AMERICA’S PAST AND FUTURE….It has surely not escaped the attention of every other political commentator that while the signs held by delegates inside the Fleet Center this evening read “America’s Future,” the stars on display are very much associated with America’s Recent Past. Al Gore took the stage to what can only be described as a warm reception — no other modern politician has quite gone through what he experienced over the last four years and everyone seemed aware that his return to the Convention must have involved a bittersweet sense of deja vu. You could almost hear him thinking, “This all seems so familiar…but those signs don’t have my name on them.”

And indeed, although the crowd responded to his first big applause line by wildly waving the “Kerry-Edwards” signs that had been distributed throughout the day, by the time Gore swung into the meat of his speech, the delegates put down their placards and offered sign-free standing ovations.

While Gore didn’t use what I like to think of as his Monster Truck Voice that really works the crowd, he presented a compelling and, well, mature case for the Democrats. A number of writers (particularly at those other political magazines that seem to have twenty-two people providing ’round-the-clock convention blogging) have complained that the Democrats are going too far out of their way to avoid attacking Bush. I simply don’t agree that civility has weakened the Democrats’ case at all. Plus, it’s worth remembering that while convention-goers may be rabid partisans, the folks at home tend to be in the middle. And even though their opposition to Bush’s policies and politics continues to grow, they like the guy personally. Attacking the man won’t necessarily have the desired effect with voters who think he’s generally a good guy who just shouldn’t be president.

As for the Clintons, if you were in the Fleet Center and heard “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” blasting and watched Clinton take command of the stage and didn’t get a little geeked up…then you probably didn’t vote for him. Love him or hate him, the man is a rock star. As I rode home tonight, the cabdriver asked me, “Why do you Americans have this rule about not electing a president more than twice? If the people would vote for him, why not let him run? I’d be the first one in line!” He liked Kerry, he told me, but thought Clinton was just on a whole different level. Similarly, the woman from Southie who cut my hair this afternoon said she’d only recently warmed to Kerry after listening to him instead of the Bush/Cheney commercials about him. But she loved Clinton.

Will Clinton overshadow Kerry? Who cares? He has a way of talking about Democratic principles that reminds people why they’re proud to be Democrats. You can’t buy that kind of campaign magic. Kerry will never be Clinton, it’s true, but neither will any other Democrat. The former president is much more likely to be an asset on the campaign trail than a liability in the polling booth.

I’ll comment later on Clinton’s use of religious code throughout his speech, as well as the fairly electric effect of Rev. Alston’s remarks. For now, this correspondent needs to nab a few hours of sleep before heading back out.

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Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.