Video: Al Sharpton on Iraq

By Alex Johnson Reporter
updated 8/1/2004 12:47:46 PM ET 2004-08-01T16:47:46

Two failed presidential candidates, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, energized the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, electrifying delegates with impassioned calls to traditional liberal values that the party has muted in its determination to put Sen. John Kerry in the White House.

Sharpton, Kucinich and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s equally energetic addresses galvanized the delegates in the FleetCenter, but they were scheduled for early in the evening, long before the national television networks went on the air. Party leaders had instructed speakers to skip over controversial issues that Democrats traditionally support, such as abortion rights, gun control, gay rights and affirmative action

But Sharpton and Kucinich would have none of it.

Sharpton renewed the left-of-center call for economic and racial justice that allowed him to rehabilitate his image outside his native New York as a fringe activist. “This is not about a party,” Sharpton told his party in a call to honor its progressive past. “It is about living up to the promise of America.”

Sharpton touched on a number of traditionally liberal themes in a speech that ran well over the six minutes he had been allotted by convention organizers. He rejected calls to make English the national language, saying, “No one gave [Latinos] an English test before they sent them to Iraq to fight for America.” He called for residents of the District of Columbia to be given statehood. He called for economic reparations to compensate black Americans for the ravages of slavery.

Kucinich sounded similar themes. Determined to reward his 67 delegates by bringing the strongest liberal message to the convention, he unabashedly proclaimed the Democrats “the party of workers’ rights, civil rights and women’s rights” and argued that “when we show up holding the banner of social and economic justice, we win.”

Suggesting that President Bush’s war on terrorism was a distraction from serious issues at home, Kucinich said the “real weapons of mass destruction” were poverty, crime and fear.

Kucinich, who remained in the race for the nomination as an anti-war spokesman right up until the convention began, finally released his delegates to Kerry this week, but there were indications that some would still vote “present” during the presidential roll call as a show of support.

Jackson: Send Bush home
While they all gave ringing endorsements of Kerry for president, it was Jackson who stuck closest to the program. Recalling “the darkness of 2000, [when] the winners lost and the losers won,” he returned to the scene of some of his most stirring political triumphs, the speaker’s podium at the Democratic convention, and made a rousing call to “send John Kerry and John Edwards to the White House this November.”

Jackson, himself a two-time candidate for president, promised that “a new day is dawning,” declaring: “Out of the darkness of the Bushes, we see the soaring of an authentic American eagle on the horizon. Hope cometh in the morning.”

Video: ‘Hope cometh in the morning’
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Jackson also made one of the few concrete policy proposals to be issued during the convention, which has been closely stage-managed by Democratic leaders to highlight Kerry’s war record and foreign policy credentials.

Jackson called on Democrats to support a constitutional amendment to guarantee every child a high-quality education, complaining that “this president speaks of leaving no child behind but leaves 2 million children behind to protect the tax cut for the top 1 percent.”

“Millions of youth today cannot afford college tuition and cannot find a job. Every child in America deserves a constitutional right to an equal high-quality education,” he said. “Yes: Hope cometh in the morning.”

Edwards in the spotlight
The main business of the evening was to be the nominations of Kerry and Edwards. Kerry was to accept on Thursday night; Wednesday night belonged to Edwards, who planned to turn his courtroom-honed charm on the nation, aiming to infuse the campaign with youth and energy.

IMAGE: Vice presidential candidate John Edwards and family
Ron Edmonds  /  AP
Sen. John Edwards gets directions from convention staffers and his wife, Elizabeth, left, before rehearsing his speech.

Edwards, a political novice when he won a term in the Senate from North Carolina just six years ago, planned to ask Americans to “reject the tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past,” according to excerpts of his speech released in advance, and “embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what’s possible.”

“He’ll be talking both about the big themes of this campaign and optimism searching for a better tomorrow that this nation has always represented,” said his wife, Elizabeth , who was to introduce him Wednesday night.

Despite Kerry’s dramatic arrival back in his hometown to prepare for his address to the nation Thursday night as the party’s choice to oust President Bush, it was the other John who got the Democratic National Convention’s top billing Wednesday as Kerry’s running mate.

Edwards and his family went to the convention floor early Wednesday morning for a microphone check. “Should I just go ahead and give the speech now?” he asked the nearly empty hall.

Lawyer’s gift of gab
During the primary season, from which he emerged as Kerry’s last major challenger, Edwards, 51, drew high approval ratings by projecting a sunny optimism and refraining from harsh attacks on his opponents.

Edwards’ speaking style — direct, without notes and with short sentences and simple words — was honed over years as a plaintiff’s trial lawyer, helping him win one multimillion-dollar verdict after another.

Edwards said Wednesday that he wrote most of the speech himself in longhand on a yellow legal pad, going through about 30 drafts, and practiced it repeatedly.

Like nearly all the speakers on the first two days of the convention, Edwards will lionize Kerry with stories of his service in Vietnam while criticizing Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.

“Decisive. Strong. Aren’t these the traits you want in a commander-in-chief?” Edwards planned to say.

After the address, which is also expected to be an encore of Edwards’ campaign contention that Bush had created “two Americas” — one for the rich and one for everyone else — the convention’s 4,350-plus delegates will shout their way through a roll call of states to formally nominate Kerry and Edwards.

The rest of the convention session Wednesday was focusing heavily on Kerry’s background as a decorated Vietnam War veteran, which his advisers see as a key attribute and a counter to Republican efforts to paint him as a traditional liberal who is weak on defense.

Twelve retired generals and admirals endorsed Kerry on Wednesday, and a special video tribute will feature officers talking about their support.

As he arrived Wednesday at Logan Airport, Kerry told reporters that he felt “great, ready to go, pumped,” and he promised that his acceptance speech would be a surprise.

Kerry then made a splashy entrance into the city with his Vietnam-era swiftboat crew mates. They hailed a water taxi for a cruise through Boston Harbor to Charlestown Navy Yard, where Kerry promised “no retreat, no surrender” in his battle with President Bush.

For Democrats, two fresh faces
Calling him “skilled, capable and experienced,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California formally placed Kerry’s name in nomination a little after 6 p.m. as the third day of the convention got under way. The roll call of states was not scheduled until much later, however, and Kerry was not expected to be formally nominated until around midnight.

Tuesday night, Democrats got their first detailed look at Kerry’s outspoken wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who portrayed her husband as a war hero who “earned his medals the old-fashioned way, by putting his life on the line.”

Heinz Kerry , widow of a Republican senator who inherited his family’s ketchup fortune, and the convention’s keynote speaker, Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama, sought to put a positive, friendly face of diversity on a national campaign that has been marked by bitter divisions. Their addresses were in stark contrast with those of the Democrats’ liberal lions, Edward Kennedy and Howard Dean, who issued full-throated roars against Bush.

Heinz Kerry was one of two new faces being introduced Tuesday night to national Democrats. In his keynote address, Obama offered his own life as an example of uniquely American possibilities and promised that “a brighter day will come.”

“They sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all,” said Obama, 42, a lawyer who was the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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