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Delegate Lona Wilbur of Swinomish, Wash., cheered for Representative Adam Smith of Washington as he spoke during the convention yesterday.
Delegate Lona Wilbur of Swinomish, Wash., cheered for Representative Adam Smith of Washington as he spoke during the convention yesterday. (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)

Kennedy leads the attack

Convention speakers rip Bush in shift of rhetoric

The second night of the Democratic National Convention featured harsher criticism of the Bush administration, with Senator Edward M. Kennedy accusing the president of making the world a more dangerous place for Americans and the son of a Republican icon countering the president's stand limiting stem cell research. Teresa Heinz Kerry told her own story even as she extolled her husband's virtues, declaring, "By now, I hope it will come as no surprise that I have something to say."

"In America, the true patriots are those who dare speak truth to power," Heinz Kerry said in a measured tone that was warmly received by the crowd gathered to nominate her husband. "The truth we must speak now is that America has responsibilities that it is time for us to accept again."

Kennedy, lauding John F. Kerry, who will be named the party's presidential nominee tomorrow night, added that: "John is a war hero who understands that America's strength comes from many sources -- especially the power of ideas. He knows that a true leader inspires hope and vanquishes fear. This administration does neither. Instead, it brings fear."

Ron Reagan, namesake of the late Republican president, called on voters this fall to "cast a vote for embryonic cell research," which Kerry has embraced. President Bush has restricted it while in office, triggering criticism from Nancy Reagan after her husband was afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

Meanwhile, the Democrats offered a glimpse of what they said may be the future of their party, presenting Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee in the Illinois Senate race, in their keynote speaking slot. In a prime-time address, the 42-year-old son of a white mother and black father from Kenya highlighted his journey to become the first black to serve as editor of the Harvard Law Review, and railed against "spinmeisters" who "like to slice and dice the country into Red states and Blue states."

"I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America," he added to thunderous applause. "There's the United States of America."

The evening was built around Kennedy. He drafted a speech aimed at allowing delegates to vent their antiadministration fervor before Kerry and his running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, present their vision for the country in their acceptance speeches.

With more than 100 of his relatives looking on from a reserved section, the Kennedy family patriarch said with a laugh, "To my fellow delegates and my fellow Democrats -- I've waited a very, very long time to say this -- welcome to my hometown."

In what amounted to a valedictory address to a party he has served for 42 years and a convention he labored to bring to Boston, Kennedy proclaimed: "We hear echoes of past battles in the quiet whisper of the sweetheart deal, in the hushed promise of a better break for the better connected. We hear them in the cries of the false patriots who bully dissenters into silence and submission."

The senator then highlighted the region's role in the Revolutionary War and used the theme to argue that Kerry should be the next Massachusetts Democrat to follow in the footsteps of his late brother, President John F. Kennedy.

"Now it is our turn to take up the cause. Our struggle is not with some monarch named George who inherited the crown -- although it often seems that way," he said. "Our struggle is with the politics of fear and favoritism in our own time, in our own country. Our struggle, like so many others before, is with those who put their own narrow interest ahead of the public interest."

The speech included a section devoted to the Iraqi war, which Kerry voted to authorize but Kennedy strongly opposed. Kennedy was eager to voice his opposition anew before the delegates and a TV audience, but the Kerry campaign has excised most anti-Bush rhetoric from this week's speeches in an effort to avoid alienating moderate voters. Kennedy nonetheless insisted Bush had squandered the good will flowing to the United States following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by invading Iraq.

"We should have honored, not ignored, the pledges we made. We should have strengthened, not scorned, the alliances that won two world wars and the Cold War. Most of all, we should have honored the principle so fundamental that our nation's founders placed it in the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence -- that America must give "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," he said. "We failed to do that in Iraq."

Afterwards, Kennedy was feted at Symphony Hall by longtime political supporters and entertainers, including Bono of the rock group U2 and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

During his turn on the podium, former governor Howard Dean of Vermont indirectly referred to his time atop the polls last year, when he appeared headed for the nomination himself. "I was hoping for a reception like this. I was just hoping that it would be on Thursday night, instead of on Tuesday night," he joked.

The former Vermont governor, who rode a crest of antiwar sentiment to emerge as Kerry's most bitter primary rival, then rattled through a list of reasons he now supported Kerry -- including "a foreign policy that relies on telling the truth to the American people before we send our brave American soldiers to fight in foreign lands" -- before declaring, "I'm Howard Dean and I'm voting for John Kerry."

In a night when speakers told personal stories in a way that allowed Obama to reach out to minorities and a paralyzed Rhode Island congressman, Jim Langevin, to make an appeal to people with disabilities, Heinz Kerry targeted immigrants, particularly women immigrants -- and she emphasized her message by addressing the audience in French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

"I want to acknowledge and honor the women of this world, whose wise voices for much too long have been excluded and discounted," she said.

Heinz Kerry, who's opening remarks about having something to say were made after she was ridiculed this week for telling a reporter from a conservative newspaper to "shove it," traced the arc of her life from a childhood in the African nation of Mozambique to motherhood and her naturalization as an American following her marriage to the late senator H. John Heinz III.

Heinz Kerry also vouched for her husband, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, saying: "John is a fighter. He earned his medals the old-fashioned way, by putting his life on the line for his country.

"No one will defend this nation more vigorously than he will, and he will always be first in the line of fire," she said. "But he also knows the importance of getting it right. For him, the names of too many friends inscribed in the cold stone of the Vietnam Memorial testify to the awful toll exacted by leaders who mistake stubbornness for strength."

Reagan, meanwhile, offered a counterweight to remarks expected next month from Senator Zell Miller of Georgia. Although a Democrat, Miller is scheduled to address the Republican National Convention in New York.

"A few of you may be surprised to see someone with my last name showing up to speak at a Democratic convention. Let me assure you, I am not here to make a political speech, and the topic at hand should not, must not, have anything to do with partisanship," Reagan said. By the time he signed off, though, he outlined the stakes on Nov. 2, Election Day.

"We have a chance to take a giant stride forward for the good of all humanity," Reagan said. "We can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology. This is our moment, and we must not falter."

The Bush-bashing prompted debate amongst delegates. Some feared it could find Democrats labeled as negative. But others said both men could serve a valuable role of shoring up the antiwar Democratic base and articulating a critique of Bush in a vocal and energizing fashion.

Beverly Fazio, 68, of Indiana, Pa., said, "The focus of the convention should be positive."

But a fervent Kerry supporter said Democrats should let Kennedy be Kennedy and Dean be Dean -- with Bush as their target. "I don't think it's Bush-bashing to talk about his record. The American people want too know what Bush has done," said Roland Garcia, 45, of Houston. "People don't want to hear whining and name-calling, but his record is fair game."

Meanwhile, Kerry and Edwards continued their journeys to Boston. Edwards arrived from Raleigh, N.C., after a visit to the grave of his late son, Wade. He is believed to have inspired his father's political career.

Kerry is scheduled to arrive today just before noon, taking a water shuttle from Logan International Airport to the Charlestown Navy Yard for a rally. He will be joined by his former Navy crewmates.

While Bush continued to vacation at his Texas ranch, Vice President Dick Cheney was on a Western swing, greeting Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., before lambasting Kerry and Edwards at a fund-raiser for Roy Ashburn, a California state senator running for Congress.

"At every level of the ballot, great events will turn on the outcome of this election," he said. "The leader who sits in the Oval Office -- and the men and women who represent us on Capitol Hill -- will set the course of the war on terror and set the direction of the American economy. Strong, consistent leadership is required, both on our actions overseas and our policies here at home."

Raja Mishra of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Glen Johnson can be reached at 

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