Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Kerry's finest moment


The low point was the high point.

Seeing Senator John Kerry's (D-Mass) return to the Senate this week, with its missed opportunity to forecast - if not pound home - the once and future triumph of progressive values, I saw Mr. Kerry return to his overtly senatorial and rather staid caution (see post below). Mr. Kerry underplayed the moment, even with the specters of political alienation and even obscurity looming over him (and vicariously, looming over those who want to see a better nation rising out of the ashes of "four more years"). Rhetorically, syntactically and symbolically, Mr. Kerry failed yet again to build a bridge to his political future and the political hopes of progressives.

Mr. Kerry, where's our bridge?

And so today, I am considering the arc of the Kerry campaign. Where were it's finest hour and it's finest moment? What was it's high point? Where did it come closest to capturing and captivating the American people?

No, it was not at the convention in Boston, when, in an admittedly powerful speech, Mr. Kerry lead the Democrats (from behind the scenes) on a crusade to out-bluster the military might of the Republicans. Even then, Mr. Kerry seemed more credibly "presidential" than his opponent. From the salute and for the next hour, that Thursday night in Boston was certainly a fine hour, but it was not THE finest moment.

Each of the three debates provided highpoints for Mr. Kerry. But as we have learned, winning a debate or even all three doesn't cinch the election. By many objective measures, Mr. Bush struck out in the debates and barely took a dip. His grinding juggernaut kept plowing ahead.

No, by the time Mr. Kerry achieved his finest moment, it was all over but for the mysterious recounts. It came during the candidate's concession speech, around noon in Boston, November 3rd.

Mr. Kerry started off with a few vague comments about his concilliatory phone call to Mr. Bush, saying they'd "had a good conversation" and "talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need, for unity for finding the common ground, coming together."

Mr. Kerry went on to say, "Today I hope that we can begin the healing."

In the wake of Mr. Kerry's concession speech, most pundits, observers and newscasters harped on the seemingly and so suddenly vanquished candidate's calls for "healing" and "unity," but these were Kerry miscues as well. It had been less than 12 hours since more than 57 million voters and several billion people around the world had watched their hopes for a Bush defeat/Kerry victory crumble. Millions were in mourning and felt more like moaning than healing. And many surely weren't ready to concede "unity" to the Republicans or with them, considering how well the true blue suspected the rabid Republicans would certainly NOT be returning the favor. What was that "unity" talk all about, a gentleman's agreement? The same old Daschle style deference that had gotten liberals and the Democrats on the run in the first place? ("Born to Run" is one Springsteen song many had no need to conjure.)

Mr. Kerry may continue to feel that substance and graciousness are enough to carry an agenda to fruition, though there is not much evidence in political history to support this view. But there was Mr. Kerry with the TV cameras and a defining moment on hand.

Many listening were stunned, many around the room and around the nation were in tears, nearly deaf to "healing" and "unity." Many, it seemed, were ready for some rest but only the kind of genuine rest that comes with a recharged, renewed, refocused aim at the more distant future, and a different kind of call to arms. And there it came - in the middle of his concession speech - Kerry's finest moment

He said:

"It is a privilege and a gift to spend two years traveling this country, coming to know so many of you."

Kerry said:

"You just have no idea how warming and how generous that welcome is, your love is, your affection, and I'm gratified by it."

John Kerry said:

"I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

This is what John Kerry said:

"I wish that I could just wrap you up in my arms and embrace each and every one of you individually all across this nation."

And with that line, at long last, John Kerry hit the high mark, the finest moment of his campaign and probably his political career.

In our candidates and in our leaders, we don't just need science and political science, we need sentiment, too - sentiment and, in this telegenic age, a likeable suaveness, a person who exudes his affection for the camera, for audiences and for the foibles, aches and pains of people in general.

It took a devastating, heart-rending defeat to bring this heartfelt quality out in John Kerry, even a little bit. But there it was - what we'd wanted to see and hear and feel for months. And the tears were flowing.

If Mr. Kerry had so convincingly and compelling reached out and wrapped up the American people in his arms for the year preceeding November 3rd, he would have put the lid on the Deaniacs and, by a majority vote, been destined to become the next president in January.

Sentiment and caring like that are a Value with a capital V - easily worth three or four million votes taken from the other side. Kerry could have made Mr. Bush seem uppity and "out of touch" and even, with some irony, elitist - the very qualities which defeated his father in 1992, when faced with the "I feel your pain" compassion and likable suaveness of Bill Clinton.

Sure, some political sophistry, sophistication and syntax never hurt ('it's what the vast majority want, stupid'), but what wins in the end? Passion for a distinctive set of goals is right up there, but above all, bravery and empathy.


At 11/18/2004 6:41 AM, Blogger Aleksu said...

Thanks for the insight into the concession speech.

At 11/18/2004 9:06 PM, Blogger Regina said...

Thank you, Lawrence. This is beautiful.


Post a Comment

<< Home