Democrats welcomed a new star on their national stage Tuesday night as Barack Obama, a previously obscure state senator, offered his own life as an example of uniquely American possibilities and promised that “a brighter day will come.”
Obama, the Democrats’ nominee for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois, was tapped to deliver the keynote address at the party’s national convention, responsible for putting a positive, friendly face of diversity on a national campaign that has been marked by bitter divisions.
In contrast to Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and failed presidential candidate Howard Dean, who attacked President Bush in blisteringly partisan terms, Obama hewed to party leaders’ instructions to highlight Sen. John Kerry’s qualifications. While he criticized many of Bush’s policies, he never once mentioned the president by name.
Obama’s father was a goat herder in Africa who won a scholarship to study in America. He described his mother’s youth in Kansas, raised by a couple who built a good life with educations they obtained through the GI Bill and a home they got with a federal loan.
“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.
From rising health care costs to jobs going overseas to civil liberties being threatened, Obama said, Kerry has the values and record to offer help people deserve. And in a jab at Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, he said Kerry had the judgment to lead America to war only when absolutely necessary.
“When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going,” Obama said.
“We have real enemies in the world,” he said. “They must be pursued — and they must be defeated. John Kerry knows this.”
Other speakers Tuesday included Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and two other of his defeated rivals for the presidential nomination: Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who is retiring from Congress, and former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois.
A Reagan drops by
And also appearing was Ron Reagan, the son of the late Republican president.
Reagan, who is a commentator for MSNBC, made an unusual appearance that he stressed “should not, must not, have anything to do with partisanship.”
“I am here tonight to talk about the issue of research into what may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our or in any lifetime: the use of embryonic stem cells,” Reagan said.
Reagan called for greater support for stem-cell research, which the Bush administration has sharply restricted. He argued that expanded research could help find a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which slowly killed his father.
Reagan — acknowledging that “a few of you may be surprised to see someone with my last name showing up to speak at a Democratic convention” — told delegates that such research could yield promising treatments that could “cure a wide range of fatal and debilitating illnesses: Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma, spinal cord injuries and much more.”
“There are those who would stand in the way of this remarkable future, who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research,” he said. “... A few of these folks, needless to say, are just grinding a political axe and they should be ashamed of themselves.
“But many are well-meaning and sincere,” he said. “Their belief is just that, an article of faith,
and they are entitled to it. But it does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many.”
“Whatever else you do come November 2nd, I urge you, please, cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research,” Reagan concluded.
Kennedy, Dean take off the gloves
Reagan and the other speakers faced a challenge living up to the buzz created by former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who were the convention’s stars Monday night. But the Democrats’ liberal lions, Kennedy and Dean, were undaunted, issuing full-throated roars against Bush.
With the national television networks skipping Tuesday night’s convention program entirely, Kennedy and Dean were free to express the frustrations of many Democrats without running much danger of turning off undecided potential voters. They accused the president of cynically dividing the country and abandoning U.S. troops overseas.
In many respects, the program was a tribute to Kennedy, Kerry’s Senate colleague from Massachusetts, as the Democrats held their first convention in his hometown. He was named honorary chairman of the convention, and he was allotted 30 minutes of prime time Tuesday night; by contrast, Dean, the former governor of Vermont who was Kerry’s strongest primary season challenger, was given only 10 minutes.
Kennedy gave the delegates what they wanted, especially on the war. He denounced Bush and his administration as “false patriots” who sought to “bully dissenters into silence and submission.”
“More than 900 of our servicemen and women have already paid the ultimate price. Nearly 6,000 have been wounded in this misguided war,” he said. “The administration has alienated longtime allies. Instead of making America more secure, they have made us less so. They have made it harder to win the real war on terrorism, the war against al-Qaida.”
“None of this had to happen,” Kennedy said, asking: “How could any president have possibly squandered the enormous goodwill that flowed to America from across the world after September 11th?”
“If each of us cared about the public interest, we wouldn’t have the excesses of Enron. We wouldn’t have the abuses of Halliburton. And Vice President Cheney would be retired to an undisclosed location,” he said. “Soon, thanks to John Kerry and John Edwards, he’ll have ample time to do just that.”
Dean: Restore Democrats’ pride
Dean, whose insurgent campaign ignited a wave of anti-Bush fervor in the party, urged Democrats not to be “afraid to stand up for what we believe,” promising that “we’re not going to let those who disagree with us shout us down under a banner of false patriotism.”
“Never again will we be ashamed to call ourselves Democrats. Never. Never. Never,” he said. “We’re not just going to change presidents — we’re going to change this country and reclaim the American dream.”
Dean accused Bush of turning his back on the stretched U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying he wanted “a commander-in-chief who supports our soldiers and our veterans, instead of cutting their hardship pay when they’re abroad and their health benefits when they get home.”
“I may not be the nominee, but I can tell you this: For the next hundred days, I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure that John Kerry and John Edwards take our country back for the people who built it,” he promised. “Because tonight, we’re all here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
Kerry plans dramatic entrance
As the question of who could best protect the United States from terrorists continued to dominate the political debate, Kerry himself was in Norfolk, Va., where he used the USS Wisconsin as a calling on President Bush to immediately implement the reforms suggested by the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Kerry said the commission should continue its work for another year and a half to ensure that its recommendations were adopted. “Backpedaling and going slow is something that America can’t afford,” he said.
Kerry planned a dramatic arrival for the convention Wednesday designed to capitalize on his service in the Vietnam War, scheduling a grand entrance into Boston on a water taxi late in the morning. Kerry, who commanded a Navy swift boat, will travel across Boston harbor to Charlestown Navy Yard with several of his former crew mates.
Kerry was to arrive after campaigning Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, which for many years was represented in the Senate by his wife’s late first husband, Republican John Heinz.
Heinz Kerry says ‘what I believe’
Delegates were also getting their first long look Teresa Heinz Kerry, the multimillionaire heiress who would be their next first lady, as they turned to Kerry’s outspoken wife to define the man they want to put in the White House.
Heinz Kerry planned to use her speech Tuesday to focus on “the issues that are the work of her life,” including the environment, health care and economic security, said Marla Romash, a senior adviser. If the speech, which she stressed Tuesday she wrote by her itself, it is like her other public pronouncements, Heinz Kerry will deliver a blunt message.
“I think that I say what I believe,” Heinz Kerry, 65, who grew up in the east African country of Mozambique, said Tuesday in an . “I’m plain-spoken.”
In previous speeches, she has taken jabs at Bush, pointedly saying that “at least” her husband reads and comparing the election Nov. 2 to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Characteristically, Heinz Kerry said she had no regrets about telling an editorial writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the newspaper owned by right-wing activist Richard Mellon Scaife, to “” during an argument Sunday.
“I really wanted him to back off ... and so I defended myself,” she told NBC’s Katie Couric. “Wouldn’t you?”
Her speech Tuesday will be her introduction to most Americans. A Washington Post survey last week showed her with a favorable rating of 27 percent and an unfavorable rating of 26 percent, while 47 percent had no opinion.
Platform sails through
As they awaited Tuesday night’s second round of speeches, which were not broadcast by the major television networks, delegates adopted a platform that disavowed Bush’s doctrine of launching preemptive wars but promised to increase the size of the military and double the capacity of its Special Forces.
The document, titled “Strong at Home, Respected in the World,” repeatedly stressed the need to mend relations with traditional allies, which it said were badly damaged when Bush went to war against Iraq without approval from the United Nations last year.
Reflecting deep internal divisions, the nonbinding platform took no position on whether the war against Iraq was justified.
“People of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq, but this much is clear: this administration badly exaggerated its case, particularly with respect to weapons of mass destruction and the connection between Saddam’s government and al-Qaida,” it said.