KERRY TAKES ‘CANDIDATE MCCAIN’ TO TASK…. With all the great speakers lined up for the Democratic convention last night, few expected John Kerry to deliver some of the night’s most memorable lines. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

“I have known and been friends with John McCain for almost 22 years, but every day now I learn something new about Candidate McCain,” Kerry said. “To those who still believe in the myth of a ‘maverick,’ instead of the reality of a politician, I say, let’s compare Senator McCain to Candidate McCain. Candidate McCain now supports the very war-time tax cuts that Senator McCain once called ‘irresponsible.’ Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding me, folks? Talk about being for it before you were against it. Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself.”

McCain is arguably one of modern politics’ most shameless flip-floppers, and to hear John Kerry have the opportunity to turn the tables on his old friend was strikingly entertaining. It was, to my mind, the best speech I’ve heard Kerry give. We’ve all seen Kerry before, but never with this kind of passion.

His forceful response to attacks on patriotism also soared: “This election is a chance for America to tell the merchants of fear and division: you don’t decide who loves this country; you don’t decide who is a patriot; you don’t decide whose service counts and whose doesn’t. Four years ago I said, and I say it again tonight, that the flag doesn’t belong to any ideology. It doesn’t belong to any political party. It is an enduring symbol of our nation, and it belongs to all the American people. After all, patriotism is not love of power or some cheap trick to win votes; patriotism is love of country.”

There must be something liberating about losing a presidential election. After 2000, Al Gore’s passion came through. And last night, we saw the same from Kerry.

It was the highlight of the first night of the convention in which the party actually seemed to be firing on all cylinders.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.