The speech, like the Democratic Convention that it concluded, was spectacularly disingenuous. Kerry and the Democrats kept insisting that they were taking the high road and that they were accentuating the positive.
"In the weeks ahead," Kerry said directly to President Bush last night, "let's be optimists, not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity; let's respect one another. . . . The high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And that's why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks."
That's wonderful. But that passage came only after Kerry had launched an astonishing volley of highly incendiary charges at George W. Bush and his administration.
He directly accused Bush of fighting a war not because it was in this country's national interest but basically because he "wanted" to.
He all but described the Iraq war in Michael Moore terms, as a war about oil, when he said that in his administration, "No young American in uniform will . . . be held hostage to our dependence on oil from the Middle East."
And yet his plan to save us from dependence on Middle East oil is the same old nonsense about investing in new technologies like solar energy that don't work very well. It so happens that George W. Bush ran on this very same issue in 2000, only he had and has a specific plan to end our dependence by drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
And yet, again echoing Michael Moore, Kerry insinuated that our Middle East policy has been made at the behest of the "Saudi royal family."
I'm all for bashing the Saudi royal family, but it's impossible to make the case fairly that Bush is in the Saudis' pocket when he has so staunchly supported Israel, which the Saudi royals have sought to destroy for 56 years.
He accused the attorney general of failing to "uphold the Constitution of the United States" — presumably because he is enforcing the provisions of the Patriot Act, for which John Kerry and John Edwards both voted.
He essentially said that Democrats differ from Republicans because Kerry and his party "value jobs that pay you more not less than you earned before" — whereas Republicans, presumably, do not value such jobs.
Kerry has every right to go after Bush with everything he's got. But in essence, while calling on the president to engage with Kerry in a battle of "great ideas," Kerry articulated only one big idea last night.
Kerry's big idea is this: He was a war hero and Bush is a lying scoundrel.
So, in the end, it appears Kerry has decided to run as Howard Dean with some medals.