In political frenzy, students tune out
By Zachary Goldstein, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, August 3, 2004
BOSTON -- As a Massachusetts liberal, John Kerry's goal coming out of last week's Democratic National Convention was to establish himself as a candidate who could also appeal to the moderate swing voters. But one group of important voters, the age group represented by Dartmouth students, was seemingly uninterested in the speech, remaining politically apathetic.
Of the many students contacted by The Dartmouth, the vast majority had not watched Kerry's speech on Thursday; some were not even aware of it. The few who did take time out of their Thursday night appeared to be exclusively self-proclaimed Democrats.
One student who did catch the speech on television, Eugene Oh '06, an independent, was impressed.
"I felt Kerry's speech was well written and powerfully delivered," Oh said. "The speech really added insight to his character and personality. As a result of his speech, I feel more inspired by Kerry as a national leader."
Sarah Ayres '06, a Democratic delegate from New Hampshire, was chagrined by the apathy of students and said that parties need to make an effort to reach out to younger voters.
"It was great to have an opportunity to be a delegate to the convention; unfortunately I'm being portrayed a little too much as an anomaly," Ayres said. "Parties should really aggressively look toward building leadership in young people to combat apathy."
Another Dartmouth delegate, Jacob Crumbine '07 of Norwich, Vt., speculated that students are frequently uninterested in politics because the "issues talked about in the campaign, they think don't relate to them," an assumption he said is blatantly wrong. Issues like a military draft and college tuition are political issues that surely effect people 18 to 25-years-old, according to Crumbine.
With a country at war, the Democrats sought to present themselves in a new, stronger light and contradict Republican accusations that the Democrats are light on defense. The convention focused on the theme of "A Stronger America," in which the United States is "stronger at home, and more respected in the world," as Kerry said in his acceptance speech.
In striking contrast to the domestic-focused acceptance speeches that have come to be expected from the Democratic Party, Kerry's was from the beginning heavily weighted toward foreign affairs. His speech --Â and the entire convention -- was filled with military rhetoric and intense patriotism typically expected of their conservative brethren. It was immediately apparent that the party that positioned itself against the Iraqi war didn't want that stance to be interpreted as weak on defense or security at home.
"I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty," the presidential nominee said as he opened his speech with a salute. "I may be a little older and grayer, but I still know how to fight for our country."
But Kerry, a Vietnam veteran and recipient of many combat awards for his service normally so ready to focus on his war background in his speeches, did not have to because he had others to do it for him.
Kerry was introduced by amputee and war veteran former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga. Cleland referred to Kerry as an "authentic American hero" and the "captain of our ship of state," an allusion to Kerry's time spent as the captain of a Vietnam swift boat.
However, the strongest invocation of Kerry's war experience came from the appearance made by his Vietnam Swift Boat PCF 44 comrades. The unity of his crew and their stories about his valor and dedication to his country sent a strong message of John Kerry's patriotism that the Democrats hope to capitalize on.
Though the classic song "Celebrate" blared Thursday over the FleetCenter speakers while the adoring audience danced along, the theme of many convention speeches focused on the lack of good times under the Bush presidency.
Kerry repeatedly criticized the President's honesty in regard to the war in Iraq and his actions before, during and after the war. He promised a "policy guided by the facts, facts never distorted by politics."
"We have it in our power to change the world, but only if we're true to our ideals -- and that starts by telling the truth to the American people," Kerry said. "As president, that is my first pledge to you tonight. As president, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House.
"I will be a commander-in-chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a secretary of defense who will listen to the advice of the military leaders. And I will appoint an attorney general who upholds the Constitution of the United States," Kerry said as he spoke quickly and loudly, prematurely quelling the constant cheers after each key line.
He contended the country should "never go to war because we want to, only go to war because we have to," but later promised to never hesitate to use force when required while ending what he called the "backdoor draft" of national guardsmen and reservists.
In direct reference to accusations mounted against President Bush in Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11," Kerry said he wants "Americans to rely on ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family" to fuel the country.
Kerry continued his attacks on the current administration, turning to domestic affairs. In regard to the state of the country in the last four years, Kerry repeated the mantra "America can do better, and help is on the way."
He promised to increase after-school programs for kids to take them off the streets while adding cops back on the streets, to increase the accessibility of prescription drugs to seniors and to save social security through means other than privatization. He announced his plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals making over $200,000, close "tax loopholes for countries shipping jobs overseas and export products not jobs" and cut the deficit in half in four years.
Bringing his speech full circle, Kerry announced "our best days are still to come" as U2's "Beautiful Day" played over the loud speakers and thousands of red, white and blue balloons descended from the rafters.
The speech concluded one of the most peaceful and unified Democratic conventions in recent memory. Despite heavy security precautions that even included the temporary shut down of some interstates near the FleetCenter, very few protests and almost no rioting marred the convention. The convention presented an image of a unified Democratic party in which even all Kerry's primary opponents strongly stood behind their nominee.
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich was the only candidate who chose not to release his pledged delegates, marring what would have been an otherwise unanimous nomination. But even he threw his full support behind Kerry in his convention speech.
Kerry left Boston Friday morning, departing on a two-week cross-country bus trip. He will seek to capitalize on the post-convention exposure leading up to the Republican National Convention later this month.
A Newsweek poll released Saturday showed that Kerry gained a four-point bounce in the polls after the convention, a disappointing result as post-convention bounces have recently been as high as double-digits.
What you didn't see on TV
Nearly three hours before Kerry walked onto the rostrum to deliver his acceptance speech, the FleetCenter, which had been mostly empty the first three nights of the convention, was overflowing and filled to capacity. Boston fire officials made the decision to close the doors of the arena, effectively shutting out anyone who had not yet made it into the building. Even a few delegates were stranded outside the security fence, unable to watch the man they had voted for accept his nomination.
As Cleland was drawing near the end of his introduction, the imminent emergence of the senator became quite obvious as hoards of suited secret service with earpieces in place spread out across the floor and upper levels of the FleetCenter. Without ever smiling, their eyes moved quickly across the raucous crowd in search of trouble. They ignored comments and jeers from those around them, and were completely oblivious to the fanfare of the convention. Conservative estimates placed well-over 100 agents on the grounds of the convention.
After the cameras cut away from the thousands of red, white and blue balloons and tons (literally) of confetti falling from the ceiling after Kerry wrapped up his speech and celebrated with his family, those who sought to capitalize on the once-every-four-years event flooded the convention floor.
Everything not bolted down, and even that which was, was up for grabs and looted from the convention center. From posters to placards to the bolted-down metal state delegation signs, everything was looted from the FleetCenter. Remarkably underdressed, the vultures flocked to the floor with bags ready to stuff. Some were visibly working up a sweat trying to make sure no sign or chair was left unturned in search of a convention gem.
At one point, a large man in the Virginia delegation section was seen hanging from the state's metal delegation sign, trying to pull down his eBay jewel. Only one piece of convention memorabilia was off-limits. The Massachusetts sign was fiercely guarded by convention representatives who said they were protecting the sign for the DNC chairman.