HE MISSED THE BASE
Here at the Democratic National Convention this week, the most oft-heard statement was that the presidential election of 2004 is "the most important election of our lifetime." Nearly all the Democrats in Boston accepted that as an article of faith, and they also nodded in knowing agreement whenever someone asserted and it was often that President Bush had united the Democratic Party as never before.
John Kerry is so confident that Democrats believe both those things that he nearly ignored them in, of all things, his speech to the party convention tonight. He barely mentioned Medicare and Social Security, the Democrats' bread-and-butter issues of the last several campaigns. He mentioned taxing the rich in order to pay for domestic programs, but only briefly. He pointed out that the number of Americans without health insurance had grown by 4 million under Bush's watch but then told listeners that they could go to his Web site if they wanted to find out the details of his own plan to deal with that. He brought up gay rights only by nuanced implication that he wouldn't "misuse for political purposes" the Constitution, a back-door reference to Bush's support for a constitutional amendment to bar gay marriages.
Instead he talked about the flag, faith and patriotism. He spoke of optimism and public service. He saluted. To the extent that he talked about economic issues, he talked about balancing the budget.
In short, Kerry gave his speech not to the Democratic Party but to independents, middle-of-the-road'ers and moderate Republicans. No presidential nominee of his party in modern times could have gotten away with that. But the fear and loathing of Bush by the core Democratic constituencies labor, environmentalists, civil rights activists and liberals of other stripes is so great that Kerry could afford to simply ignore them without risk. He's betting that those groups will be so motivated to oust Bush that they will still campaign hard and turn out to vote. And judging from the temperature of Democrats in Boston this week, it doesn't seem much of a gamble. Kerry is free to run to the center without having to look over his left shoulder.