- This may sound perverse to some, but the best speaker of the convention may well have been Al Sharpton. The man knows how to make a point and deliver a line. After delivering a stirring address of principles, he responded to George W. Bush's questions about black voting patterns with one of the best lines of the convention. "You said the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give [freed slaves] 40 acres and a mule. That's where the argument, to this day, of reparations starts. We never got the 40 acres. We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres. We didn't get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us." As he pointed out, this has been an effective strategy thus far: "It was those that earned our vote that got our vote. We got the Civil Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the Voting Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the right to organize under Democrats."
- John Edwards was, of course, one of the highlights of the convention, but it was sad to see his buoyant energy trapped behind a podium. His normal walking around and gesturing was missing, and it made this speech less exciting and energizing than the ones he delivered in Iowa. Still, he laid out a compelling case.
- While the long Kerry introduction was a bit much--there were too many layers--his daughters were wonderful. I hope America saw them, because they made him seem more human. And Kerry himself delivered exactly the address he needed to deliver. He addressed the concerns voters have expressed about him:
- Is he strong enough? Yes. He explained his stance on military action and showed that he understands the new realities of the war on terror.
- Does he believe? Yes. He put forward a wonderful explanation of his feelings on faith, proclaiming that his religion isn't on his sleeve but in his heart, guiding his actions. If that's not enough for a voter, he or she is already lost to Kerry (and to science, and the teaching of evolution, and the idea that church and state should be separate).
- What will he do? I think we now know what Kerry would like to do in office: middle-class tax cuts, a roll-back of the Bush cuts for the top 1%, chopping the deficit in half, and expanding health care coverage to almost every American while helping those who already have insurance to obtain lower premiums and drug prices. It's going to be tough to do--maybe impossible with a Republican Congress. But it's a vision for a better America that should resonate with many Americans, catching a kitchen table issue that Bush and the Republicans have ignored.
And he addressed all of these issues forcefully. Kerry did rush toward the end--Bill Maher called his race to finish on time for the networks on of the most shameful spectacles ever seen in American politics. As he said, and this is paraphrase because the show transcript isn't up yet, "The man is laying out a plan to rule the globe. He shouldn't have to rush so people don't miss the first two minutes of Elimidate!"
Speaking of Maher, his return to HBO for the remainder of the election season was excellent. He talked to OutKast's Andre 3000, who is working to get young people to vote for the first time in this election; Andre talked with Al Sharpton about this at the convention to great effect.
Bill's guests included Republican representative David Dreir, former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell, and Michael Moore. It was a shoutfest, to be sure, but Moore's film was used to make some good points about our military recruiting, and especially about Bush's response--dazed and confused--to 9/11 when he found out and sat stunned in a classroom.
The most stirring event of the night, though, was Ralph Nader's appearance at the end. Moore and Maher got down on their knees and begged Nader not to run; when that didn't work, Campbell outlined a strategy by which Nader could have more influence, by proclaiming himself an evaluator of the two candidates on his issues and giving his appraisal and endorsement before Election Day. When Nader demurred from this, Maher nailed him: he produced a photo of O.J. Simpson and told Nader he could learn a lot from him. A man who was a beloved legend his whole life destroyed his legacy with a single terrible act. Such is the fate that awaits Nader if we get four more years of Bush on his account.