Kerried away by John

How to explain it?

I went to hear John Kerry speak Thursday to document thedullness and lament the disappointment. This election is “the mostimportant one of our lifetime,” in Kerry’s own words, but hischarmless persona has put a damper on the Democrats’ dream.

So how is it that I felt a soar of inspiration, a wisp of hope,a shiver of possibility? Just who was this man who took the stageat the NAACP annual convention Thursday morning?

Certainly not the humorless and dull John Kerry who inspires somany wisecracks -“John, if you think I’m funny, tell your face,”Jay Leno told him last week.

This John Kerry cracked wise and well himself. On PresidentBush’s refusal to address the convention because of “scheduling”issues: “He may be too busy to speak to you now, but he’s going tohave plenty of time after Nov. 2.”

On Vice President Dick Cheney’s profanity on the Senate floor:”John Edwards and I are going to give him something to swearabout.”

On the many things he and running mate Edwards have in common:”He’s named John and I’m named John. He’s a lawyer and I’m alawyer. He was named People magazine’s sexiest politician inAmerica. (Pause) And I read People magazine.”

This John Kerry deftly responded to the outbursts of a couple ofspirited supporters who interrupted his speech: To the first onewho shouted “We love you”: “I want to turn that love into action. Iwant to turn that love into votes. I want to turn love intochange.” And to another who shouted something a few moments later:”We’re going to get you to work hard. You’re already working hard.You’re on overtime. If everybody works as hard as you, this thingis a cakewalk.”

This was a Kerry who comfortably quoted scripture and poetry,who issued one-liners and eloquent exhortations emphasized byrepetition. The Bush administration is responsible for a “creed ofgreed,” he said. But, “we can do better and we will,” he saidrepeatedly, on the issues of health care, jobs, AIDS, taxes,foreign policy, employment, education, the holocaust in Sudan.

The thousands of delegates who filled the hall at the ConventionCenter applauded enthusiastically, nodded in vigorous agreement,occasionally jumped to their feet. They seemed rapt, if not asenraptured as they might be by Bill Clinton.

“He was just great,” Ruth Harris, 70, a retired nurse from NewYork, said of Kerry’s hour-long address.

Sure, the friendly audience may account for some of Kerry’svivacious performance. He knows the issues that engage blacks andcan present himself as a genuine torchbearer for those causes.Then, too, having your opponent be a no-show gives you an automaticadvantage.

Or maybe the junior senator from Massachusetts has finally foundhis footing.

“I think it’s one of the best speeches he’s made,” said AndrewShelton, 58, an NAACP delegate from Nashville, Tenn. Shelton,national director of civil rights for the Paper, Allied-Industrial,Chemical & Energy Workers International Union, met Kerry lastyear when he drove him to a fund-raiser in Nashville and has heardhim speak often.

“I think he felt comfortable. I think he’s finally getting it,”Shelton said of Thursday’s speech. “The next three months are goingto be fun, if you’re a Democrat.”

Judging by Thursday’s address, John Kerry might even have alittle fun himself.

Jill Porter is a columnist for the Philadelphia DailyNews.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune InformationServices