BOSTON – The weathered old face of Edward Kennedy and the fresh new face of Barack Obama bridged the generations Tuesday night, summoning the Democratic Party to its highest ideals and sharply condemning President Bush.

“Today we say, the only thing we have to fear is four more years of George Bush,” Kennedy said, playing off the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that inspired a Depression-plagued nation 70 years ago.

Obama, the son of a black man born in Kenya and a white woman born in Kansas, said his parents “would give me an African name, Barack, or “blessed,’ believing that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success.”

Closing the session, Teresa Heinz Kerry, married to the man who hopes to oust Bush from the White House, introduced herself to the delegates – and to resourceful television viewers willing to search beyond the three big TV networks for coverage.

She played off her growing reputation for speaking her mind – “By now, I hope it will come as no surprise that I have something to say” – and she spoke a few words of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. But she spent much of her speech lauding her husband.

“With John Kerry as president, we can, and we will, protect our nation’s security without sacrificing our civil liberties,” she said.

Two days before Kerry accepts the presidential nomination, his wife – born in Mozambique – spoke warmly of her adopted country and reached out, in particular, to women.

“I have a very personal feeling about how special America is, and I know how precious freedom is,” Heinz Kerry said. “It is a sacred gift, sanctified by those who have lived it and those who have died defending it.

“My right to speak my mind, to have a voice, to be what some have called “opinionated,’ is a right I deeply and profoundly cherish. And my only hope is that, one day soon, women – who have all earned their right to their opinions – instead of being called opinionated, will be called smart or well-informed, just like men.”

Obama, 42, a Chicago law professor and Illinois state senator who’s favored in this fall’s election to become only the third black U.S. senator since Reconstruction, stirred the crowd, speaking with passion that often touched on lofty themes.

He called for a government that’s compassionate in deeds as well as words.

“People don’t expect government to solve all of their problems,” he said. “But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.”

Also appearing onstage was Ron Reagan, son of former President Ronald Reagan, a Republican idol who died last month.

In Boston to lobby for the wider use of embryonic stem cells by researchers, Reagan didn’t mention Republicans or Democrats, Kerry or Bush, but his appearance on a Democratic stage was noteworthy.

“Let me assure you, I am not here to make a political speech,” Reagan said. “And the topic at hand should not – must not – have anything to do with partisanship.”

The elder Reagan died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. His wife, Nancy, and the younger Ron Reagan support stem-cell research, which advocates say could speed cures for Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other illnesses.

Meanwhile, Kerry moved closer to the FleetCenter, again stressing his military service in Vietnam to underscore his theme that he could provide strength to America in a time of terrorism. He also urged Bush to adopt the Sept. 11 commission’s anti-terrorism recommendations.

“We understand the threat,” Kerry said in a carefully staged presentation in which he was surrounded by veterans and stood in front of the USS Wisconsin in the naval port city of Norfolk, Va. “We have a blueprint for action. We have the strength as a nation to do what has to be done. The only thing we don’t have is time.”

Kerry and several Vietnam crew mates were set to enter Boston on Wednesday – on a photo-friendly boat trip to Charlestown Navy Yard.

The star of the show Wednesday night: running mate Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who’ll be introduced by his wife, Elizabeth, to millions of people who know little about him. An accomplished speaker, Edwards will have to make a deep impression.

“It’s huge,” said Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C. “This is the biggest stage of his life.”

The star of Tuesday night’s show, Obama, a dynamic, inspirational speaker, delivered the keynote address in prime time – not that anyone watching ABC, CBS or NBC could see it.

All three major networks decided not to broadcast any of Tuesday’s proceedings live, leaving that to some cable and public broadcasting operations. Television ratings for Monday’s opening session dropped by 10 percent from the same event four years ago.

An opponent of the war in Iraq, Obama referred emotionally and with partisanship to the responsibilities that accompany power.

“When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going,” he said. “To care for their families while they’re gone. To tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never, ever, go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace and earn the respect of the world.”

He called for a greater degree of compassion for all Americans, especially those under intense pressure.

“If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties,” he said. “It’s that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country work.”

Kennedy, who’s familiar with the big stage, invested a portion of his family legacy and mystique in his fellow Massachusetts senator Tuesday night, even as Kennedy himself took a star turn, concentrating his fire on Bush.

“America needs a genuine uniter – not a divider who only claims to be a uniter,” Kennedy said.

Throughout his 25-minute speech, delivered in a vigorous voice despite some stumbles, the 72-year-old Massachusetts senator drew on Revolutionary War themes and linked them to the challenges now facing America.

“Our struggle is not with some monarch named George who inherited the crown, although it often seems that way,” he said. “Our struggle is with the politics of fear and favoritism in our own time, in our own country.”

After 40 years of crusading for liberal causes in the Senate, Kennedy is perhaps more revered by his fellow Democrats than ever. His admirers say this Boston convention for Kerry is in some ways the one Kennedy never received himself.

This year, he’s forged tight links with Kerry and was pivotal to propelling Kerry’s once-flagging campaign to victory.

Republicans, too, pondered the meaning of “leadership” Tuesday, responding to former President Clinton’s suggestion Monday night that Kerry – not Bush – has the strength and wisdom to lead the nation.

“Part of wisdom is having a vision and being consistent with that vision,” said Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota. “With Senator Kerry, we have someone who has seven different positions on his vote against the $87 billion for Iraq (reconstruction).”

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