Democrats highlight national security over gay issues
July 30 2004 12:00 AM ET
While casting Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry as a patriot-warrior, always "first in the line of fire," the authors of a tightly scripted Democratic National Convention are giving lesser roles to some issues dear to Democratic Party activists.
Abortion rights, gay rights, affirmative action, gun control, and more--scores of polarizing topics that galvanize party activists are being nudged to the margins as Kerry seeks to bolster his prospects as commander in chief. So eager to topple Bush, Democratic delegates and the party's special interest groups don't seem to mind that nobody is pushing their hot-button issues.
Inside Boston's Fleet Center, home of the Democratic National Convention, special interest groups surrendered their prominence and retreated from center stage. Their voices were heard, though mostly by the already converted. Cheryl Jacques, executive director of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, spoke prior to the prime-time Wednesday night schedule to defend "marriage equality," or the right of same-sex couples to marry. Her spokesman, Mark Shields, said it makes sense to focus the convention on homeland security, not gay rights and other liberal touchstones. "If you look at every national poll, gay rights is not something people want politicians spending their time on. They want them spending their time on jobs, the economy, and the war in Iraq," he said.
Gay rights did get some prime-time exposure when keynote speaker Barack Obama said people in the "red states," or Republican states, have "gay friends," and Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts accused GOP leaders of pitting "straights against gays." But those were passing glances, safely deployed to cast Bush and his allies as intolerant.
George W. Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said Democrats are trying to disguise Kerry's liberal ways. "We've said from the first hour of the convention that this will be an extreme makeover of John Kerry's 20-year record in the U.S. Senate," he said.
Kerry's fellow senator and running mate, John Edwards, stirred the convention crowd on Wednesday night with his assertion that Bush has helped create "two Americas," one for the privileged and one for everybody else. He spoke of health care reform and ending poverty, longtime liberal causes. But the thrust of Edwards's address was devoted to telling voters that Kerry had shed blood and saved lives in Vietnam. "Decisive. Strong," Edwards said. "Is this not what we need in a commander in chief?"