The gloves came off. A line was drawn in the sand.
While the first night of the Democratic National Convention was about family, and the second night emphasized party unity, the third night is best described as a political beat down.
The list of Democratic heavyweights included President Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Barack Obama’s new running mate Sen. Joe Biden. All three attacked the Republican Party, John McCain and America’s current direction.
They spoke as a party with nothing to lose, four years to gain and two Bush terms to make up for.
“I’ve never seen a time when Washington has watched so many people knocked down without helping them get back up,” said Biden, a six-term senator, in one of the better lines of the night. “That’s the America that George Bush has left us, and that’s the future John McCain will give us.”
The parallels didn’t stop there. “In the Senate, John sided with President Bush 95 percent of the time. Give me a break,” Biden said in his shoot-from-the-hip style.
Then he referenced oil companies and corporate favoritism. Easy points.
After a miserable August, the Democrats needed something, anything, to get back on message. Just six weeks ago, Obama was a clear favorite in most national polls. Americans were tired of Bush politics and the Republican platform. They believed McCain was too old, too Washington, D.C. for their vote.
Then gasoline prices hit critical mass. The Republicans, who most believed would be on the wrong side of America’s collective hatred for Big Oil, found a message in the “drill here, drill now” mantra. They correctly reasoned Americans’ self-proclaimed environmentalism was a luxury easily forgone during bad economic times.
Campaign events were held at gas stations and on off-shore oil rigs. Stump speeches glorified domestic drilling in Alaska and along American coastlines. Television ads blamed Democrats for America’s energy woes while picturing McCain in a field of windmills.
Poll numbers started to swing. Momentum started to shift. Heading into Denver this week, McCain and Obama were in a statistical dead heat. The Democrats needed to fight back.
On Wednesday night they did just that.
Although his remarks fell short of the acclaimed speech that his wife delivered the night before, Bill Clinton clearly challenged the “maverick” status of John McCain, likening him to the neo-conservative agenda unleashed after 9/11.
“As a senator, he has shown his independence on several issues,” Clinton said of McCain. “But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America’s leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001… (when) we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.”
Talk about bare-knuckle politics.
For John Kerry, it was a speech to vindicate the wrongs of his failed presidential bid four years ago and a chance to even the score with an old friend.
Kerry has privately expressed hurt feelings over McCain’s silence in 2004 amid defaming attacks by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that questioned Kerry’s military service. Both were veterans of the Vietnam war where each saw combat duty, and Kerry had hoped the straight-talking McCain, a long-time friend, would vouch for his patriotism and service. He didn’t, and Kerry burned on it.
At points it seemed Kerry was delivering the speech against Bush and the Republicans he should have four years ago.
“(Obama) will be a president who seeks not to perfect the lies of Swift Boating, but to end them once and for all,” Kerry said. “This election is a chance for America to tell the merchants of fear and division: You don’t decide who loves this country; you don’t decide who is a patriot; you don’t decide whose service counts and whose doesn’t.”
Then Kerry called McCain out personally, almost as if defending himself from the attacks of four years ago, for resorting to Swift Boat tactics after pledging to run a clean campaign.
“The candidate who once promised a ‘contest of ideas’ has resorted to personal attacks,” Kerry said. “How pathetic to suggest that those who question a failed policy doubt America itself. How desperate to tell the son of a single mother who chose community service over money and privilege that he doesn’t put America first. No one can question Barack Obama’s patriotism.”
Then, when the speeches ended and the work was done, Obama himself graced the stage. As if to call off the attack dogs and in bask in the light, he readied America for his much anticipated speech the following day at Mile High Stadium.
“I think we are going to have a great night tomorrow night and I look forward to seeing you there,” he said.
The crowd went wild.