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Oops . . .

The Democrats feature the worst convention speaker of all time while trying to marginalize one of the best. Plus: Is it time for the Dump Edwards movement to catch fire?

2:30 AM, Jul 29, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Boston

IN ORDER TO AVOID getting mired in the swamp of hatred, or the politics of personal destruction, or the moors of mean, or whatever the kids are calling it these days, let's stipulate to one thing: Steve Brozak is almost certainly a wonderful human being. He's from New Jersey, so he's got that going for him. He's got a beautiful wife and two daughters. And he's running for Congress.

Brozak has never stood for public office before, yet the DNC brain trust decided to put him in (non-network) primetime, on the Wednesday night of the party's national convention. You know, to see what the kid could do.

The result--and this is no exaggeration--is the worst speech in the history of politics. Ever. Brozak stands at the podium, facing the camera, with one shoulder tilted forward. He narrows his eyes into a glare. And he assaults his text. With his left arm rigidly stuck to his side, his right hand waves wildly in the close-fisted point that they teach you these days during the first hour of Public Speaking 101. It's supposed to be a gesture that's strong, but not threatening. But in Brozak's hands, it's frightening and ludicrous and wildly entertaining. The train wreck goes on and on and on.

Why, you might ask, would Bill Richardson and Terry McAuliffe give this plumb speaking slot to an unproven biotech executive running for a House seat in Jersey district that's probably safe for Republicans? The Associated Press has the answer: " Last year, upset by GOP attacks on such military veterans as former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, Brozak abandoned his party." Oh, and he's in the Marine Reserves. It's a little bit cruel that the Democratic party would throw this poor guy to the wolves, just to be able to pimp out his résumé for the evening.

IF YOU SAW the look on Al Sharpton's face as he strutted onto the stage immediately following Brozak, you could tell exactly what he was thinking: Chump.

The DNC gave Sharpton the worst possible lead in and, for his trouble, told him he could have only six minutes of their precious time. So the reverend told them he would deliver this speech. For the first few minutes, Sharpton stayed with the text--you could see him following along with the prompter, but then he took off, and delivered one of the best political speeches I've ever seen.

For nearly 20 minutes, Sharpton held the attention of every soul in the Fleet Center. He moved the audience where he wanted them, when he wanted. It was electrifying.

Much has been made of Sharpton's skill as an orator--all of it deserved--but you can't do what he did without the words. Whoever wrote that speech deserves a job in the White House. And if Sharpton was improvising, as some of my colleagues suggest may have been the case, then watch out: His days as a running joke are drawing to an end.

One side note: Immediately following The Rev.'s performance, TV screens filled with pundits and anchors, their faces all knitted in concern. Sharpton had gone over his time! He had hijacked the convention! He had used a negative message that was sure to anger John Kerry!

This is clearly a case of conservative media bias. Sharpton did nothing out of bounds; he said nothing that conflicted with the tone of the convention. All he did was give Jesse Jackson heartburn and deliver the best speech Democrats have heard in 20 years. Good for him.

NOT SO GOOD for John Edwards. Back in New Hampshire, I noticed that while he's a naturally gifted politician, Edwards can, once in a while, come across as a slick, unappealing lightweight. This wasn't a major concern, of course, so long as he didn't pick his speech at the Democratic National Convention to have an off day. Oops.

Edwards was not terrible. He was rocky; he had some nice moments; he had bad patches. The problem is, he's supposed to be the guy that added panache to the ticket. Kerry is the one who gets to be "not terrible."

First things first: Whoever runs the speech shop at Team Kerry, needs pry the "?" key off of Edwards's speechwriter's computer. Whenever Edwards asks rhetorical questions, his worst features come out: the smarm and condescension. "Aren't those the traits you want in a commander in chief?" "Aren't you sick of it?" "You can't save any money, can you?" The vice president is not supposed to be the nation's first-grade teacher.