Friday, September 7, 2012

Charlotte, Day 3: John Kerry for the defense

TO A MAN and a woman, the parade of speakers at the Democratic National Convention have dutifully carried the water for President Obama in his bid for a second term. Few did that last night with more enthusiasm and slashing brio than Sen. John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and himself a veteran of the rigors of a presidential campaign, Kerry came to the Time Warner Cable Arena to explain the risks of a RomneyRyan foreign-policy agenda. But the audience got more than that.

What might have been a dull recitation of stats and argument, or a rote catalog of Obama’s overseas credentials, was something else again.

The senator threw any number of haymakers at the Romney campaign, and awakened the country to a combative, on-point, genuinely funny John Kerry they’d probably never seen before — a man a long way from the wooden, plodding proceduralist of the 2004 campaign.

Snidely whiplash, commented on a Kerry video at YouTube: “Okay, who is this guy and what the fuck did he do with John Kerry?”

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“In this campaign, we have a fundamental choice,” Kerry said. “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 advisors who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them — after all, he’s the great outsourcer.”

Kerry turned what had been a point of Republican derision into an Obama asset on matters of environmental stewardship.

“Despite what you heard in Tampa, an exceptional country does care about the rise of the oceans and the future of the planet. That is a responsibility from the Scriptures, and that too is a responsibility of the leader of the free world. The only thing exceptional about today’s Republicans is that — almost without exception — they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place.

“An exceptional nation demands the leadership of an exceptional president. And, my fellow Americans, that president is Barack Obama.”

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KERRY, WHO more than once has been named as a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then made the full pivot to the international arena. There were all due propers to the president for orchestrating and ordering the death of Osama bin Laden.

“After more than ten years without justice for thousands of murdered Americans, after Mitt Romney said it would be 'na├»ve' to go into Pakistan to pursue the terrorists, it took President Obama, against the advice of many, to give that order to finally rid this earth of Osama bin Laden.

“Ask Osama Bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago!"

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Kerry didn’t so much defend the president’s record on Israel as he used the comments of Israeli leaders to defend that record.

“Barack Obama promised always to stand with Israel — to tighten sanctions on Iran and take nothing off the table,” Kerry said. “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.’ When it comes to Israel, I’ll take the word of Israel’s prime minister over Mitt Romney any day.”

On to Afghanistan, where American forces are fighting this nation’s longest war — the war Romney didn’t even bother to bring up at the Tampa convention last week.

“It isn’t fair to say Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan,” Kerry said. “He has every position. 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’ve intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to duck reporters’ questions. Then he said the intervention was too aggressive. Then he said the world was a ‘‘better place’’ because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it before you were against it!

“Mr. Romney, here’s a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!”

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And Kerry masterfully skewered Romney’s recent misadventures in Europe. “‘President Mitt Romney’ — three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer,” he said. “For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn’t a goodwill mission, it was a blooper reel.”

Likewise, this wasn’t a speech from Kerry, it was an oratorical drive-by, a snarky and passionate performance that actually had people in the hall beginning the shout of “KERRY! KERRY!” And where was this leaner, sharper model of John Kerry in 2004? Could another campaign be a possibility?

Possible, but years down the road. Right now, John Kerry relishes another role, one he can appreciate from a military perspective. In the parlance of the armed forces, the phrase “got your six” means “I got your back. You’re covered.”

Last night, Kerry made it clear: He’s got the president’s six.

Image credits: John Kerry: From DNC video pool feed.

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