Was it something Kerry said, or something he didn't say, that ended his hopes last night?
Something he didn't say, actually - In his big speech to the Democratic Convention, Kerry put a lot of effort into establishing his credibility on national security. However, he failed to address two critical points - what is our mission in Iraq, and who is our enemy in the war on terror.
These are not minor questions, but they were too tricky for Kerry to tackle.
The closest Kerry came to defining a mission in Iraq was this:
I know what we have to do in Iraq. We need a president who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, reduce the risk to American soldiers. That's the right way to get the job done and bring our troops home.
And what is the job, Senator? For most of the delegates, getting the troops home is the job; it is a fair guess that Kerry deliberately slid past this point rather than expose his own party to some hard truths. However, if he is not willing to lead his own party, how can we expect him to lead the nation? Is "the job" to create a stable Iraq, or a democratic Iraq? This speech would have been a good forum in which to say.
As to the nature of the war on terror, Kerry offered few insights:
We are a nation at war: a global war on terror against an enemy unlike we've ever known before.
Rather than describe the enemy, however, Mr. Kerry segued to health care. He later returned to the subject with this:
...then, with confidence and determination, we will be able to tell the terrorists: You will lose, and we will win." The future doesn't belong to fear; it belongs to freedom.
Pretty clear, huh? We are freedom, and we are fighting fear.
He did not, however, provide a clear vision on Iraq. Voters needed to hear him say that he understands, in retrospect, that his vote to give President Bush Congressional support to invade was a mistake. It's clear now that Mr. Kerry isn't going to go there, and it's a shame.
How a long look backwards will help us is left unexplained.
Mr. Kerry was right to chide Mr. Bush for alienating allies unnecessarily. But what is "the job" in Iraq? He didn't say. Mr. Kerry could have spoken the difficult truth that U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq for a long time. He could have reaffirmed his commitment to completing the task of helping build democracy. Instead, he chose words that seemed designed to give the impression that he could engineer a quick and painless exit.
The WaPo editors have an especially brutal close:
But [Mr. Kerry] will be judged in part on how he chose to present himself last night, and on that score, while he may have been politically effective, he fell short of demonstrating the kind of leadership the nation needs.
MORE: Our Secret Spy was in Kerry's room cleaning up the trash, and found a draft of the speech! Here are a couple of seemingly sure-fire applause lines that were *not* delivered:
(1) I am a man of faith. But I will make this pledge to you tonight - I will never allow my faith to inform a decision I will make as your President!
(2) My fellow citizens, our great country was attacked on Sept 11, 2001, and I will make you this solemn promise - never again. Never again. Never again will we allow the deaths of three thousand innocent Americans to distract us from our national debate on health care.
I don't know why he dropped them. Point (1) would have brought down the house.
UPDATE: Lawrence Kaplan at TNR - also brutal.