WASHINGTON -- The Democrats in Boston did much to justify two much-disparaged things -- party conventions and platforms. The convention performed a vital legitimizing function, and the platform, particularly in its tactical evasions and silences, indicated how a senator who has represented a liberal state for 20 years adjusts to courting the country.
The process of picking presidential nominees has been democratized. The proliferation of primaries has removed the process from the supposedly unclean hands of elected officials and party bosses. Bosses were always important and often decisive when they had machines to boss -- until about 40 years ago. As recently as the late 1960s, the governor of Pennsylvania controlled 40,000 patronage jobs. Twenty years later there were 2,000.
Today it is possible for remarkably few voters -- representing only themselves, unlike the officeholders and bosses of the bad old days -- to be decisive. John Kerry won the nomination in a sprint that lasted 29 days -- from the Iowa caucuses to the Wisconsin primary. Effectively, he was picked by the approximately 135,000 persons -- 0.06 percent of Americans of voting age -- who supported him in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The convention actually was a useful laying-on of hands -- the uniquely clean hands of the great unwashed, ``the people'' from around the nation. Or at least a fair sampling of the current composition of the activist base of the world's oldest party. For example, about one in 10 delegates was a teacher, including 415 members of the two big teachers unions.
Kerry's platform is a 37-page flinch. It turns a perpetual chimera, ``energy independence,'' into a promise, but flinches from suggesting a tax on gasoline consumption or drilling anywhere that might annoy Democrats, which means ... anywhere. His platform advocates ``rigorous new incentives and tests for new teachers.'' Notice: only new teachers. Of today's teacher-certification tests, The Wall Street Journal reports that ``someone with about a 10th-grade education could pass them.''
Bush's scarlet sin against the environment supposedly was his turn away from the Kyoto agreement on global warming, by which the world agreed that Americans should pay most of the costs. But the two paragraphs that Kerry's platform devotes to ``international leadership to protect the global environment'' mentions neither global warming nor Kyoto.