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Jewish World Review August 5, 2004 / 18 Menachem-Av 5764

Jill "J.R." Labbe

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Convention's over; time for a reality check | First and last impression of John Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention: Yawn.

Speaking as if he had a plane to catch (Note to candidate: Fast doesn't equal dynamic in the speechifying world), Kerry offered many of the same and now-tired phrases and promises that he's been mouthing since the Iowa caucuses in January.

Even the joke-telling was a retread. Kerry has been spouting the "I was born in the West Wing" line for weeks.

Of course, convention delegates are not unlike die-hard music fans who go to reunion concerts of their favorite rock stars. They've played the songs a bajillion times, but they want to be able to say that they heard the group sing them in person.

There was even a "Freebird!" moment, when thousands of delegates held up lights during a tribute to party members who had departed to the truly Great Society in the last four years.

For those all-important "undecided voters" who may have tuned in during the four-day Democratic lovefest hoping to glean some insight into the candidate's ability to capture an audience, they may have tuned out thinking that it's too bad Barack Obama isn't running for the top spot on the ticket. Now "that" was a speech.

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Of course, modern political conventions are about oohs and ahhhs and Kumbayas - and little else. Using the best magic that Hollywood set designers and script doctors can muster, they create an image and a message that doesn't necessarily track with reality. It's silly to serve up substantial facts and specifics when the faithful are hungry for the ideal, not the real.

Speaker after speaker throughout the week told America how "John Kerry has a plan" to fix everything from the nation's education system to the cost of prescription meds for senior citizens.

The convention's over; time for a reality check.

A president doesn't work in a vacuum and is limited in what he can do unilaterally. It doesn't matter how many times Democrats claim that President Bush has shredded the three-branch system of government developed by our forefathers. He doesn't sign the checks for education spending or health care or the military; Congress does.

And while the discussion is on money, what wasn't heard when Kerry was at the microphone was how the Democratic candidate intends to pay for the platform that his party adopted earlier in the week.

Expanding health care, creating a trust fund to finance special education, handing out pay raises to teachers, paying for college for students who work in public service and cutting the deficit in four years? How, exactly?

The threatened tax increase on the nation's wealthiest 2 percent - the favored whipping class of the Democrats, who apparently think financial success is a crime - won't pay for his domestic initiatives and leave money for deficit reduction.

This isn't just someone who is underwhelmed by Kerry's message talking.

Numbers crunchers and bean counters of all political stripes say that even if Kerry could pay for most of his spending proposals with a tax hike on folks who make more than $200,000 a year, the deficit would not get smaller.

People hear what they want to hear. The discussion Friday morning around the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Editorial Board conference table was typical of what no doubt happened in meeting rooms and coffee shops around the country. Some of my colleagues thought Kerry was wonderful on Thursday night. Others thought he was lackluster.

This conversation will likely be repeated in a couple of weeks when the Republicans gather in New York City to place Bush on the ballot as their candidate.

As someone who watched almost every minute of the Democratic convention on C-SPAN, this moderate conservative heard speakers who underscored the fundamental philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans: Democrats think government has the answers for what ails America. Economic growth, job creation and individual happiness are functions of government spending.

But when government "creates" a job, it means another worker whom taxpayers have to support. Because government gets its money one way: from taxpayers. This is one taxpayer who would much prefer government focusing on national defense and equality of treatment and skip the rest.

As a colleague said last week, where you end up has a lot to do with where you started. Some of us started out the week not expecting much - and we weren't disappointed.

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JWR contributor Jill "J.R." Labbe is senior editorial writer and columnist for the Star-Telegram . Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004, Jill "J.R." Labbe