Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic nominee-to-be-John Kerry, introduced herself to the American public Tuesday. But a newcomer, Barack Obama, stole the show during the second night of the party's convention.
In a carefully delivered 20-minute address, Heinz Kerry took on the critics who claim she is too rough around the edges to be first lady of the United States.
"By now, I hope it will come as no surprise that I have something to say," she said to loud applause from the delegates. And she offered no apologies for voicing her opinions, saying she considers that freedom to be an expression of her rights as an American citizen.
"My right to speak my mind, to have a voice, to be what some have called 'opinionated,' " she said, pausing to simulate quotation marks with her hands and acknowledge cheers from the delegates floor below, "is a right I deeply and profoundly cherish. My only hope is that, one day soon, women — who have all earned the right to their opinions instead of being called 'opinionated,' will be called 'smart' or 'well-informed,' just as men."
In recent days, a video clip of Heinz Kerry telling a reporter from a conservative newspaper that has dogged her in the past to "shove it" has been aired repeatedly on the television news networks.
Appearing tentative and at times uncertain in her accented delivery, Heinz Kerry used the speech to discuss her upbringing in the African nation of Mozambique — a dictatorship at the time, she emphasized — and to highlight her other experiences overseas. The daughter of a Portuguese doctor and his British wife, Heinz Kerry appeared most relaxed as she showed off her fluency in five languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.
But it was a little-known state senator, Barack Obama of Illinois, who really wowed the delegates on Tuesday. Obama, a candidate for U.S. Senate who is considered to be a rising star of the party, was tapped by officials to deliver the Democrats' keynote address. He did not disappoint, delivering one of the strongest speeches of the convention so far.
The Harvard-educated son of a Kenyan man and a white American woman, Obama spoke of his parents' struggles and his own journey into politics, while articulating a centrist political philosophy reminiscent of Bill Clinton's "Third Way."
"Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn, " he said. "They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black with a book is acting white," said Obama to a rousing ovation from the delegates.
And Obama took aim at the national media, which has reported on numerous polls showing Americans to be deeply divided with the election just three months away. "The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states," he said, later adding, "we are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."
Obama also ripped President Bush for his administration's handling of the 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, and to never, ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world," he said, as the delegates rose to their feet and waved "Obama" signs that party officials had distributed throughout the hall.
Obama closed by speaking of "the politics of hope," and illustrated the idea by evoking both Kerry's past — "the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta" — and his own: "the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too."
Earlier in the evening, many of the other Democrats who sought the presidency this year took their turns at the microphone, including former governor Howard Dean of Vermont. After being greeted warmly by the delegates, Dean made light of his defeat in primary season.
"I was hoping for a reception like this," he said, "I was just hoping that it would be on Thursday night, instead of on Tuesday night." Thursday, the last night of the convention, is when Senator Kerry will officially accept the Democratic Party's nomination.
Dean spoke in largely subdued tones, hitting many of his key lines from the campaign, but in a more low-key manner than when he was fighting for the nomination in New Hampshire.
Delegates also heard from Ron Reagan, son of the recently deceased former president. Reagan used the appearance to argue in favor of stem-cell research, which he and former first lady Nancy Reagan have long supported.
And local hero Senator Edward M. Kennedy sounded many of the Democrats' traditional themes during his address to the delegates. Later, Kennedy was honored at a concert at Boston's Symphony Hall, which featured U2 frontman Bono performing "Pride (In the Name of Love)" backed by the Boston Pops orchestra.