John Kerry's Speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and Why I'm Voting for Him

When I took a cab ride home from JFK this past Monday, the cabbie asked who I was voting for. I said John Kerry, mainly because I didn't feel that President Bush had done a good job running the country.

I didn't have many doubts in my mind then, but if I hadn't been so tired after my trip to San Diego, I might have been able to explain in more depth. Either way, any doubts I might have had have been tamped down considerably by the speech John Kerry gave to the Democratic convention accepting the nomination tonight.

Whoever wrote this speech deserves some kind of award. Somehow, the speech managed a balancing act between the toughness that the Republican party had pretty much claimed as their own since Eisenhower, yet managed to very much keep to the values that the Democratic party has lived and died (mostly died) with, including health care, taxing the wealthy, education -- but also strengthening the military, and also fixing our foreign policy.

The emphasis on toughness was my favorite part of that speech, because it's the biggest club the Republicans have used against Democrats for as long as I've been alive. Kerry's military service make it much more credible than that of Bush, whose sole military service has been four less-than-stellar years as commander-in-chief.

The full transcript is here, but my favorite line was this:

"Now I know there are those who criticize me for seeing complexities -- and I do -- because some issues just aren't all that simple. Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so. And proclaiming mission accomplished, certainly doesn't make it so."

The thing that has always distressed me the most about George W. Bush is that I have never once been in any way convinced that he's qualified for the job. He isn't stupid -- that's an easy criticism -- but he isn't particularly smart, either. He's average. That aw-shucks-I'm-just-a-normal-guy approach did him a lot of good four years ago, but the thing is, I don't want a normal guy running the country. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar. George H.W. Bush was a lifetime politician who had years of hard experience in government.

But George W. Bush went from being a middling student to being a multiply failed businessman to being governor of a state whose goverorship is the 49th weakest in the country. He has boasted of the fact that he doesn't read the news, just gets his information from his advisors. This scares the piss out of me. When asked point blank what mistakes he made, he stared blankly and couldn't think of any. This scares the piss out of me. I don't want the leader of my country to be someone who isn't entirely engaged, who doesn't think things through, who counts on others to do the heavy lifting. I want the leader of my country to be an intelligent, thoughtful person.

I want the leader of my country to see complexities. Because the world is a complex place.

One of my favorite episodes of The West Wing was the episode "Game On," during which President Bartlet, running for reelection, had a debate with his opponent, Florida Governor Robert Ritchie (a none-too-subtle analogue to our current president). He had a great line in the debate: "Every once in a while, there's a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren't very many un-nuanced moments in leading a country." In George W. Bush, I don't see someone who would know a nuanced moment if it bit him on his ass.

I have never once felt confidence in Bush as the leader of the nation. I've occasionally felt confidence that he's the leader of people with a lot of money in oil, but that's about it.

After watching him tonight, I honestly think that John Kerry can lead this nation -- this entire nation -- and make it the leader of the world again, instead of just leading rich white people into being the bullies of the world that the rest of the world hates.

Okay, so there really wasn't any doubt that my long-haired hippie weirdo freak self was going to vote Democratic, since I have pretty consistently since I turned 18, but tonight I actually felt like this guy can win.....

[First posted on my Live Journal on 30 July 2004.]


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