on the other hand, was guarded, bland, and impenetrable when I sat down for a 30-minute interview with him last September in a supporter's home in Sioux City, Iowa. He had nothing to say beyond the confines of his scripted talking points."
Salon's Tim Grieve | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/07/29/edwards_speech/index.html says the North Carolinian fell short:
"As Edwards stepped to the microphone, the packed convention floor surged forward in a sweaty mosh pit of high expectations.
"Edwards almost met them. He recounted the heroism of John Kerry, replayed the highlights of 'Two Americas,' and rebuffed Republican arguments that a Kerry-Edwards White House would be soft on defense. Edwards' speech was all things to all people, but in the end it wasn't quite all that.
"'Two Americas' didn't play as well in a huge basketball arena as it did in small towns in South Carolina and Iowa -- perhaps because almost everyone in the arena had heard the speech before. Smiling John's tough-guy talk on terrorism seemed forced, and his 'son of a millworker' story seemed somehow less compelling in the shadow of Barack Obama's star turn the night before."
Josh Marshall | http://talkingpointsmemo.com is, well, rather lukewarm:
"Friends who I watched the speech with, down on the floor just to his left, thought Edwards was about 75%. I don't know how much it appeared that way on TV. He may only have come off that way if you'd seen him a lot on the campaign trail.
"His voice was slightly hoarse and cracked on certain phrases. He seemed to me like he might be getting sick.
"Still, with all that, he has an irresistible charm. And he does wind the themes of this convention together in a unique, compelling way. One point: listening to Edwards tonight, and thinking back to the themes he struck during the primaries, it occurred to me how many of them have been incorporated into the message coming out of this convention."
In other convention stuff, Andrew Sullivan, | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=fisking&s=sullivan072804 writing in the New Republic, finds Teresa disingenuous:
"It is hard not to second the notion that intelligent women with views should not be patronized with the word 'opinionated.' It would be equally refreshing not to have eloquent African Americans described as 'articulate,' as George Mitchell did when describing Barack Obama. But coming from a woman who married her wealth, this kind of victimology is a little, er, rich.
"It is equally preposterous to say that all women in American public life are viewed this way. When has Condi Rice been called 'opinionated'? Or Barbara Mikulski? Or Kay Bailey Hutchison? Yes, this point undoubtedly resonated with many women who have to deal with insufferable condescension and dismissal in their daily lives. But it is hard to think of the billionaire heiress as their peer. She is called 'opinionated' because she is, and because she is an unelected private citizen who believes that her marriage entitles her to lecture the rest of us.
"Why else, after all, is she at the convention? She is there as a spouse. Period. In that sense, she is not advancing feminism. She is helping to hold it back. And then, for good measure, she addresses the applauding crowd and says, 'Merci.' Why? Are they French? Or is she just off on some Francophile digression? Who knows? Whatever the explanation, she comes across as ever-so-slightly nutty. . . .
"It's hard not to like her. I'd love to have dinner with her. I'm sure she's a wonderful spouse, great mother, and peerless philanthropist. But she is now officially a liability for Kerry's campaign. And the campaign let it happen. If Kerry's advisers want to win, they'd better tell her to quiet down and take a backseat to the man who is actually running for office. And if she won't, someone, somewhere, is going to have to tell her to shove it."
American Prospect | http://www.prospect.org/weblog/ plays media critic--and scores:
"WHAT A DIFFERENCE TWO WEEKS MAKES. Today, the AP decided to treat a line from John Edwards' stump speech as if it were news. AP reporter Tom Raum hyped Edwards' speech tonight as 'Edwards Slamming GOP in DNC Speech.' His evidence? These words, among others:
'In a speech to convention delegates poised to make him their vice presidential candidate, the North Carolina senator was asking Americans to 'reject the tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past' and embrace a Democratic ticket he said was full of promise and hope.'
"But just two weeks ago, AP writer Mike Glover wrote this story about an Edwards rally, framing the exact same words in a completely different way:
'At his rally, Edwards struck that optimistic note. "'The American people are going to reject the tired old hateful negative politics of the past,' he said. Instead they're going to embrace the politics of hope.'"
"It would indeed be news if the relentlessly sunny Edwards excoriated the Bush administration in a way that was harsher than the already strong critique he developed during the primaries and since becoming the vice presidential nominee. But it didn't really happen."
Maybe the bloggers' good press has peaked, according to National Journal's William Powers: | http://conventions.nationaljournal.com/archives/2004/07/baby_you_can_dr_1.html
"Not to trash our own personal medium, but I think the big media news of this convention is that blogs are officially unhip.
"If blogging were a car, it would be a Honda Element: it was fascinating at first, when there were only a few out there. Then suddenly they were everywhere, and even your great-aunt Beth (the 'character' of the family) had one. What was once radical and 'edgy' is now normal and mundane. So it with goes with all things hip. Still, the descent to mainstream-ness is always a little tragic to watch.
"Credentialed bloggers now attend official blogger breakfasts. CNN is doing a blog 'round up.' You're reading a blog on NationalJournal.com. Need I say more?"
Meanwhile, another glimpse of FleetLife: The Washington Post's roast beef au jus didn't completely make it through security. The au jus was confiscated, in accordance with the no-liquids rule. Leaving us with some pretty dry beef and a new appreciation of prison life.
Journalists here have lost all sense of circadian rhythm, since we work deep into the night and are surrounded by pols, delegates and other journalists. I keep bumping into the likes of Frank Rich and Jesse Jackson, Rich Lowry and Mitch McConnell. Stepping out of one of the increasingly rancid, impossible to flush port-o-potties (whose condition must violate EPA standards by now), I found Gary Hart standing right outside the door. A colleague told me that people were surrounding Barack Obama as he stepped into a port-o-potty. Talk about a captive audience.
Jonathan Chait | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?pt=MzM4s1IY2RzX1Esupl7P%2FA%3D%3D didn't come to Boston and--get this-- he doesn't care!
"Last week, a woman called to ask if I had received an invitation to her organization's party at the Boston convention. I told her I was not going to Boston. 'Oh!' she replied, with a mixture of shock and pity. A moment ago, she had been beseeching me. Now, she was embarrassed for me. A couple days later, a reporter friend called to inquire about my convention plans. I gave the same answer and heard the same 'Oh!' It was the sort of response you'd get if you begged off an invitation to go out to dinner by explaining that you couldn't afford to eat three meals a day.
"Professional Washington has relocated to Boston for the week, yet I chose to remain behind. Well, 'chose' may be a slight overstatement. My editor, for reasons that will become clear as you read on, decided not to send me. But I didn't want to go anyway. For one thing, I remain traumatized by my one previous convention experience, in Los Angeles four years ago. Conventions are often portrayed as joyous, nonstop festivals of party-hopping. In truth, they're ruthless Darwinian competitions, in which those who have attained high status, or are particularly adept at networking, gorge themselves on crab cakes and foie gras, while the socially inept are left behind to scrounge hotel vending-machine fare. The struggle is so fierce and so elemental that it consumes almost every waking moment.
"It is almost impossible to have a conversation with anybody without asking, or being asked, 'Do you know what parties are going on tonight, and, if yes, can you get me in?' It is the closest approximation an adult can have to being in the ninth grade, and, for me, the result was eerily similar. I whiled away the evenings alone in my hotel room, reading the newspapers, periodically checking my unringing cell phone to make sure it was charged, and watching the hotel's one movie channel, which, night after night, replayed a movie about superintelligent sharks."
I guess it would be cruel to tell Chait what a blast it's been living in the Fleet tent and eating bad $9.50 sandwiches all week.
Earlier this month, the New Republic | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040719&s=aaj071904 reported that the Bush administration was putting pressure on Pakistan to arrest some major-league terrorists before the November election.
In fact, the magazine quoted one unidentified Pakistani intelligence official as saying that a White House aide told the head of the spy agency last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT [High-Value Target] were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July." Those just happened to be the first three days of the Democratic convention.
Um, guess what?
The AP | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A25194-2004Jul29.html has reported Thursday afternoon that "Pakistan has arrested a Tanzanian al Qaeda suspect wanted by the United States in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the interior minister said Friday. He said the suspect was cooperating and had given authorities 'very valuable' information."
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was reportedly to be on the FBI's list of 22 most wanted terrorists, and a reward of up to $25 million was offered for his capture.
And get this: The arrest was actually made Sunday, the AP reported from Islamabad. But the capture was announced Thursday. The bulletins hit the wires soon after 3 p.m., or about seven hours before John Kerry delivers his acceptance speech.
Obviously, I have no evidence that there's any connection between the timing of the arrest and the allegations made by the New Republic, which White House officials dismissed at the time. But the way the announcement was handled raises questions, to say the least. If you nabbed Ghailani on Sunday, why on earth would you wait until hours before Kerry's speech to tell the world -- and open yourself up to charges of politicizing the war on terror?
Bouncing Back in Boston
BOSTON, July 29--John Edwards turned out to be a box-office draw for the Democrats.
But the broadcast networks, which have cut way back on convention coverage, are continuing to lose audience share.
Last night, 17.3 million households tuned into six networks to watch Edwards and the Democrats, according to Nielsen. That's a slight uptick from the 17.2 million that watched Joe Lieberman and the Democrats on the third night of the convention in 2000.
But that's a better performance that Bill Clinton and Al Gore turned in on Monday night, when the combined audience was down 10 percent from four years ago. (Tuesday, you'll recall, the broadcast networks didn't carry squat.) So there turned out to be a curiosity factor about Edwards as a relatively new player on the national stage.
The big news for media-watchers is that political viewers are moving to cable, which takes conventions a whole lot more seriously than the Big Three.
CBS was down from 5 million viewers to 3.9 million. NBC dropped from 5.4 million to 4.2 million. ABC declined from 5.4 million to 4.1 million.
The Big Three have sent the message that they don't care all that much about conventions, and viewers have gotten the message.
On cable, though, CNN's ratings rose from 1.3 million four years ago to 2.2 million last night. Fox was up from 379,000 to 1.8 million. MSNBC jumped from 567,000 to 1.1 million.
The other big winner is PBS, which figures its ratings a little differently. Jim Lehrer and company drew 2.7 million last night, compared to 2 million four years ago. And that gives the Kerry-Edwards Democrats even more of a ratings boost over the Gore-Lieberman Democrats.