The Public Eye: Democrats Fight Back

By Bob Burnett
Thursday August 28, 2008 - 03:06:00 PM

Wednesday: So far, all of the Democrats' Denver convention objectives have been met: the convention logistics have been flawless; Michelle Obama's speech argued effectively that she and her husband are Americans, "just like you"; Hillary and Bill Clinton gave Obama the resounding support required to unify the Party; and Democrats began to explain why Obama is the right choice for America while John McCain is not. 

Wednesday night, former President Clinton gave the evenings most eagerly awaited speech. Many Dems worried he would give a tepid endorsement, but Clinton quickly allayed their fears, "I am honored to be here tonight to support Barack Obama." "Like Hillary, I want all of you who supported her to vote for Barack Obama in November." 

Bill Clinton needed to state that Obama is prepared to be Commander-in-Chief, prepared to lead the United States because of his leadership and intelligence. The former President effectively conveyed this message: "Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States." "Sixteen years ago, [Democrats] gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity. Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn't work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won't work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history." 

Clinton attacked John McCain as embracing "the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years," a philosophy that has ravaged the American economy and imperiled our national security." 

If it was Bill Clinton's job to build up Barack Obama it was former Presidential candidate John Kerry's job to bring down John McCain. Giving one of the most forceful speeches of his career, Kerry lauded Obama's credentials to be Commander-in-Chief and then turned on McCain: "How desperate [McCain is] to tell the son of a single mother who chose community service over money and privilege that he doesn't put America first." 

Kerry observed that candidate McCain's proposals don't jibe with those of Senator McCain. "Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote... Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself." 

Wednesday night, Democrats trotted out a number of veterans, like Kerry, to argue that Obama has good judgment while McCain does not. Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy - the only Iraq War veteran in Congress - took the stage surrounded by two-dozen Iraq War veterans. Murphy argued that by supporting full health care coverage for veterans and longer rest periods between rotations, Obama has fully supported our troops, while McCain has not. It was a theme repeated by Senator Jack Reed, a West Point graduate and Vietnam vet, and echoed by Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy and Rear Admiral John Hutson. But the most effective advocate was Tammy Duckworth. 

Duckworth appeared after a moving video, narrated by Tom Hanks, which talked about the grievous injuries suffered by America's veterans - particularly veterans of the Iraq War. On November 12, 2004, Army Major Tammy Duckworth was in Iraq, flying a Black Hawk helicopter, when a rocket-propelled grenade downed it. Duckworth lost both her legs and now walks with the aid of prosthetics. In 2006, after an unsuccessful run for Congress, Duckworth became head of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. 

She began with a simple endorsement: "I know Barack Obama. I met him when he visited me and other wounded troops at Walter Reed. He came without reporters. He wasn't looking for credit... He knew that wherever you stand on the war, you must love the warrior, and he does." Then she blasted McCain: "The administration of George Bush-supported by John McCain every step of the way-has let our warriors down." "When our warriors come home they deserve the best VA medical care, but too often they get bureaucracy, not benefits. They find inadequate access, inferior facilities and infuriating paperwork. And now, John McCain wants to ration care." 

Wednesday's convention proceedings concluded with the nomination of Joe Biden for Vice-President and his acceptance speech. Earlier, Bill Clinton noted that when Barack Obama selected Biden, "he hit a home run." 

Joe Biden effectively summarized the convention themes: "Barack Obama gets it. Like many of us, Barack worked his way up. His is a great American story." In contrast, John McCain doesn't get it; he doesn't understand the American dream is slipping away. 

Like John Kerry, Biden has known John McCain a long time, "But I profoundly disagree with the direction that John wants to take the country." Noting that McCain has voted with George Bush "95 percent of the time," Biden argued that a McCain presidency would be "more of the same" and opined: "The choice in this election is clear. These times require more than a good soldier; they require a wise leader, a leader who can deliver change--the change everybody knows we need." 

Biden concluded, "These are extraordinary times. This is an extraordinary election. The American people are ready. I'm ready. Barack Obama is ready." 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at