July 27, 2004
I didn't see Jimmy Carter's speech Monday night, but when I came to work on Tuesday, my colleagues told me that his was the best one of the night. So I got a copy of it, and I see what they meant.
And not just because of his easy shot that John Kerry, like Truman and Eisenhower, "showed up when assigned to duty" unlike the unmentioned but clearly identifiable Bush.
And not just because Carter carefully chose words like "judgment" and "responsibility" and "restraint" and "honor" to draw unflattering contrasts with Bush.
Carter, more than anyone else, made the case that Bush has betrayed the citizenry and tarnished our democracy.
Twice, Carter referred pointedly to Presidents who "mislead."
Repeatedly, he implied that Bush has not told the truth. "Truth is the foundation of our global leadership, but our credibility has been shattered," he said. ". . . Without truth--without trust--America cannot flourish. Trust is at the very heart of our democracy, the sacred covenant between the President and the people. When that trust is violated, the bonds that hold our republic together begin to weaken."
Twice, he excoriated Bush for his "extremism."
And then he combined the themes by saying this election is about "whether extremist doctrines and the manipulation of truth will define America's role in the world."
Three times, he stressed the centrality of human rights, and, alluding to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, he said, "We cannot be true to ourselves if we mistreat others."
Carter also had the guts to talk about "hope and justice for the Palestinians."
And he said that Bush's domestic policies are shaped by "the super-rich and their armies of lobbyists."
More than the other speeches I heard or read, Carter captured the sense of desperation at the base of the party when he said, "At stake is nothing less than our nation's soul."
At other times in our history, such a line might have sounded hyperbolic or melodramatic or sanctimonious.
But for many Democrats and progressives, it sounded all too realistic.