Kerry courts independent voters
BOSTON – John Kerry courted independent voters Thursday night by reminding them of the boom years of the 1990s, a more optimistic time when the Clinton administration balanced the budget and the middle class thrived. “We can do it again,” the Democratic presidential nominee said.
Kerry accepted his party’s nomination in the embrace of a hometown crowd, an affectionate introduction by his two daughters and a lineup of his fellow Vietnam veterans. He planned an entrance among the 4,000 delegates, making his way through the hall to the stage past the delegations from two politically crucial states, Missouri and Pennsylvania.
Democrats chose as their nominee a man of exceptional privilege who was raised around the world, attended boarding schools in Europe and New England, graduated from Yale and has married two exceptionally wealthy women. But, as countless convention speakers have reminded, he volunteered for service in Vietnam and has spent almost his entire adult life in public office.
Reminders of his service in Vietnam were the chief theme of the night. Thirteen of the men who served with him on swiftboats in the Mekong Delta were sharing his stage, a 9 1/2-minute introductory film featured footage Kerry took during the war and his final introduction was from former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam.
“I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president,” Kerry said in prepared text of his speech. “Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required.”
The sentence was designed to sum up what has sometimes been a confusing position on foreign policy. And it was meant to reassure voters that even though he opposes the way Bush has waged war in Iraq, he also could be a tough military leader.
In his speech, Kerry sought support from conservative Democrats and independents who turned away from the party because they believe it has abandoned their values. He tried to expand the definition of political values – from social issues such as abortion and gun control that favor Republicans in rural and suburban America to economic equality, health care reform and other Democratic standards.
“For four years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans,” Kerry said.
“It is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families,” Kerry said. “We value jobs that pay you more, not less than you earned before. We value jobs where, when you put in a week’s work, you can actually pay your bills, provide for your children and lift up the quality of your life.”
Kerry skipped over left-leaning positions he staked during the primary to make a more centrist appeal. He never mentioned abortion rights, but said he made violence against women a priority as a prosecutor. He boasted of bucking many in his party to vote for a balanced budget and his support to fund more police officers on the street. He invoked the biblical commandment of honoring parents in promising not to privatize Social Security.
Kerry was hitting Bush on the economy, which has improved in recent months but in some ways still is worse off than when Bush took office from President Clinton three and a half years ago. With many voters still unfamiliar and unsure about Kerry, he tied himself to the policies of a former president, Clinton, who still remains more popular than either Bush or him.
“Let’s not forget what we did in the 1990s,” Kerry reminded. “We balanced the budget. We paid down the debt. We created 23 million new jobs. We lifted millions out of poverty and we lifted the standard of living for the middle class. We just need to believe in ourselves, and we can do it again.”
With polls showing a tight race, Kerry sandwiched his acceptance speech between two cross-country tours. He tried to clear his mind from the grueling pace Thursday with an afternoon bike ride along the Charles River.
“Thank you, all of you, for a welcome home I will never forget,” he said.
Early this morning, he and running mate John Edwards were heading out again on a two-week, coast-to-coast excursion that will take them through 21 states by bus, train and boat.