John Kerry must show Americans that he is a credible alternative to President Bush

Share
Related Topics

American party conventions have long been among the most staged and scripted of all public spectacles in a country where politics and show business converge more often than is strictly necessary for the health of democracy. Nor will the Democratic Party convention that opens in Boston today strike out in any new direction. It is already destined to be a classic of the genre, with the star-power of the Clintons and the Kennedys raising the curtain in the grand style for the arrival of the presidential nominee, John Kerry, on Thursday.

American party conventions have long been among the most staged and scripted of all public spectacles in a country where politics and show business converge more often than is strictly necessary for the health of democracy. Nor will the Democratic Party convention that opens in Boston today strike out in any new direction. It is already destined to be a classic of the genre, with the star-power of the Clintons and the Kennedys raising the curtain in the grand style for the arrival of the presidential nominee, John Kerry, on Thursday.

This convention is no make-or-break gamble in the sense that it could doom or even weigh down Mr Kerry's campaign. It will be far too carefully orchestrated for that. Four years ago, even the politically tone-deaf Al Gore was helped to a post-convention "bounce" by the energetic oratory of his chosen running mate, Joe Lieberman, and the lingering on-stage kiss he lavished on his wife. Senator Kerry may be no exhibitionist by nature, but he can surely turn in a better convention performance than the former vice-president - especially with the barnstorming southern charmer, John Edwards, beside him.

The question is whether this convention can make John Kerry into a winner - and organisation alone, however inspired and however professional, will not achieve that. Mr Kerry has to come out fighting, and he has to show character. So far, he has done neither. American voters need to know whether this has been a matter of choice - in line with the old adage that if your opponent is destroying himself, you shouldn't interrupt - or whether it reflects serious inadequacies in his candidacy.

Mr Kerry may well have been advised not to raise his head too far above the parapet before the campaign proper is under way - that is, until after the two nominating conventions. And this may have been excellent counsel. The campaign is still young, and any gaffe could be costly. As the weeks have passed, however, it has become increasingly clear that Mr Kerry has a recognition problem. Although his nomination became a foregone conclusion early in the primary process, the polls still indicate that American voters feel they do not know who John Forbes Kerry is, or what he stands for.

To many voters, including many Democrats, this new JFK remains Senator for Massachusetts and Vietnam war hero, but otherwise a blank. He has been unable to project an image of himself across the United States as a national leader in waiting, an attractive and forceful personality who has a well-qualified team and a full slate of well-formulated policies for the country. The great achievement of Bill Clinton in 1992 was to do all this and more in good time for the party convention. No one was left in doubt about either the strength of his personality or his energy and expertise. These qualities eclipsed his manifest defects: his personal lapses and his youth. George Bush owed his very viability as a candidate to his abilities as a campaigner. Where he beat Al Gore, it was thanks to his ability to connect with voters.

That Mr Kerry has so far failed to connect in the same way is not entirely his fault. Until recently, his supporters demanded little more of him than to look capable of beating George Bush. In the campaign so far, however, Mr Bush's misconceived and costly war in Iraq has set almost as many traps for his challenger as it has presented obstacles to his own re-election. War hero though he is, Mr Kerry has a fine line to walk between challenging Mr Bush and appearing unpatriotic.

Mr Kerry's great asset is the fierceness of the antipathy that Mr Bush has awakened through his personality and his policies. This anti-Bush passion was the reason Mr Kerry won the nomination. It could yet win him the election. But he will have to show that there is more to John Kerry than not being George Bush. This week's convention gives him the opportunity to speak to America, and demonstrate that he has the character to lead the nation. It is an opportunity he must not squander.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker