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BILL CLINTON SHOWS DELEGATES THAT HE'S AS SMOOTH AS EVER

He looked good, he sounded great and he even finished just about on time.

Even more amazingly, former President Bill Clinton managed to do practically the impossible on the opening night of the four-day Democratic Convention minise ries: He got Democrats and Re publicans to be united and not divided over his perfor mance. Even his opponents had to concede he was a terrific orator, his address must-see TV.

The broadcast networks practically exited as soon as he finished so the 11 p.m. news could begin across the country, but not before NBC's Campbell Brown used the comment of one delegate to summarize his performance. "God, he's good," Brown quoted the woman. It was such a powerful performance that assuredly those Democrats who have forgiven Clinton for his moral mistakes undoubtedly were damning the Constitution and thinking: "Can't we get him back?".

NBC's Tim Russert was among those impressed, especially about the line in which Clinton noted that he, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were able to avoid Vietnam at a time that Kerry volunteered and became a hero.

"By using his personal weakness, he reinforced the strength of John Kerry," said Russert.

President Clinton was the second man in the hour to passionately praise Kerry's military service but only viewers watching on ABC saw the first one.

The Rev. David Alston, who was a crewmate with Kerry in Vietnam, gave a strong, fiery testament to Kerry's leadership skills as ABC showed pictures of the candidate in uniform.

The reverend, who undoubtedly has delivered his fair share of sermons over the years, got his audience revved up for Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But NBC, CBS and CNN either chose to go to commercial, to in terview people or show previous speeches that were nowhere near as captivating as Rev. Alston's.

Since the networks are only carrying an hour of the convention nightly (except tonight, when they aren't carrying anything), you might think that they would show what's going on at the podium rather than do things that normally are part of a Sunday morning news program.

That isn't to say that some of the material that normally airs on Sunday morning wasn't enlightening or interesting even if every Democrat interviewed seemed required to say they had never seen the party this united.

CNN's Larry King interviewed the two Kerry adult daughters, Vanessa and Al exandra, who were quite impressive. Dick Gephardt, the former Democratic contender who many thought would be Kerry's vice presidential candidate in stead of John Edwards, dropped by King's show to get two job offers. Bob Dole, the former Republican senator and presidential candidate, offered him a job in his law firm before someone suggest ed that Gephardt would likely be in a Kerry Cabinet if the Democrats won.

Dole also had time to assess the speeches given before the Clintons', saying: "I didn't agree with anything they said, but they were good speeches." There was also time for some humor, with CNN trotting out humorist Mo Rocca frequently, apparently so King could show off his forced laugh. And shortly after President Clinton finished, NBC's Tom Brokaw and Russert were discussing the speeches on MSNBC with that known political expert, Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show."

Russert revealed the joke that Vice President Gore had to delete so his speech wouldn't clash with the Kerry campaign's edict to lim it the Bush bashing. Stewart drew another conclusion.

"It wasn't funny," said Stewart.

That's just about the only criticism the united Democrats heard on a night that will be remembered for President Clinton's performance. If he can't run for president again, he at least deserves to be voted an Emmy.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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