There are few times when the public awaits a speech. The State of the Union address, the presidential inauguration, and the acceptance of a party's presidential nomination are the only regular fixtures on the political speechmaking calendar, and they are relatively rare.
But because these addresses are so anticipated -- and, in the past, have made so much history -- more memos are written and more drafts are discarded surrounding these speeches than perhaps any others. These are opportunities for presidents and presidents-to-be to set the agenda, change the debate, and perhaps even alter the course of history.
To hear Democratic strategists and political commentators tell it, the selection of John Edwards as John Kerry's running mate heralds the dawn of a new Democratic day in the South, with the Carolinas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Virginia suddenly in play this November.
After all, as the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, Jr. points out, since 1960 the three Democratic tickets that didn't feature at least one southerner all lost, while the five that included a son of the South all won. By that logic, Edwards is the perfect pick: he was born in South Carolina, lives in North Carolina, and has a drawl as thick as molasses.
In Washington, the only question on anyone's mind is: WWJD -- What Will John Do? Everyone has a theory about whom John Kerry will pick (or should pick) as his running mate, and journalists are scrambling for any angle on the story that they can find.
In 1951 the political observer Samuel Lubell, surveying the almost two decades of Democratic rule and the dominance of New Deal liberalism, noted that in the American “political solar system,” the Democratic Party was the sun (the majority party) and the Republican Party was the moon (the minority party). In such a universe, Lubell wrote, “it is within the majority party that the issues of any particular period are fought out; while the minority party shines in reflected radiance of the heat thus generated.”
John Kerry decided yesterday that he would accept his party's nomination at the regularly scheduled time -- on July 29, the last day of the Democratic convention in Boston. Had Kerry not publicly toyed with postponing his acceptance to maximize his fund raising, this would not have been an issue. But because he's made it one, it's a good time to reassess the role of nominating conventions and how they can be modernized.