Commentators stress the need to come up with short statements that tell voters where the candidate stands, statements that are memorable. President Bill Clinton was instrumental in packaging the Obama message in such terms.
But it was Senator John Kerry had the single best line of the entire Democratic National Convention last night, and possibly of the entire convention:
“Ask Osama bin Laden is he is better off now than he was four years ago.”
Obama himself has played his killing of the terrorist mastermind very cool; using none of his predecessor’s bombast in trumpeting his victory, even when much more deserved. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t, including John Kerry, who gave probably the best speech of his political career last night.
The point is, of course, that the Republican narrative makes Obama out to be weak, a threat to America’s national security. But it wasn’t Bush, who for eight years made no real effort to nail the man behind 9/11, and it certainly wasn’t going to be Romney, who said it wasn’t worth moving heaven and earth to find the al Qaeda leader, but Barack Obama, our president, who got Obama and, as Kerry pithily put it, “rid this earth of Osama bin Laden.”
John Kerry put Barack Obama in the context of commander-in-chief and he did it very well, squashing the claims of the right that Obama cannot lead America through international waters, waters that make globalism-fearing conservatives want to shoot first and ask questions later.
His opening remarks set the tone:
In this — in this campaign we have a fundamental choice. Will we protect our country and our allies? Advance our interests and ideals? Do battle where we must and make peace where we can? Or will we entrust our place in the world to someone who just hasn’t learned the lessons of the last decade? We’ve all learned Mitt Romney doesn’t know much about foreign policy. But he has all these Neo-Con advisers who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them. After all he’s the great out-sourcer. But I say to you this is not the time to outsource the job of commander in chief.
The differences between Obama and Romney were obvious to Kerry:
I — I tell ya, so — so here’s the choice — here’s the choice in 2012; Mitt Romney out of touch at home, out of his depth abroad and out of the mainstream? Or Barack Obama, a president who is giving new life and truth to America’s indispensable role in the world. A commander in chief who gives our troops the tools and training they need and more, the honor and help they have earned when they come home. A man…
…a man — a man who will never ask other men and women to fight a war without a plan to win the peace.
Part of the Republican narrative is that President Obama hates Israel. But Israel doesn’t feel this way, as Kerry pointed out:
Barack Obama — Barack Obama promised always to stand with Israel, to tighten sanctions on Iran and take nothing off the table. Again and again the other side has lied about where this president stands and what this president has done.
But Prime Minister Netanyahu set the record straight. He said our two countries have exactly the same policy. Our security cooperation is unprecedented. And when it comes to Israel, my friends, I’ll take the word of Israel’s prime minister over Mitt Romney any day.
Kerry even took the time to point out Romney’s egregious error at the Republican National Convention to pay tribute to our fighting men and women:
And let me say — let me say something else — let me say something else, no nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech.
For Americans forced to go along for the ride for the eight-year Bush Doctrine, what some have called “Cowboy Diplomacy”, Kerry’s words will ring resoundingly true. Barack Obama has restored the pragmatism that went missing in 2001 when George W. Bush took office.
He [Obama] refused to accept the false choice between force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force. When a brutal dictator promised to hunt down and kill his own people like rats, President Obama enlisted our allies, built the coalition, shared the burden so that today, without a single American casualty, Muammar Gadhafi is gone and the people of Libya are free.
Kerry contrasted the amateurish foreign policy of the Romney-Ryan team with the steady hand of Obama, and even managed to poke fun at himself while doing so:
You know it isn’t — it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to say that Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position.
He — he was against — he was against setting a date for withdrawal. Then he said it was right. And then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was tragic to leave Iraq. And then he said it was fine. He said we should have intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to run away from the reporters who were asking questions. Then he said, the intervention was too aggressive. And then he said the world was a better place because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it, before you were against it.
The old saying is that “nothing succeeds like success” and it is Obama’s successes, not his failures, that Republicans truly fear. Despite all their attempts to sabotage his presidency, Obama has succeeded to a dangerous degree, exposing not only the weaknesses of the neocon “unilateral interventionalist” worldview but the simplistic ideological notions that underlie it.
John Kerry made this clear in his opening remarks and he never looked back.