Maverick McCain Makes His Case
When I wrote about Senator Obama’s address last week I questioned whether a well-done convention speech really matters that much. I still have serious doubts on that topic. At one point, these speeches were important as a way to introduce the candidate to the voters. In a era without television or mass media campaigns the conventions were a way for voters to learn about the nominees.
Today I am not sure that is true and therefore while I think McCain delivered a great speech tonight I am not sure there will be much long-term impact. While Obama, Biden, Palin and McCain certainly had a good deal of pressure to deliver, these days if you avoid drooling on the podium then the story will only last for a day or so.
However having said that I would like to offer a few observations on the event.
The first thing that struck me was the manner of introduction of the speaker. Last week when Senator Obama came out to deliver his address it was to booming music and almost had the nature of a Presidential arrival. Tonight, Senator McCain just walked out to the crowd, himself quietly moving onto the stage. I’m not saying one method of arrival is better than the other, both probably have their benefits, but I do think it is an example of the celebrity nature of Obama versus the service nature of McCain.
There is nobody who will argue that John McCain is a great orator. Compared to Senator Obama he does not have the same level of eloquence or oratory. But I think he recognized that by the way he delivered his address. They created that walkway into the center of the arena which served to give the situation more of a town hall nature to this event. It also provided some really good images of McCain surrounded by signs, cheering crowds, etc. I would not be surprised to see that image show up in newspapers and magazines.
On the other hand they needed to work on the background. I realize that for those in the arena the changing images behind Senator McCain was very effective but when they did closeups for the television audience it looked somewhat awkward and distracting. They seemed to catch that and fix things as the speech developed but I would have thought they’d review things ahead of time. Ah well, nobody is perfect (remember Obama and the pillars).
I was also struck by the two (or was it three) anti-war protesters who made it into the arena. I have to think that the Obama campaign cringed when they tried to disrupt the speech. I am quite sure that there were plenty of right wing nuts who would have liked to do the same thing to the Obama event but they did not do so. The fact that there were people interrupting McCain will not play well with the average voter who would see it as poor form. If anything it gives a bit of sympathy to him.
As to the content of the speech I thought it was a good mix of red meat items to appeal to the crowd in the arena and issue-oriented remarks to appeal to the voters at large and especially to the independents who McCain has long been effective in appealing to.
His introduction with his references to his family was well done and his introduction of his mother and his obvious devotion to her was a nice way to begin (the same with Senator Biden last week). His discussion of his father, his wife and children helped to give a nice soft touch as did his salute to Senator Obama and his supporters. I am sure there are some who will call those comments cynical but they seemed sincere to me.
As he moved into the main section of the address I thought he had a very effective line where he declared himself ready to serve the people.
You know, I’ve been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment and sometimes it’s not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you
He did a lot more in this speech to spell out what he wants to do over the next four years than he has done in the past and I think this will strike a chord with voters. His decision to declare that the Republicans HAVE messed up over the past 8 years and the call for a return to the traditional values of the GOP was a bold step and his citation of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan was a crowd-pleaser.
He was also not shy about touching on issues that many Republicans usually avoid like education and support for families of immigrants. He also took on the issue of exporting jobs and his promise to create jobs that won’t go away will really appeal to those concerned about these issues.
Indeed it seemed like that, having given them the VP slot with Sarah Palin, that he was willing to really take on the hard line conservatives and remind them that he is going to do what he wants to do and does not care if they don’t like it. A somewhat risky move in terms of the base but effective in terms of appealing to the middle.
I do think the middle part of the address slumped somewhat. Just as I was concerned about Senator Obama not going into enough detail on issues I think perhaps Senator McCain got a little to into the details of policy (such as the section on Russia and Georgia) and that might have caused some viewers to drone out. It just goes to show you how tough it is to balance things in these kinds of speech.
I also thought he got a little too wrapped-up in some of the rhetorical lines about appealing across party lines and working with both Republicans and Democrats. It is a good policy line to use a few times but perhaps he went into a little too much detail.
However once he moved into his section discussing his service in Vietnam and the pain he went through, things really took off. As many commentators have observed, this was the first time that he went into such detail (at least before a national audience) on the torture he endured and the people he served with.
His final series of lines lit up the room and I think those are the images and lines that will stick with the viewers.
If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.
I’m going to fight for my cause every day as your President. I’m going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him: that I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me.
Fight for what’s right for our country.
Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.
Fight for our children’s future.
Fight for justice and opportunity for all.
Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.
Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.
Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.
Thank you, and God Bless you.
Overall I think he delivered a good speech which energized the base and offered at least enough for independent voters to take a look at. He did not match Obama but then nobody expected him to do that. He did however present himself to voters in a way that will help him in the long term.
But as with Obama, by Monday the story will be old news.