"That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to ideology and it doesn't belong to any political party. It belongs to all the American people."
John Kerry is trying to (re)capture the flag. How well he succeeds will determine the 2004 presidential election.
After a week of parading generals, salutes to patriotism and testimonials on the candidate's war record, John Kerry's acceptance speech Thursday night mentioned military service or national defense in 33 of his speech's 100 paragraphs. This aggressively points Democrats straight where Republicans seemed unassailable in the 2002 elections -- in a partisan battle royal over who can best claim the mantle of protecting America.
It's a bold move, and one the Republicans will forcefully parry at their convention a month from now. While Kerry genuinely looked strong, this is also the time for the post-convention bounce, when Stockholm Syndrome media and keyed-up activists combine to create an often-unsustainable momentum. That said, the move toward what an alliterist could call "Progressive Patriotism" may be the Dems version of 2000's "Compassionate Conservatism" -- an approach that tries to turn perceived weakness into strength. If anybody has the life story to pull it off, it's Kerry. Republicans will argue that if anyone has a voting record that doesn't, it's Kerry.
Kerry's speech also outlined economic principles, and tried to wrestle the word "values" from the GOP as well. Only one paragraph dealt with religion -- Kerry still isn't comfortable in the faith realm the way Bill Clinton was. Lots of talk about uniting, not dividing as well -- though in upcoming months one must watch what the parties do, not what they say. This election is still about well-calibrated messages to battleground states -- while voters may thirst for unity, there are few signs out there that that sort of dynamic, which normally only happens in landslides, is ready to materialize.
Those are some quick first impressions. After the speech I stuck around the Fleet Center long enough to retrieve a red, a white, and a blue balloon, my official convention souvenirs. I remember the first time I ever saw 'em fall, watching the Democratic convention of 1980. A co-worker said he was surprised the balloon fall still happens, due to the heightened security.
But when balloons no longer fall, then the terrorists have won. And if one thing is certain, both parties are stepping up this fall to make sure that never happens. Now, if only I can get the air out of 'em without popping any.