Clinton, Democrats Light Up Boston — And Light Into Bush — On DNC's Opening Night

Speakers point out sharp divide between Democratic and Republican platforms.

BOSTON — The Democrats officially got their party started Monday night with remarks from longtime party favorites that mixed strong support for the Kerry/ Edwards ticket with broad attacks on the Bush administration.

Looking lean, former President Bill Clinton stepped to the podium to strains of Fleetwood Mac’s "Don’t Stop," the song that, of course, served as the unofficial theme of Clinton’s first campaign for the presidency in 1992.

"Strength and wisdom are not opposing values," Clinton said. "They go hand in hand — and John Kerry has both."

As the last speaker of the evening, Clinton repeatedly brought delegates to their feet and left them buzzing as they spilled out of the Fleet Center. The former president sought to reach out to undecided middle-of-the-road voters by striking an optimistic tone, while at the same time rallying the Democratic base through red-meat attacks on President Bush and the Republicans.

"[Republicans] believe the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their economic, political and social views, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on important matters like health care and retirement security," said Clinton.

Clinton said that, as one of the nation’s wealthiest citizens, he qualifies for the Bush tax cut.

"I almost sent them a thank-you you note for my tax cuts — until I realized that the rest of you were paying the bill for it, and then I thought better of it," he said.

The former president also brought up the issue of the Vietnam draft, noting that Senator Kerry proactively sought to join the war effort. Bush, Vice President Cheney and Clinton himself had not done the same, Clinton noted.

The former president was introduced by his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. She delivered a strong endorsement of the Kerry/ Edwards ticket while taking aim at the White House for failing to support more spending on domestic security and health-care reform.

The former first lady sought to play up Kerry’s expertise in foreign-policy matters while at the same time addressing charges that the Massachusetts senator is a cold fish.

"I've been saying for many months now, John Kerry is a serious man for a serious job in a serious time in our country's history."

Earlier in the evening, well before the national television networks began broadcasting the convention live, a somewhat bulky looking Al Gore took to the podium to deliver remarks that neatly mixed humorous self-deprecation with sharp critiques of the Bush administration.

The former vice president appeared more at ease with himself Monday than when he took the stage four years ago to accept the Democratic nomination.

"Take it from me, every vote counts," he said, to laughter from the delegates, alluding to the fact that he captured more of the popular vote than Bush in 2000.

"I know about the bad economy: I was the first one laid off. And while it’s true that new jobs are being created, they’re just not as good as the jobs people have lost. And incidentally, that’s been true for me too."

Gore also took a number of swipes at the current occupant of the White House, arguing that Bush used false promises to get elected.

"Did you really get what you expected from the candidate you voted for? Is our country more united today — or more divided? Has the promise of compassionate conservatism been fulfilled? Or do those words now ring hollow?"

At the end of his remarks, Gore grabbed his wife Tipper and delivered a dramatic kiss reminiscent of the smooch the two shared after Gore’s speech in 2000. This time, however, the kiss was a good deal shorter and, it appeared, less juicy.

Other speakers Monday night included former President Jimmy Carter, who chastised the White House for pursuing a unilateralist foreign policy and for catering to the wealthy.

"We need new leaders in Washington whose policies are shaped by working American families instead of the super-rich and their armies of lobbyists in Washington," said Carter.