Exclusive: Solid Performance by McCain

by PAM MEISTER September 5, 2008
After the heady experience of Sarah Palin’s speech at the Republican convention on Wednesday night, the bar for John McCain was set quite high on Thursday. Did he deliver?
McCain is uncomfortable using a teleprompter, and there were some glitches in his delivery, which at times seemed a bit wooden. McCain also shines in a town hall setting, where ideas are free-flowing and answers are given off the cuff. So McCain settled for the next best thing: a town hall-type stage, where he could be a part of the crowd.
The setting was far different than Barack Obama’s acceptance speech a week earlier at a sports stadium, striding out from a “temple” and standing on a giant platform reminding one of the Temple Mount. Chiropractors likely saw a sharp increase in business after Obama’s speech, seeing as how the adoring throngs had to crane their necks to look upon The One.
McCain mentioned George Bush, but only in passing: thanking him for his leadership in the dark days after 9/11. Was this an effort to shy away from a president whose approval ratings are currently in the tank or leftover sour grapes from the 2000 election? Perhaps it was a little of both.
Early in the speech, a Code Pink member tried to disrupt him, as they had tried to disrupt Sarah Palin the night before. This may have helped the crowd’s enthusiasm level – which had seemed slightly forced – to be a bit more heartfelt. After all, no one likes a party crasher – especially one with appalling fashion sense.
When he brought up Sarah Palin – “the right partner to help me shake up things in Washington D.C.” – the crowd went absolutely wild. He focused on her “executive experience” and “record of accomplishment”: cutting taxes, balancing a budget, fighting corruption in government, reaching across the aisle. He also brought up the other side of Sarah – the mother of five who knows what it’s like to worry about things like making the mortgage payment. In fact, the concerns of average people were a recurring theme throughout the evening in an appeal to blue collar voters and an attempt to horn in on the Democrats’ self-proclaimed monopoly on being there for the little guy. McCain went on to mention several average Joes by name who struggle to make ends meet, saying, “They matter to me.”
In a line that made me laugh, he said, “I can’t wait until I introduce her [Palin] to Washington. Let me just offer an advance warning to the old big spending, do nothing, me first country second crowd: Change is coming.”
Always strong on national security, he reminded Americans that al Qaeda remains a threat; Iran is not only a major sponsor of worldwide terror but is also seeking nuclear weapons; and Russia, rich with oil wealth, has a corrupt government and seems determined to exert its influence on unwilling neighbors like Georgia. And, as one would expect, he highlighted his initially unpopular support for a surge in Iraq that has proven successful. Invoking Bush and Reagan, he said, “I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it.”
Basically, there wasn’t much new in the speech, but to people who may not be familiar with McCain, it was a good introduction. He talked about his plans for cutting taxes, drilling for oil at home and seeking out other sources of energy, school choice and more.
The last part of his speech wasn’t new either, but it was the most powerful: when McCain described his experiences as a POW in Vietnam. By the time he was done there were tears in my eyes and in the eyes of many of those in the convention center. Opponents complain that he invokes his POW status a wee bit too much for their liking, thinking that he’s milking it for a sympathy vote. I don’t agree. Such a traumatic experience becomes a part of the fabric of your being, impossible to filter out. McCain said he went from being a selfish young man to someone who began to “learn the limits of my selfish independence” and who “fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s.” He’s earned the right to tell us how his “bless[ing] by misfortune” helped define his life, and for the voter, it’s a valuable insight into his character – something that is often forgotten in politics today.
Final jab at Obama? “I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history is anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me; my country saved me and I cannot forget it, and I will fight for her as long as I draw breath so help me God.”
All in all, the speech was solid and by the end, the crowd was shouting along with him. The speech was a curious blend of conservative values – which McCain has been accused of abandoning from time to time – and his maverick image, the first mention of which caused a nervous twitter among the convention-goers. He did vow to get “back to basics” of low taxes, strong defense, work, family, faith, service, personal responsibility, judges who don’t legislate from the bench and a culture of life. By reminding Republicans that he shares most of their basic tenets, he felt he could then focus on his status as a mover and shaker who is not beholden to a party. Had he not picked Sarah Palin as a running mate, this gambit may well have been the beginning of the end of his candidacy. But with Palin anchoring the base, McCain can move more to the center in order to appeal to a broader slice of the electoral pie.
Thus, the Republican base has been mobilized. Now the real work begins: convincing the independents and undecided voters that McCain is the man to lead and defend our nation over the next four years.
Pam Meister is the editor for FamilySecurityMatters.org.

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