It was his night to shine, and shine he did. He repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet and reclaimed the flag for all Americans, saying no President nor party had a right to claim it as their own.

No, I am not talking about presidential hopeful John Kerry, though he did borrow this line to use in his speech later on.

General Wesley Clark showed why he inspired so many during the primaries and why he was chosen to speak on the most important night of the Democratic Convention.

The General was in the best rhetorical form he had ever been, working the crowd into frenzy after cheering frenzy. He told the nation that any party that claims they have a monopoly on defending the nation, “is committing a fraud,” against the American people.

And, as he did throughout his primary days, he pointed to the flag and claimed it back from the Bush Republicans who try to pretend it is somehow only a Republican symbol.

“This hall, this Democratic Party are filled with veterans who have served under the American flag,” said Clark. “And this is our flag. Right there, that flag, we saluted this flag. We rose up in the morning and stood reveille to this flag. We fought for that flag. We’ve seen brave men and women buried under that flag. That flag is ours, and nobody, nobody will take it away from us.”

More than anyone else, Clark brought the feeling of seriousness and purpose, starting his speech with a chilling reminder.

“I am an American soldier. Our country has been attacked. We are at war. Our nation is at risk. And we are engaged in a life-and- death struggle against terrorists who are seeking nuclear and biological weapons.”

And then, in true statesman fashion, he called for a moment of silence “to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, so that we could have the freedoms that we exercise here tonight.”

It was the sort of moment John Kerry could have really used to make himself seem Presidential.

For Clark, not only was it stirring, it was entirely natural.

Clark also did something that – astoundingly – no other Democrat has done in trying to point out that the Republicans have no business claiming to be THE party of national defense. He pointed out that World War I, World War II were both won under Democratic presidents.

“John Kerry will join that pantheon of great wartime Democrats: great Democrats like Woodrow Wilson, who led us to victory in World War I; great Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, who turned back the tide of fascism to win World War II…”

He also cited President Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then had his big applause line of the night as he cited former President Bill Clinton as one of the Democrats who led the nation to great military victory.

“…and great Democrats like Bill Clinton, who confronted ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, and with diplomacy, backed by force, brought peace to a shattered land.”

Like they did so many time during his speech, the crowd erupted on this line.

As for John Kerry, he seems to be reading The Moderate Independent more and more these days, as he took the advice we gave some time ago and made a challenge to “family values” the centerpiece of his speech.

“For four years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans. Values are not just words, values are what we live by. They’re about the causes that we champion and the people we fight for. And it is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.”

And then he began to set straight what family values actually means.

“You don’t value families by kicking kids out of after-school programs and taking cops off the streets, so that Enron can get another tax break. We believe in the family value of caring for our children and protecting the neighborhoods where they walk and play.

“You don’t value families by denying real prescription drug coverage to seniors so big drug companies can get another windfall.

“We believe in the family value expressed in one of the oldest Commandments: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” As president, I will not privatize Social Security. I will not cut benefits. And together, we will make sure that senior citizens never have to cut their pills in half because they can’t afford lifesaving medicine.

“You don’t value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service, if you deny veterans health care, or if you tell middle-class families to wait for a tax cut, so that the wealthiest among us can get even more.

We believe in the value of doing what’s right for everyone in the American family. And that’s the choice in this election.”

And then Kerry really got into it.

“We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America; not narrow values that divide us, but the shared values that unite us: family, faith, hard work, opportunity and responsibility for all, so that every child, every adult, every parent, every worker in America has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential. That is the American dream and the American value.”

All we at M/I can say is its about time someone called the Bush/Limbaughians on their game of claiming the high road so they can take the low road (as a matter of fact, both Kennedy and Edwards used a line about Bushies taking the ‘lowest road’ in their speeches – guess they are readers as well.)

Just as Kerry survived in Vietnam by turning his boat directly into the enemy fire, it seems he is steering the boat of his campaign directly into the Republicans’ biggest guns, making national defense and ‘values’ his centerpiece. It makes sense in that he feels he has the advantage already on domestic issues, and that what support the President has comes from national defense issues and a feeling of shared values among certain voters. Kerry must feel if he can chip away at this for the next 90 or so days, he can get the handful of swingers he needs to win.

He started his bus tour today with more talk about “values.” It appears that the plan is for Kerry to hammer away at national security and values while Edwards takes on the domestic agenda. Kerry will be the fighter for the worldly issues, while Kerry will use his experience as fighting special interests as a trial lawyer to fight for domestic issues. This was also set up in last night’s speech.

“…next January, Americans will be proud to have a fighter for the middle class to succeed Dick Cheney as vice president of the United States,” said Kerry.

Shockingly absent throughout the whole convention – held at the birthplace of American freedom – were references and imagery from the Boston Tea Party or Revolution. There were some, but it seemed it would have been made a major theme, especially since it gave the opportunity to make the Democrats the true, brave American patriots standing up to another aristocrat who comes from a line of Georges.

In fact, in the end, there was something missing from the whole convention. Congratulations to the Democrats for striking a mostly non-partisan theme and focusing on uniting the nation and the good things about America. What was lacking was a truly clear and detailed message. After four days a handful of themes had been hammered away at: hope, unity, values, optimism. And a number of slogans used and then discarded, such as Strong at Home, Respected Abroad – that theme more or less disappeared for Kerry’s speech, replaced by, “Hope is on the way,” and the talk about values.

In the end, the Convention was a good launching point, well run, and nicely themed, but it will be the debates that the undecideds really tune in for. And until the debates, the biggest challenge for the Democrats over the night 90 days will be dealing with the right-wing bias of the media, which, in case you haven’t noticed, has been peeking its head out from all sources, from AP to Newsweek to ABC News.

And truly the biggest threat to Kerry’s chances is this: During the primaries, the Democrats let FOX News host three of the nine debates, setting up the notion of FOX as a legitimate choice to moderate one of the Presidential debates. This must be prevented at all costs. If FOX gets to host one of the debates, Kerry will lose the election, period. As Wesley Clark learned during the primaries, there is no way to avoid the FOX hit, as they use their ‘questions’ to make smearing statements against you and any response you have just has you looking defensive and unpleasant.

Don’t let this happen, Johns, no matter what, and you are on the road to having your chance to show the nation what leadership and patriotism should be.