- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 27, 2004

BOSTON — Bill Clinton accused President Bush of wasting the advances of his eight years as president in a rousing opening-night speech to the Democratic National Convention yesterday, urging the election of Sen. John Kerry to restore his legacy.

“The president had an amazing opportunity [after September 11] to bring the country together under his slogan of compassionate conservatism and to unite the world in the struggle against terror. Instead, he and his congressional allies made a very different choice,” Mr. Clinton said.

“They chose to use that moment of unity to try to push the country too far to the right and to walk away from our allies,” he said.

Mr. Clinton, who received a rapturous reception on the first night of the four-day convention, said Mr. Bush walked away from the Democrat’s legacy on the environment, public safety and education.

“If you like these choices and you agree with them, you should vote to return them to the White House and the Congress,” he said to ironic boos from the crowd. “If not, take a look at John Kerry, John Edwards and the Democrats.”

Mr. Clinton was introduced by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, and the two drew, by far, the loudest applause of the evening.

In her short introduction, Mrs. Clinton likened Mr. Kerry to her husband.

“I think I know a great leader when I see one and so does America,” Mrs. Clinton said. “He showed Democrats how to win again. And so will John Kerry.”

The Kerry campaign said the theme was the “Kerry-Edwards plan for America’s future,” but yesterday’s lineup was heavy on the party’s elder statesmen, including former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore, who focused on the past.

“Take it from me every vote counts,” Mr. Gore said. “Let’s make sure that this time every vote is counted. Let’s make sure that the Supreme Court does not pick the next president and that this president is not the one who picks the next Supreme Court.”

Mr. Gore — who as the Democratic candidate in 2000 won the popular vote, but lost Florida by 537 votes and thus the Electoral College tally — said voters should put their anger to good use.

“To those of you who felt disappointed or angry with the outcome in 2000, I want you to remember all of those feelings. But then I want you to do with them what I have done: Focus them fully and completely on putting John Kerry and John Edwards in the White House,” Mr. Gore said.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign said Mr. Gore’s presence underscored the fact that they believe the 2004 election began in 2000.

“I think having Al Gore to be one of the first speakers tonight, or the first major speakers of the evening, really picks up the end of the 2000 election, and Democrats know what that means,” campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said.

Mr. Gore and Mr. Carter spoke earlier in the evening, while the Clintons spoke in prime time.

In his well-crafted speech, Mr. Clinton quoted Scripture, referred to documents from American history and made masterful use of repetition to drive his point home. He painted today’s choice for president in the context of the Civil War and the civil rights struggle.

“Now, again, it is time to choose. Since we’re all in the same boat, we should choose a captain of our ship who is a brave, good man, who knows how to steer a vessel through troubled waters,” he said. “Let us join tonight and say to America in a loud, clear voice: ‘Send John Kerry.’ “

As he began his remarks, the applause was so raucous that he laughingly told delegates to “calm down.”

He promised to “bring to the American people this year a positive campaign,” but then called Republicans elitists.

“The Republicans in Washington believe that America should be run by the ‘right’ people — their people — in a world in which America acts unilaterally when we can and cooperates when we have to,” he said. “They believe the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their economic, political and social views, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on important matters like health care and retirement security.”

“Now since most Americans aren’t that far to the right, our friends have to portray us Democrats as simply unacceptable, lacking in strength and values; in other words, they need a divided America. But we don’t,” he said.

Democrats overall had promised a positive convention, and Kerry campaign officials reviewed speeches with the hope of keeping Bush bashing to a minimum — a marked break from the primaries, where attacking the president was the dominant message.

Neither of the Clintons mentioned Mr. Bush by name, nor did Mr. Carter, although it was clear that they were going straight at him.

“At stake is nothing less than our nation’s soul,” said Mr. Carter, who was elected in the wake of Watergate but lost resoundingly to Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Mr. Carter, whom Democrats view as a voice of conscience in international affairs, said of his 80 years, “in some ways, the last few months have been some of the most disturbing of all.”

And just the mention of Mr. Bush from Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe drew lusty boos from the crowd.

Mrs. Clinton gave the most forward-looking and policy-oriented speech of the major addresses, telling delegates, “I know a thing or two about health care,” a reference to her failed effort in 1993 to create a national health care system.

But she said the party must try again and must “rededicate ourselves to the task of providing health care coverage for the 44 million Americans who are uninsured.”

Even though this is the first time Democrats have held their convention in Boston, city Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the party and the city always go together: “There are three things that sound great with a Boston accent: Fenway Park, a lobster dinner by the harbor and, my favorite, I’m proud to be a member of the Democratic Party.”

Continuing the Massachusetts theme, the convention played an audio clip of Robert F. Kennedy, brother of President Kennedy and a presidential hopeful in 1968.

The convention also had dozens of video clips of Democratic voters throughout the nation and elected party officials and federal and state officeholders, such as Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat and one of three openly homosexual members of Congress.

Miss Baldwin spoke about health care, but Democratic officials stressed to reporters that as convention vice chairwoman, she is part of their effort to include Americans of all races and sexual orientations.

Republicans, meanwhile, kicked off what promises to be the most elaborate counter-spin operation ever at a convention.

“You want to hear anything about Senator Kerry’s record in the United States Senate, over the past 20 years, this may be the only place you will hear that in Boston this week,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. “We believe for the next four days, the Democrats are going to attempt an extreme makeover of John Kerry’s record, and the Democratic Party’s rhetoric, with the convention.”

For his part, Mr. Bush was at his ranch in Texas, where he spent part of the day bicycling.

Polls have shown Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry locked in a tight race, though the most recent poll has bad news for Mr. Kerry.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll released last night found that Mr. Kerry has slipped against Mr. Bush compared with June results. The new survey found the president leading by 48 percent to 46 percent when independent candidate Ralph Nader is factored in, while last month Mr. Kerry held a 4 percent lead.

The poll also found Mr. Kerry slipping on five issues, including a 10 percent drop on handling terrorism and other drops on taxes, health care, Iraq and education. Mr. Kerry improved on the issue of handling the economy.

The Democrats’ convention adopted its party platform yesterday, a document that makes a marked break with platforms of the past.

This year’s document is about 35 percent shorter than the 2000 platform and focuses far more on defense and international affairs.

In particular, it includes statements sought by former presidential candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio that troops should be withdrawn from Iraq “when appropriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence.”

The platform also includes a call for amnesty for most illegal aliens, opposes a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and calls for far more spending on homeland security.

Mr. Gore, who served with Mr. Kerry in the Senate but endorsed Howard Dean before the Democratic primaries began, said last night that Mr. Kerry “has the courage, integrity and leadership to be a truly great president of the United States.”

Unlike their famous prolonged kiss during the 2000 convention, Mr. Gore last night simply blew a kiss to his wife, Tipper, when he introduced her to prolonged cheers.

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