The consensus of the commentators is that John F. Kerry gave a great acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. The commentators were right. He did. He had one stroke of genius of a theme: patriotism. Here’s just a sample:

“You see that flag up there. We call her Old Glory, the stars and stripes forever. I fought under that flag, as did so many of those people who were here tonight and all across the country. That flag flew from the gun turret right behind my head and it was shot through and through and tattered, but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men that I served with and friends I grew up with.”

There was lots, lots more: the Greatest Generation (Kerry’s parents), Kerry’s buddies in Vietnam, Abraham Lincoln, God, family, prayer, at least one of the Ten Commandments. Kerry’s mom (as he describes her) was a homemaker. His dad was a warrior against Communism. In that one short speech, I counted 88 uses of the words “America” or “American.” Kerry wrapped himself in the flag so tightly that he came off as a red and white-striped mummy. This sounds like GOP stuff–patriotism as the last refuge of Nixon-esque scoundrels and all–although draping one’s pet liberal cause with the word “American” has in fact been standard operating procedure for at least two decades. The anti-religion group titles itself People for the American Way, even though most Americans believe in God and don’t object to religious references in public places. The National Abortion Rights Action League recently changed its name to NARAL-Pro-Choice America, even though most Americans have ambivalent feelings about abortion. The hot new George Soros-funded anti-Bush organization calls itself America Coming Together. A leading liberal think tank is the Center for American Progress.

But Kerry wasn’t just speaking in code to fellow liberals. He was positioning himself as George W. Bush. Or rather as the non-Bush, the Bush Without Bush, you might say. He thus championed Bush-style: 1) the war against terrorism (although he decried actually fighting terrorists); 2) a bigger military (although it wouldn’t actually do anything); and 3) “real prescription drug coverage…so that senior citizens never have to cut their pills in half because they can’t afford lifesaving medicine” (hold it, John, Bush already did that with his $500 billion Medicare expansion!).

Sure there was plenty of duplicitous populist grandstanding, such as the reference to the “25 percent of the children in Harlem” who have asthma because of air pollution” (yeah, and the kids of the affluent Upper West Side just a few blocks south breathe Swiss Alps air), or the guy in Canton, Ohio, who lost his steel-plant job when the industry moved overseas (about 25 years ago, when Jimmy Carter was president and America’s industrial base collapsed). And underneath all the love-America gassing in Kerry’s speech lay an armature of proposed tax increases (for the rich only, of course!) and government programs–nationalized health care, free preschool for all, bloated subsidies for “alternative” energy–that bespoke the same old Democratic Party and its welfare state.

Yet Kerry toned it down on the contentious issues that are liberals’ rallying standards, omitting abortion and gay marriage (and even gays, unless they fall under the rubric of “diversity”) and making only a single, arguably ambiguous, reference to “stem cell research,” which Kerry, like other enthusiasts, seems to believe will result in a cure-all for everything from hangnails to death. He did not make the mistake of saying that he was France’s favorite candidate. He did not promise to pull precipitously out of Iraq. He said he would “never give any nation or any institution a veto over our national security.” So much for the liberals’ favorite super-organization that Bush refused to sign us up for: the International Criminal Court. And he addressed these amicable words to Bush himself, as though they were old war buddies like his Swift Boat comrades: “[L]et’s be optimists, not just opponents. Let’s build unity in the American family, not angry division…..Let’s respect one another.”

All this was for a reason. In fact the entire Democratic convention this week, not just Kerry’s speech, had nothing to do with any of the real issues that are at stake in this year’s presidential election. Those issues were nowhere to be seen on the floor of the Fleet Center, where one candidate, candidate’s spouse, and failed candidate from the primaries after another–from sweet Elizabeth Edwards to Al “Tawana” Sharpton–was trotted out to make nice in front of the television cameras and an audience of delegates that was as buffed, groomed, and dressed to the nines as the candidates themselves (those sandalistas and professional welfare mothers from Democratic conventions of yesteryear were nowhere to be seen in the delegations in Boston this past week).

The real issues, the ones that draw Democratic passion and Democratic money, were just outside the Fleet Center door. Those issues and their champions, unlike last night’s John F. Kerry, do not draw on patriotism, courtesy to one’s opponent, or pledges to keep America strong.

To find out what’s really at stake this November, you had to go to the “alternative” convention just on the other side of Boston’s Charles River. Or you could see Fahrenheit 9/11, made by the alternative convention’s star speaker, Michael Moore, and nicely timed to coincide with the official convention. Or you could read the New York Times and take in the curious “I Had an Abortion” campaign, also nicely timed for just about now, pushed by rad-fems Barbara Ehrenreich and Amy “Manifesta” Richards (the latter pretending to be just a mom who had to abort two of her three triplets)–which fizzled after two weeks when it turned out that Richards had been a paid operative for mega-abortion-promoter Planned Parenthood, which hastily withdrew the “I Had an Abortion” T-shirt it had for sale on its website.

Those issues–the war in Iraq, the supposed Republican threat to women’s reproductive rights–boil down to exactly one thing. It is George W. Bush and getting rid of him. That one single thing, dumping Bush–not national preschool programs or cheaper pills for seniors–is what energizes the Democrats nowadays. Kerry and the string-pullers in Boston couldn’t say that. Unlike Michael Moore and Barbara Ehrenreich, they couldn’t rant against Bush. That would show up the Democratic Party as the party of “angry division,” and perhaps of other things as well: lack of patriotism, contempt for the U.S. military, and disdain for the religious and moral values of most Americans. So instead we got the smooth-as-microfiber Democratic Convention 2004 and Kerry’s 88 invocations of “America,” the Bush Without Bush in full gear.