Kerry ready to fight

BOSTON – Democrats assailed President Bush’s handling of the Iraq war Tuesday night and painted a vivid portrait of Sen. John Kerry as a decorated war hero. “He earned his medals the old-fashioned way, by putting his life on the line,” Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, told the party’s national convention.

And in a keynote speech that drew sustained applause, Barack Obama, an Illinois state senator and candidate for the U.S. Senate, described Kerry as a Vietnam War hero who has long made “tough choices when easier ones were available.” Without mentioning Bush by name, he said the president had failed to level with the public before ordering troops into Iraq.

For all the professional speechmaking on the second night of the four-day convention, it fell to 12-year-old Ilana Wexler of Oakland, Calif., founder of Kids for Kerry, to evoke some of the loudest applause of the night.

“Our vice president deserves a long timeout,” she said of Dick Cheney, who recently cussed out Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the Senate floor.

The Democratic convention playbook was easy to discern – skip lightly over social issues such as abortion and present the four-term Massachusetts senator as strong on national security, a veteran who won medals in one war and is now, a generation later, ready to lead the country in the current war in Iraq.

“When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going,” Obama said. “… And to never, ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace and earn the respect of the world.”

Obama, 42, the son of a goat herder from Africa and a woman from Kansas, is an overwhelming favorite to win election this fall as the third black U.S. senator since Reconstruction.

In a 20-minute speech, Heinz Kerry focused on her husband’s character.

“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 always knows the importance of getting it right,” Heinz Kerry added. “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.”

When Ron Reagan, the late president’s son, took the podium, he swore his speech was not political. But his presence drew a raucous cheer when he took center stage and declared, “A few of you may be surprised to see someone with my last name showing up to speak at a Democratic convention.”

Reagan advocated stem-cell research and its potential to yield treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, which afflicted former President Reagan.

“We may be able to put an end to this suffering,” Reagan said in a low-key voice. “We only need to try.”

Bush has limited federal funding for stem-cell research. Kerry, as well as several Republican senators and former first lady Nancy Reagan, favor loosening the restrictions.

Associated Press

Teresa Heinz Kerry addresses the crowd at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday evening with a speech focusing on her husband’s character.

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