By Mike Murphy
I'VE SPENT the last two evenings sitting back in tranquil northwestern Michigan and interrupting two perfect summer nights to painfully dose myself with several hours of the Democratic National Convention beamed directly from the podium in all its unfiltered glory to my drooping eyes via C-SPAN. Both nights, the Democrats struck me as being at their most slippery and disingenuous best, which of course means their most effective. It all reminds me of a state-of-the-art Las Vegas magic show. Middle class tax cuts are called for only to certainly vanish through a hidden trap door once the election is safely over. A muscular military is loudly demanded only to transform in a cloud of pink smoke into a Carteresque policy of quick withdrawal from any war against brutal dictators and terrorist-friendly states that would require any actual shooting and messy warfare. All this spectacular needed was a bored White Tiger popping up through the floorboards and more sequins -- although the spacesuit-shiny pantsuit Barbara Boxer wore during the "You Go Girl!" cavalcade of women senators would make Elton John deep purple with jealousy.
Still, I must give credit to an illusion well performed. Two strong high spots stand out so far. First, that everlasting Mandrake Bill Clinton's crafty masterstroke in posing as a class traitor and bashing Bush tax cuts for himself and all other wealthy entrepreneurs, whether their new riches flow from inventing microchips or speaking for hire to dodgy groups and writing overlong legacy-craving bestsellers. I'm surprised the now millionaire ex-president didn't brandish his IRS refund check before the mesmerized crowd, quickly fold it with great flourish into a paper airplane and fling it deftly across the podium to the sticky fingers of party bagman Terry McAuliffe as a big finish, but then again he does have all those legal bills to pay.
The second homerun speech came from Illinois Wunder Candidate Barack Obama's pitch perfect "They Say Red State Blue State But I Say One America United" stem-winder. It was the best Democratic keynote speech since Mario Cuomo's performance in 1984.
Democrat convention planners were wise to dispose of their many tons of heavy luminary baggage earlier each evening. It was all there, swimming champion Ted Kennedy's cheap shots at "false patriotism," Jimmy Carter's swinging his newly Nobelized sanctimony around to clobber the president as if his peace prize was a pair of numchucks, and finally, one last lectern pounder from the late Dr. Dean. In a moment of absolute cynicism, Reagan family Quisling Ron Reagan Jr. was summoned forth to promise sparkling miracles from stem cell research via a vote for John Kerry. There was also a very tacky moment, probably seen only to us masochists mainlining the whole experience via the C-SPAN needle, where a brace-toothed youth for Kerry moppet was hustled up to the podium to punctuate a tiresome Children are the Future gurgle with a contrived "Time Out" potshot at Dick Cheney. Attack Moppets? The DNC hack behind that idea should be put on Ritalin.
Most notably, Tuesday night was the big solo televised unveiling of quirky lady Teresa Heinz Kerry. While both the media sisterhood and the all-powerful women with expensive hair highlights and quality accessories wing of the Democratic party will surely embrace Heinz Kerry's speech and breathlessly certify her as a wonderful and refreshing new plus to the Kerry-Edwards campaign, I'm unconvinced. And judging from the stony looks on the faces of various male Democratic fuglemen on the floor as they listened to her, I am not sure those grizzled party mechanics are so persuaded either. They have to sell this act in Cleveland. To me, Heinz Kerry's speech seemed spacey and self-indulgent and I was stuck by the glassy eyes of a dogmatic and inflexible mind. Trying to follow her speech, I got the feeling she was careening around the outer zip codes of loony leftism, sorely tempted by nature to roar right up to the unvarnished corner of Blood for Oil, Halliburton Conspiracy, and Enviro-extremism, but wise enough instead to veer safely off toward a less scary neighborhood of focus group-driven Democratic boilerplate clearly tacked on her remarks by a nervous Kerry speechwriting staff. I did get a bit lost in space during Heinz Kerry's litany of NASA probe missions to various outer planets, and her repeated references to her father being unable to vote in Mozambique's African dictatorship left me wondering if her father's being unable to help determine the course of Mozambique might have provoked protest howls about European colonialism at a less rigged Democratic gathering--but like Heinz Kerry, I wander and digress.
I must admit I was depressed watching all this because the whole show was quite effective at making the dishonest arguments that increasingly rule American politics. Plus, the Democrats are at their campaign best when they fake it and pretend to be Republicans. Most of all, in the face of the president's flat-footed reelection effort and the Democrats' increasingly effective campaign, it is becoming more and more apparent that these illusionists might very well win and that is a depressing thought indeed.
The Weekly Standard, July 28, 2004.