BOSTON, July 26 (UPI) -- The Democrats began to parade their stars Monday night, led by their two living former presidents, Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), a Nobel Peace prize laureate; their last presidential nominee, Al Gore; and their nine women senators.
But shining most brightly was Bill Clinton, introduced by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a couple who once more displayed their extraordinary appeal to the Democratic faithful. The cheers for Hillary seemed to fill the vast hall of Boston's FleetCenter, a decibel level of applause that seemed unbeatable. But then her husband came on and the cheers and applause redoubled and rose even higher until the roof threatened to lift off.
It was an evening of political stardom whose emotional intensity seemed more suited to the last night of a convention rather than the first. But it served to cement the loyalties of a Democratic Party that now appears energized and determined to unite in a common effort to replace President George W. Bush with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
"The bravery his men saw in battle, I saw in politics," said Clinton. "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values. They go hand and hand, and John Kerry has both."
The Democrats deployed all their big guns Monday night. But even in his home town of Boston there was no place on the Democratic podium for that other son of Massachusetts, former Gov. Michael Dukakis, the unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate in 1988.
This was not a night for failure. Even Al Gore came bearing the clouds of wronged resentment, having won more votes than any other Democrat in history and more of the popular vote than Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
"I had hoped to be back here this week under different circumstances, running for re-election," Gore told the 5,000 assembled delegates of the convention. "But you know the old saying: You win some, you lose some. And then there's that little-known third category."
But the night belonged to the two former presidents, who rose to the occasion in their different ways; the gentle but principled morality of Jimmy Carter and the easy, confident warmth of Bill Clinton. And despite the firm request of Democratic candidate John Kerry that there be no negative attacks on Bush, the criticism of the current administration was sharp, with Jimmy Carter calling Bush's policies "extremist."
"We cannot lead if our leaders mislead," said Carter, in a line that aroused some of the loudest applause of the night. "Recent policies have cost our nation its reputation as the world's most admired champion of freedom and justice. What a difference these few months of extremism have made.
"Ultimately, the issue is whether America will provide global leadership that springs from the unity and integrity of the American people or whether extremist doctrines and the manipulation of truth will define America's role in the world," Carter went on. "At stake is nothing less than our nation's soul."
Clinton, by contrast, basking in the renewed adulation of the massed Democratic Party, deployed his charm and his rhetoric to make them feel good about feeling bad things about the Bush administration.
"Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas on what choices we should make, rooted in fundamentally different views of how we should meet our common challenges at home and how we should play our role in the world. Democrats want to build an America of shared responsibilities and shared opportunities," Clinton said. "Republicans believe in an America run by the right people -- their people."
Clinton, fresh from a record-breaking tour on the book-sales circuit, entered into the spirit of the Democratic throng that had just danced and swayed in the aisles to the '60s-era music of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" and Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind." Clinton addressed them not as a former president but as a fellow Democrat.
"Tonight I speak as a citizen, eager to join you here in Boston as a foot soldier in the fight for our future as we nominate a true New England patriot for president. The state that gave us John Adams and John Kennedy has now given us John Kerry, a good man, a great senator, a visionary leader."
In the tones of a disappointed teacher watching wayward pupils undo his own careful work, Carter charged that the Bush administration has undone much of the world's goodwill toward the United States. And in a striking departure from the usual slogans and sound bites of modern political rhetoric, Carter laid out a careful case for the prosecution against the Bush administration that had Democrats nodding thoughtfully before they applauded.
"Our dominant international challenge is to restore the greatness of America -- based on telling the truth, a commitment to peace, and respect for civil liberties at home and basic human rights around the world. Truth is the foundation of our global leadership, but our credibility has been shattered, and we are left increasingly isolated and vulnerable in a hostile world. 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," Carter said.
"When that trust is violated, the bonds that hold our republic together begin to weaken," Carter added. "After 9/11, America stood proud, wounded but determined and united. A cowardly attack on innocent civilians brought us an unprecedented level of cooperation and understanding around the world. But in just 34 months, we have watched with deep concern as all this goodwill has been squandered by a virtually unbroken series of mistakes and miscalculations. Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the United States from the very nations we need to join us in combating terrorism."
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