Democrats show no mercy

BOSTON, AUG. 1. Willie Nelson sang about the promised land to the gentle wafting of hundreds of American flags, and in the crush of the convention centre a sleek-suited economic adviser to John Kerry let out a sigh of pure satisfaction. ``Doesn't this look just like a Republican convention,'' he said.

The resemblance was entirely intentional. From Mr. Kerry's photogenic salute as he delivered his acceptance speech, to the roll-out of generals who support his candidacy, and the impassioned speeches about God, country, and family values, the Democratic convention unleashed a full-scale invasion of Republican emotional terrain.

The appropriation of such traditional themes might have been expected to raise hackles among Democratic activists, but this year they appeared to have adopted yet another Republican creed: discipline.

Tightly scripted

This week's convention was the most tightly scripted in recent memory. The handmade protest signs of earlier years were banished, ostensibly for security, and replaced by placards distributed on cue by Democratic marshals.

With the usual scuffles between the Democratic party constituencies set aside, the convention was seen as a runaway success. ``I think the Democratic party is more unified right now than at any time since I have been following national conventions, and that was in 1948,'' said George McGovern, who lost his own challenge for the presidency in 1972.

In the struggle for ownership of the symbols of the American heartland, the Democrats showed no mercy. Mr. Kerry appropriated Mr. Bush's signature line on the Monica Lewinsky scandal from the 2000 election, and applied it to the Iraq war, saying that he would ``restore trust and credibility to the White House.'' The slogan ``help is on the way'' is a direct lift from the Vice-President, Dick Cheney. But it was the emotional reclamation of symbols seen as exclusive Republican territory since the September 11 attacks that galvanised the crowd..

Swing to the Right

The swing to the Right, and Mr. Kerry's appeal for the support of independent and moderate voters, had its casualties. Most of the 4,000 Democrats in the convention hall opposed the war on Iraq, unlike Mr. Kerry and John Edwards, who endorsed Mr. Bush's invasion. Democratic leaders said the divide between the party's leaders and its membership would not threaten the unity forged at the convention. —

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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