WASHINGTON — It is fortuitous that keynote political convention speeches take place between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast, when most people get ready for bed. Such speeches are the perfect sleep-inducers.
If one word could sum up what gets said at political conventions, it would be: platitudes.
I would estimate that at least 95 percent of the words spoken at the Democratic National Convention were platitudes. The percentage undoubtedly will be high at the Republican National Convention as well.
"For us, this is a country of the future," remarked Sen. John Kerry. "We're the can-do people," he declared. "My fellow citizens, elections are about choices."
Nevertheless, here are some things that did stand out:
Social Security. One of the few things that Kerry said of substance was that he would not privatize Social Security - i.e., allow people to invest some of their Social Security contributions in a personal retirement account. That's too bad because the program is unsustainable.
Then again, Kerry may not be all that different from President George W. Bush on the Social Security issue. Even though, four years ago, Bush gave the impression that he would establish personal accounts, he never even tried. (Simply creating a commission to study the issue doesn't count.)
Prescription Drug Act. Kerry indicated he would alter the Medicare prescription drug act. On that score, he mainly differs from Bush in degree rather than kind. Whereas Bush's version of the act is anticipated to cost around $550 billion over 10 years, Kerry's version would cost much more than that.
Taxes. Kerry does differ from Bush in the area of tax cuts. While Kerry says he would cut taxes on the middle class, he would raise them on people who already pay a disproportionately large share of the nation's taxes - those making over $200,000 a year.
While that's good news for those who may envy and disdain the rich, or who simply think if you make more, you should contribute more, it's quite worrisome for the health of the economy. Tax policy is so important because it affects work incentives. Raising taxes on the rich would reducing their incentive to work harder or smarter.
It's like your boss telling you he'll lower your hourly wage if you put in longer hours. With weaker incentives, the economy produces fewer goods and services than would otherwise be the case, negatively affecting the poor, rich, and middle class alike.
John Edwards. Fully expecting John Edwards's speech to be platitude-laden, I didn't bother to watch it. But speaking volumes was the mere fact that this man occupied the vice-presidential nominee time slot. He symbolizes what the Democratic Party increasingly stands for: tort lawsuits. Trial lawyers are the biggest contributors to the Democratic Party, and now one of their own has a real chance of occupying the White House.
Among the victims are obstetricians, which Edwards specialized in suing. What's frightening is the rate at which obstetricians are refusing to deliver babies. Things are getting so bad that, according to this month's Child magazine, couples are being advised to time their pregnancy so that their baby's due date falls before the date their obstetrician's malpractice insurance is up for renewal, in case skyrocketing premiums drive the doctor out of business.
At their convention, Republicans would be fools not to jump all over the obstetrician crisis.
Al Sharpton. Certainly, the vast majority of Democrats denounce anti-Semitism, but one has to wonder how strongly are still committed to that issue considering that Al Sharpton spoke at their convention. In 1995, after dispute between a Jewish store-owner and a black tenant in New York, Sharpton's National Action Network staged protests that were filled with anti-Semitic and violent language.
A protester shot four store employees and set the store on fire, killing three more. In 1991, following an incident in which a Hasidic Jew accidentally ran over and killed a seven-year-old black boy, Sharpton spoke of the "diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights," referring to Jews in that Brooklyn neighborhood. Sharpton's past proximity to acts of anti-Semitism is way too close for comfort.
Deregulation. A surprise at the convention was to hear someone actually praise deregulation - traditionally a Republican stance. Gov. Bill Richardson talked about Jimmy Carter bringing competition to transportation, energy, and other industries. "If you all flew here this weekend on a low-cost airline, you have him to thank," referring to Carter's deregulation of the airline industry in 1978. Now, if they would only apply those lessons to the still-overregulated telecommunications industry.
Meantime, anyone battling insomnia should consider visiting the C-SPAN website, which has convention speeches available for downloading.