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BOSTON -- John F. Kerry roused the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night by pledging he would "bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to."

The Democratic senator from Massachusetts gave a fighting speech designed to energize the party's base with slashing attacks on President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft.

"I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war," he told wildly cheering delegates in his acceptance speech. "I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws.

"And I will appoint an attorney general who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States."

Kerry indirectly accused Bush of misusing the Constitution "for political purposes."

The 60-minute finale of the four-day convention underscored his patriotism, courage under fire, his qualifications to be commander in chief and the warmth of his personality as a family man.

The candidate's walk along the convention floor to the rostrum through the Pennsylvania and West Virginia delegations was remarkably similar in tone, feeling and discipline to the first Bill Clinton nominating convention in Manhattan in 1992.

"I'm John Kerry, and I am reporting for duty," Kerry declared, as he offered an opening salute, broadly smiling.

Kerry promised troubled Americans that "help is on the way," and then the 60-year-old nominee ended the speech assuring his listeners, "Our best days are yet to come."

With that, thousands of red, white and blue balloons, along with confetti chased by high-powered lamps, began a 30-minute descent on the partygoers.

Kerry, vice presidential nominee John Edwards, their wives and their children mugged for platoons of cameras stationed around the hall.

After attacking Bush's decision to go to war, Kerry made a number of pledges in the domestic field.

He vowed he will not privatize Social Security. He said he will cut taxes on the middle class and roll back Bush's tax cuts "for wealthy individuals."

Kerry also promised incentives to revitalize American manufacturing and "close tax loopholes that reward American companies for sending our jobs overseas."

In a swipe at the Bush family's friendship with Saudi Arabia, Kerry said our industry should depend "on American ingenuity, not our friendship with the Saudi royal family."

Kerry's speech, which he drafted in longhand on a yellow pad, incorporated themes drawn from his Vietnam combat service and even a speech from Shakespeare in which "Henry V" called his soldiers a "Band of Brothers."

"Our band of brothers doesn't march together because of who we are as veterans, but because what we learned as soldiers.

"We came back with the deep belief that every day is extra. We may be a little older now, we may be a little grayer, but we still know how to fight for our country."

He referred to a group of Vietnam veterans introduced on stage who served on Kerry's Navy Swift boat, among whom was Steve Hatch of Niagara Falls.

Accustomed to Republican criticism for so-called "flip-flops" on foreign security votes, Kerry said, "Now I know there are those who criticize me for seeing complexities -- and I do -- because some issues just aren't that simple.

"Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so.

"And proclaiming mission accomplished certainly doesn't make it so," Kerry said, referring to the sign aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln when Bush landed on the aircraft carrier to declare the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1, 2003.

"I know what we have to do in Iraq," he said. "We need a president who has the credibility to bring out allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers and reduce the risks to American soldiers.

"We need to rebuild our alliances, so we can get the terrorists before they get us."

Kerry, however, offered no specifics in his speech for ending the war or bringing U.S. troops home.

Kerry was introduced by a symbol of the candidate's war service and tough Republican campaigning, former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga. Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, was defeated in 2002 in a campaign in which his patriotism was impugned.

Cleland called Kerry "an authentic American hero and the captain of our ship of state."

Kerry struck at what he anticipates will be the core of Republican campaign -- family values and patriotism.

"For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans," Kerry said.

"It is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families," Kerry said. "We value jobs that pay you more, not less than you earned before. We value jobs where, when you put in a week's work, you can actually pay your bills, provide for your children and lift up the quality of your life.

"You don't value families by kicking kids out of after-school program and taking cops off our streets, so that Enron can get another tax cut," he said.

"And tonight, we have an important message for those who question the patriotism of Americans who offer a better direction for our country," he said. "Before wrapping themselves in the flag and shutting their eyes and ears to the truth, they should remember what America is really all about. I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president," Kerry said. "Any attack will be met with swift and certain response."

Responding to conservatives who charge that Kerry would give the United Nations control over our troops in Iraq, Kerry said he would "never give any nation or international institution control" over U.S. troops.

Eager delegates, packing the FleetCenter to the rafters, gave the Kerry-Edwards campaign a send-off with film, cheers and music ranging from Carole King singing her tear-jerker "You've Got a Friend," to a recording of "Shout," often played as a theme at Buffalo Bills games.

A video was part of the effort to shed Kerry's image as an aloof politician, casting him as an athlete and a musician, a Yale graduate and a prosecutor, a soldier and a son, a father and a husband.

His daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa, told funny and affectionate stories about the father who resuscitated a hamster and taught them to love their country.

Police and fire officials ordered the FleetCenter closed at 9:30 p.m. after declaring the building too crowded for safety. Delegates, officials, press and visitor alike were barred from entering the building.

Kerry and Edwards rolled out of Boston this morning to start a two-week, 3,500-mile campaign trip on buses emblazoned with the words, "Believe in America." The first stops are Scranton and Harrisburg, Pa., a state Bush lost by 5 percentage points in 2000.


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