One Night in Boston: The Ramifications of the 2004 Democratic National Convention

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by zhenghe1421, Jul 8, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: 2004 Democratic Convention

    zhenghe1421 Well-Known Member

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    Dec 10, 2013
    One Night in Boston: The Ramifications of the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

    One of the major surprises in the lead up to the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston was that the keynote speaker happened to come down to two candidates. One was Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee to represent Illinois in the Senate. Obama had just won the primary by scoring 45% percent of the vote, and there were high expectations for him in the upcoming race. He would be speaking at the convention, but not as the keynote. That decision was because the party wanted to avoid tempering expectations. The speaker was instead Jennifer Granholm, the Governor of Michigan. Granholm had been popular in her state, and was the type of politician that indicated that a Democrat could win in the Midwest. The Kerry campaign wanted to focus on those Midwestern voters, and felt that although Obama was someone to keep an eye on, it would make more sense to have Granholm articulate the party vision.

    Obama was a rising star, and some have argued that he would have gotten the keynote address had he performed better in the primary. That will never be known for sure. What we do know is that Granholm articulated a vision of the party that was based on reviving the urban areas of the country as she had done in Michigan. She encouraged the attendees to do their best to elect Kerry in order to make sure that the concerns of the every day people would be paramount.

    In the years since 2004, commentators and historians have argued if Obama getting the keynote address would have been an important point considering what happened in the next couple of election cycles. Granholm was a popular governor in Michigan, and she certainly was someone who was a smart choice. Obama is one of those political figures on which much has been written and it’s hard to get much of a consensus. What we do know is that this moment was something that only grew in importance after the years rolled by, and historians have used this decision to hammer Kerry ever since.

    Author’s Note: Hello, and welcome to a timeline. The point of divergence is that then State Senator Obama does not get chosen to give the keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Obama is one of the most consequential presidents in our lifetime, and his speech in 2004 was the moment that he never looked back to making history. This timeline is an attempt to humbly ask what happened if he did not get that moment?
     
  2. Threadmarks: 2004 Campaign Part 1

    zhenghe1421 Well-Known Member

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    One Night in Boston: 2004 Campaign Part 1

    The decision by the Kerry campaign in Boston was surprising to say the least. Obama would soldier on and win his election by 10 percentage points. His opponent ran a good campaign, but Jack Ryan was hampered by his ongoing divorce and that Obama was performing very well in the Chicago area. Obama privately said that he wanted to focus on working in the Senate before he wanted to consider running for president, even though his fellow Democrats were impressed with how he conducted his campaign and Obama’s charisma. If the race had been more of a blowout, then history could have been so much more different.

    On the presidential side, John Kerry was finding out that things were going to be a lot more difficult than he once thought. At the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City, President Bush made a forceful defense of his policies.

    Bush said in his acceptance speech “America is fighting in Iraq to make sure that the Iraqi people are living in a country that is safe and secure. There are some that questioned why our brave men and women in uniform are over there giving their lives for freedom. It was a difficult choice to make, but clearly Senator Kerry chose to vote for the war. A president has to make the hard choices, and I have proven it. My time in office was changed forever by the tragic events of 9/11, and the great people of this nation stood up and put our ideals into action. We invaded Iraq because Saddam was a man that had constantly refused international observers, and this country has been dealing with Saddam for multiple administrations. That decision was one I had to make, because it is never easy to send our military personnel into action. I don’t know if Senator Kerry would have made the choice, and he seems to waffle over the choice he made in the Senate last year.”

    Bush’s campaign strategy was to run on his record as being resolute in the challenges of the 21st century, and focus on his achievements both at home and abroad. In his campaign stops and interviews, he hit on the theme of “Decision Points”, something that he claimed was what the presidency was all about. By doing that, the President forced Kerry to respond to him and try and avoid being caught as a flip-flopper.

    Vice President Cheney focused on attacking John Edwards. Cheney mentioned that he was an experienced politician that had been involved in foreign policy, and was committed to serving the president and carrying out what Bush wanted. Cheney claimed that Edwards was someone who seemed to be an uninspiring choice, and wondered what exactly Edwards had done in the Senate.

    Kerry and Edwards struggled because of these attacks, and that the war in Iraq seemed to be getting better. Violence was down, and the new Iraqi government had been focusing on counterterror exercises and weeding out terrorists into the open. As the debates surged ever closer, it was clear that Kerry’s campaign would need some serious momentum to get back into the race.

    Author’s Note: Thanks for reading the second chapter. First of all, Jack Ryan doesn’t have to drop out, meaning that Obama’s margin of victory is slightly less impressive. I changed Bush’s strategy to focus on his role of commander in chief, and put more of a focus on the foreign policy questions to put the Iraq war more front and center. For the Iraq war, I will give a closer look, but things are going better over there. Next couple of chapters will be the debates, and then a closer look at Iraq. If you have any feedback or suggestions, feel free to share.
     
  3. Threadmarks: First Presidential Debate

    zhenghe1421 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2013
    One Night in Boston: First Presidential Debate

    The first presidential debate would take place at the University of Miami in Florida. Senator Kerry was trailing in the polls, and was looking for a strong performance in the first debate and a strong performance from Senator Edwards in the VP debate. Kerry had been campaigning in the Midwest for most of the summer, trying to shore up his support in critical swing states.

    Meanwhile, President Bush was campaigning in the Midwest as well. The swing states such as Ohio and Iowa were going to be critical in the election. He was confident that Vice President Cheney would do well in the VP debate. Bush continued to hit on his accomplishments and to continue to try and get tangible progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, knowing that the voters would judge him against that progress.

    The night of the first debate arrived, and the setting was the University of Miami at Coral Gables. Jim Lehrer of PBS. The debate would focus on foreign policy and was viewed as a critical point in what looked to be a fairly competitive race. Bush was leading by 7 percentage points in the polls, which analysts said was due to a strong convention bounce as well as lingering doubts about Kerry’s charisma. The debate would prove to be one of the turning points in the entire race. Soon, American voters would learn a new phrase.

    Jim Lehrer smiled at the cameras and audience as it turned to 8:00 Eastern Time, and addressed the large television audience. “Good evening, and welcome to the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. This is the first of three scheduled debates by the leading presidential candidates in this year’s election sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. My name is Jim Lehrer and I work PBS. The audience here tonight has agreed to be silent throughout the 90-minute debate, except for right now. Let’s welcome the candidates, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and President George W. Bush of Texas.”

    A loud cheer was heard as the two candidates walked out onto the stage, which had two podiums. The candidates shook hands, and shook Lehrer’s hand as the moved towards the podiums. The applause stopped once the candidates reached the podiums.

    Lehrer said as he turned back to the camera “The focus of this debate is foreign policy. The rules for the debate were agreed by both campaigns, and are simple. I will ask a question of each candidate, and the candidate will have one minute to respond. Then, the other candidate will have a minute to respond. At my discretion, I can add an additional 30 seconds for each candidate to further discuss. I am the only one who knows the questions, and the order was decided by a coin flip. The first question will go to Senator Kerry.”

    He turned to the candidates, and said “Senator Kerry, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are among the most critical issues to voters in this campaign. How would you conduct the war compared to President Bush?”

    Kerry nodded, and said “There are a couple of ways I would change how the war is being waged. However, I would like to thank the University of Miami for hosting us tonight, President Bush for agreeing to debate me, and Jim for moderating this debate. To answer the question, I would make sure that we had a clear plan in Iraq, and that we would work through the United Nations. The reason we are at war is because Saddam and his government had refused to work with the international community. I believe that the United States should be working within the United Nations to provide a solution.”

    Lehrer turned to Bush, and said “One minute to respond, Mr. President.”

    Bush nodded, and said “First off, I would like to thank the University of Miami for hosting tonight, Senator Kerry for agreeing to debate me, and Jim for moderating the debate tonight. Senator Kerry mentioned working with other nations, and my administration has. We’ve built a broad coalition of nations of all shapes and sizes to deal with Saddam. What my opponent fails to mention is that we executed the plan to get Saddam, and he has been handed over for trial. One of the lessons I have learned in office is that you don’t have the luxury of planning ahead, and I find it amazing that Senator Kerry voted to go into Iraq, so he felt comfortable with the plan my national security team and I came up with.”

    The turning point of the election was near the end of the debate. Kerry was looking for a way to jump back into contention in the polls, and wanted to seize on a report that was damaging to Bush. When asked about his record of military service and how he would work with the military in the current climate, he made a mistake.

    Kerry said “I feel that my military service is going to be helpful. We all saw that the President did not really serve his country in the report by Dan Rather about the memos that he was not effective in the Texas Air National Guard. My military record was very respectable, and I know what those soldiers are feeling. It’s hard for the President to say that when he has been away from the front lines and was a bad soldier.”

    Bush would not take this lying down, and responded with a passionate defense of his record. “My opponent seems to forget that the Killian Documents were not proven to be accurate. CBS apologized for the mistake, and it’s amazing that Senator Kerry would choose to believe that. It’s also not true that I have not been caring about the troops. I’ve visited our men and women in uniform, and I always make sure to remind myself that every decision I take as our commander-in-chief is going to impact someone’s life. All of the troops matter to me as if they are my very own family members. That answer really showed that the Kerry campaign did not pay attention to the news cycle, and that is a dangerous move for someone who wants to be president. I know that the American people will understand that CBS apologized.”

    The rest of the debate was calmer, but the press was amazed that Kerry would openly state that. This created a problem for CBS, which was forced to see the Killian Documents spill back into the news cycle. The damage to their credibility as a neutral company would be tested, and ratings for their programming would slide throughout the rest of the year. The Killian Documents would become infamous as the news story that would turn the election.

    Author’s Notes: This is one of the first major divergences from our timeline. The Killian Documents were memos that surfaced in 2004 that questioned the service of President Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. CBS aired the story on 60 Minutes II, presented by Dan Rather. The documents were found to be forgeries, and CBS had to apologize. In TTL, Kerry brings it up in the debate, meaning that the story gains new legs and comes back into the news cycle, having started to die down in OTL by the first debate. Thanks for reading the timeline, and feel free to leave any feedback.
     
  4. Unknown Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2004
    Location:
    Corpus Christi, TX
    For the 60 Minutes fiasco, I really blame Mary Mapes (and I'm not a Bush fan) for deciding to put the documents into the report when her source (Bill Burkett) changed his story--twice--about how he'd gotten said documents and, finally, told an unbelievable story about how he'd finally gotten them (saying that a woman named Lucy Ramirez gave him an envelope with documents inside and that, after copying them, he was to burn the original copy of the documents and the envelope); as the tvtropes.org site said in its page on the movie Truth, this would have been unbelievable if it had been the first story he'd told. IMO, Mapes wanted to believe that they were true (and the underlying premise about Bush's NG service is true, IMO; Mapes and Rather still believe the documents were real) so badly that she ignored any misgivings she might have had and wrecked her own career, along with her team's and Dan Rather's...

    Just my .02.

    Good start, though, @zhenghe1421...
     
  5. zhenghe1421 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2013
    Thanks for your feedback and your views on the Killian Documents. I personally think that the Killian Documents fiasco was the failure of the higher ups at CBS News to be sure, and doubling down.

    Is there anything you would like to see me address later in the timeline?
     
  6. Unknown Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2004
    Location:
    Corpus Christi, TX
    I can't think of anything to address at the moment...

    I had forgotten about the role of the higher-ups at CBS News; IMO, the reason why Mapes and Rather still think the documents are true will be familiar to anyone: they don't want to admit that they were wrong about the documents...
     
  7. TheAllTimeGreatest Well-Known Member

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    May 23, 2018
    Cool story! Could we possibly be seeing a more successful George W. Bush presidency?
     
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  8. zhenghe1421 Well-Known Member

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    Dec 10, 2013
    Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. It will depend on how Bush handles the war, and how well the Democratic Party does in the midterms.
     
  9. Ginger & Lime Active Member

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    Feb 6, 2019
    Oh, man. An election where Bush is perceived to have won the first debate would be truly different. If Cheney puts away Edwards in a manner similar to OTL, we could see a genuine blowout for the Republicans with all kinds of fun butterflies.

    A Bush that wins 55 per cent of the vote, for instance, might get a vote on his Social Security plan.
     
  10. TheAllTimeGreatest Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2018
    Perhaps they even don’t do that bad in the 2006 midterms, maybe even gain some seats. However, this is barring a massive screwup on Republicans’ part.
     
  11. Landmass Wave Well-Known Member

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    Landmass between New Orleans and Mobile
    Katrina and Abramoff still happen. So they need to do better with Iraq and the economy.
     
  12. zhenghe1421 Well-Known Member

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    Dec 10, 2013
    Thanks for your feedback. It’s looking good for Bush, and certainly would add a lot of paths for him should he win.

    Thanks for your feedback. You are correct that Bush has to still do a good job should he win.
     
  13. Threadmarks: VP Debate

    zhenghe1421 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2013
    One Night in Boston: Vice Presidential Debate

    The Kerry campaign was in deep trouble after the first debate. Politicos noted that Bush had won the first debate because he seemed in control, and the response to the CBS question was a tactical mistake by Kerry. All the focus was on John Edwards, to make sure that he could provide a performance that would give some momentum going into the second debate between Bush and Kerry.

    Bush was pleased with how the race was going. His strategy had been to control the narrative of the race as one about Iraq and Afghanistan, and make sure that he would be ready to seize the momentum. He wanted to win this election so that he could focus on making sure that the war zones were under control. Cheney would have the luxury of making sure that he could defend Bush’s record and try and paint Edwards as an empty suit that was unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

    The dominant story outside of the campaign was the reentrance of the Killian Documents story that Dan Rather aired on CBS. CBS News was facing a crisis of credibility, as ratings for their newscasts dropped, and the other networks widened their lead in the ratings race. Even though CBS had appointed a review panel to investigate what happened, they would have to wait for the report to be published. That wasn’t good enough for some critics, especially anchors on Fox News.

    Ever since Fox News went on the air, the network had claimed that they were giving the news in order to provide objectivity. However, in recent years leading up to 2004 the channel had filled their primetime hours with opinion programming that swayed in favor of President Bush. Those programs had found fresh meat, and Dan Rather was going to be on the menu. Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly ran with that, claiming night after night that CBS had sided with the Kerry campaign in order to hurt Bush, and manipulate the results of the election. Some conservatives even boycotted the entirety of the network, lowering ratings for CBS primetime shows as well as sporting events aired on the network. Insiders at the network were calling for Rather to be suspended or fired to avoid lowering ratings and hurting the network further. CBS News executives struggled with what to do, unsure of what the right thing was to do.

    On the day of the Vice-Presidential debate, CBS News announced that Dan Rather and Mary Mapes were to be suspended for a month because of the report. Bob Schieffer would take over for Rather during the suspension for the evening newscast.

    The debate that night was held at Case Western Reserve and was expected to be an interesting night. Bush led by 6 percentage points in the polls, and all sides would be looking for another swing of momentum.

    As 8:30 ticked on the clock, Gwen Ifill looked into the camera, and said “Good evening, and welcome to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. This is the first and only Vice-Presidential debate of this election, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. My name is Gwen Ifill, and I work for PBS. Tonight’s debate is going to last 90 minutes, and the rules have been agreed on by both campaigns. Each candidate will have a minute to respond to a question, and the other candidate will get a minute to respond. At my discretion, I can add 90 seconds for debate. The questions are known only to me and will go back and forth between domestic and foreign policy. The audience has agreed to be silent except now. Please welcome Democrat John Edwards of South Carolina, and Vice President Dick Cheney of Wyoming.”

    The candidates came out to a round of applause and they sat down at a desk that faced out to the audience, and Ifill sat with her back to the audience. “Thank you. The order of questioning was decided by a coin toss, and Vice President Cheney will get the first question. Mr. Vice President, how do you envision your role should you and your running mate be elected in November?”

    Cheney smiled, and said “First, let me thank Case Western Reserve for hosting tonight’s event, Senator Edwards for agreeing to debate me tonight, and Gwen for moderating. The role of the Vice President in my eyes is one of giving advice to the President and drawing on my experiences. I’ve been in politics for decades, and President Bush and I have a good relationship. We talk constantly about the issues, and that’s how it should be. A Vice President should make sure that they are competent and experienced.”

    Ifill nodded and said, “Senator Edwards, a minute to respond.”

    Edwards looked out at the camera and said “I’d also like to thank Case Western Reserve for being a great host to us today, Gwen for agreeing to moderate, and Vice President Cheney for debating me. When Senator Kerry asked me to join him on the ticket, it made a lot of sense to me. He and I ran against each other in the primaries, and we didn’t always agree on things. That’s fine in politics, and John and I have worked together in the Senate as peers. I see my role as being able to avoid being a shadow president. Some have accused my opponent of being that, and that is not what I want. I want to worth with John and help him out, but not overshadow him. “

    The rest of the debate followed a rather predictable pattern. Edwards would go on the offensive over Iraq, and Cheney would defend the conduct of the war. Edwards tried his best but was viewed as the winner. The reason for that was Edwards was forceful on his record in the Senate and rebuked Cheney for suggesting that Edwards was invisible. The politicos felt that Edwards had done well, but most experts agreed that Kerry would have to continue to campaign hard in order to get back into the race and recover from the first debate.

    Author’s Notes: Thanks for reading the next chapter of this timeline. The reason I’m focusing on the Killian Documents is because it’s such a fascinating story to me. This one story changed so many lives in various ways, and I wanted to highlight how CBS could have responded in a different timeline. For the debate, I had Edwards win because he would have to be more aggressive in order to counter the momentum that Bush established earlier in the campaign.
     
  14. TheAllTimeGreatest Well-Known Member

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    Nice update.

    Indeed, the Killian Documents scandal is an intriguing part of our political discourse. It was almost like the Swift Boat scandal aimed at Kerry.

    I just had one question regarding Edwards, and this is an OTL question that anyone could answer: why did Kerry make him his running mate? Looking back on it, all he did was put in one term as a Senator. What made him so appealing?
     
  15. thekingsguard Founder of Korsgaardianism

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    That... is an excellent question. The Dems love for John Edwards has always been perplexing to me, especially given the man was a textbook example of an awful candidate even before the clusterfuck that came in 2008.

    He made his career as an ambulance chaser and litigation lawyer. He paid $600 bucks for haircuts. He had land seized by eminent domain to build a mansion next door to a literal trailer park.

    Of course, toss in the womanizing, cheating on his wife while she was literally dying of cancer, and that he sired a bastard with a campaign staffer who he paid of with campaign funds.

    Above all else, he had an unremarkable career as a one-term Senator, and was bland as a campaigner.

    He was the kind of unlikeable, slimy Southern Democrat that usually only comes from central casting.

    My guess is, the party liked him because he was good as raising money and (briefly) held office in a deep red state. He was the 2000's answer to Paddy O'Rourke.
     
  16. zhenghe1421 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2013
    VP selections are always interesting, and are certainly hard to figure with certainty. My guess was that Kerry was trying to think about adding some regional diversity to his ticket and also pick someone viewed as exciting. Of course, that didn't work out. For my money Kerry should have picked Gephardt in order to play to the Midwest and labor unions.
     
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