As ABC News’ The Note Noted, as of this morning no one could recall John Kerry giving a great speech. That is no longer the case. I didn’t watch it; I listened to it on the radio. I thought it was astonishingly good.
It wasn’t a great literary document, and the delivery was clumsy in spots. (“I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty” is much weaker than a salute to Max Cleland and a crisp “Lieutenant Kerry, Sir! Reporting for duty!”)
But the voice was terrific: the resonance sounded a little bit like Garrison Keillor, and the cadence was confident and unforced. Most of all, it sounded as if Kerry was speaking, not reading someone else’s words.
The speech conveyed to me — not exactly a Kerry fan — that the person speaking was one who could be trusted with great power. That, and not eloquence per se, was the test that Kerry had to pass with the undecided voters. If enough of them were listening, and if they heard what I heard, he’s going to be President.
(Kevin Drum was less enthusiastic, rating the speech “at the high end of workmanlike.”)
Aside from the rhetoric, which I thought was pretty good throughout and inspired in spots, the politics of the speech struck me as close to pitch-perfect. Obama, Edwards, and Kerry all sounded as if they’d thought hard about how to express liberal policies in language that connects with ordinary folks. The Lincoln quote about not bragging that God is on our side but praying that we might be on God’s side couldn’t have been better.
Two other virtues the speech had are opposite sides of the same coin. Kerry, a leader of the antiwar movement that largely disdained national symbols, made a Democratic Convention crowd cheer at corny flag-waving. Good for him! It was a job that needed to be done. But Kerry did it without becoming the mouthpiece of Boomer self-hatred, without forgetting that the Sixties meant Freedom Riding as well as flag-burning. All that “Greatest Generation” stuff strikes me as largely a not-very-subtle put-down of the longhairs. Impartially praising the WWII heroes and the Boomers was a neat trick, and Kerry gave apparently sincere expression to both halves of the proposition.
The one thing I would have liked to hear that I didn’t hear tonight was what Wesley Clark was so good at expressing: the link between liberalism at home and strength abroad. But you can’t always get what you want, and what we got was plenty good enough for me.
Update Mickey Kaus confesses to liking it. (I’d never go so far as to call Mickey fair-minded, but he has a bedrock integrity under the spinmeister glitz: confronted with a demonstrable, tangible spade he’ll call it a spade, even if John Kerry is holding it.) By contrast,Glenn Reynolds is reduced to admitting — through the mouth of a commenter he quotes — that though the speech said absolutely everything he’d been saying for months he wanted to hear Kerry say, having heard it he’s decided that he was never willing to give Kerry a fair hearing.
I rest my case. The speech did the job.
Second update: Duhhhh….I’d forgotten that “Help is on the way” turns back on Bush one of his own applause lines from Campaign 2000.