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Posted by on Sep 4, 2008 in At TMV, Politics | 8 comments

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.

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  • elrod

    Couldn’t he have added “Become a community organizer” to that last paragraph on service? The disconnect is striking.

    Anyway, I didn’t watch the speech. I peaked in for a couple minutes. I thought it dry and uninspiring. And then some protester came in and everybody got excited. And then it got dry and boring again. So I changed the channel and watched “Almost Famous.”

  • Mike_P

    I did watch the speech – but I guess a different one than Patrick saw.

    (Very) Short version:

    This was as poorly staged a convention, and acceptance speech, as I’ve ever seen – Democratic or Republican, and the Republicans are usually the easy winners on that count.

    The intro was truly jarring – “A momma’s boy!” It did have the effect of silencing the crowd as they collectively thought ‘huh?’ Then we were treated to McCain telling us what a maverick he was, followed up by the same old laundry list of priorities that we’ve heard from every Republican since Reagan. School vouchers. Cut taxes. Win wars.

    The only part of the i n c r e d i b l y l o n g speech (made so solely through delivery, not time spent) that was good was the personal, biographical description of being a POW. I’m already familiar with it, having read his books (one of mine is autographed), so I knew where he was headed, but still, it’s a wonderful story rightly deserving of praise.

    But all in all, it was the speech of a man looking back on a long career, as opposed to one looking forward to that which is to come.

  • snicker. good one elrod.

    I watched the speech, but apparently, the speech was different here than wherever Patrick watched it. I wonder how many saw the version i did.

    For starters, there was the feel good bio that has preceded each speech (yes, including Obama and Biden, but not Palin, because Rudy got wordy). Then, with dramatic voice-over, the room went dark for a dramatic buildup to the introduction. This is just as classic a theatrical or rock star entrance as any. His name, the stab of the spotlight, cheers. Patrick, that was hardly “just walking out on the stage”. Watch it again.

    And ironically, Obama’s giant stadium and Washingtonian columns did not impose at all on his speech, while the changing colors behind McCain, and the disconnect between the giant screen being seen live and the tight shot TV viewers saw was as bad as you suggest (what? no rehearsal?”) They finally did improve it mildly, by pixelating the field right behind his head, so as to mute the distraction of a flag video behind him.

    I disagree about the protesters. I believe it was simply bad security, not bad Dem behavior vs an unwillingness of Republicans to be disruptive at the Dem convention. We’re not ALL children here, Patrick. I remember when free speech meant that protesters could always get on camera at a convention. In this case, it was an Iraq vet with a sign pointing out (accurately) how many times McCain had voted against care for vets.

    “His decision to declare that the Republicans HAVE messed up over the past 8 years” was just to deflect the Bush 3rd term attacks. But in fact, on all the key issues it is McSame, to wit: tax cuts for the wealthy, funding cuts for veterans, big deficit spending (borrow and spend, not tax and spend), rendition and torture, executive privilege, illegal wiretapping, unitary executive (that is, imperial presidency), far right judges, politicizing agencies including DOJ, etc.

    Maybe it worked for you Patrick, but look at his positions on PATRIOT act, MCA and DOJ. No change, big foul. And by “touching on education” you mean blaming teachers and trotting out school vouchers as a solution? How bold of him. You seriously think this is appealing to the middle?

    And you were concerned about Obama “not going into enough detail?” He laid out 29 proposals (invited all to get the exhaustive details online). McCain? Not so much. And of course he got well into his war heroics. McCain does not deserve to be president as a reward for his sacrifice 40 years ago, and Palin does not deserve to be VP for being a hockey mom and being “middle class” (you know, except for the living in the governor’s mansion thing).

    Please, America, this is not a sympathy contest. By all means, let’s give them both the Amana range and a copy of our home game, but we’re supposed to be choosing a leader here not Queen for a Day, and it’s a really tough job of critical importance to each of us.

    All in all, a pretty boring, pedestrian speech, and there was still a bit of the crazy uncle with the creepy smile thing, plus his ongoing difficulty with the teleprompter. That’s the public speaking critic in me, having had professional training in that area as no doubt McCain has. It’s not meant to demean the candidate.

    His oratorical deficiencies are not good for his candidacy, but I do truly hope that voters decide on the issues. Both of them.

    Supreme
    Court

  • Guest

    Agree with the last two posts. It’s as if Patrick, you WANTED McCain to do well so you post as such. Too bad. Most pundits (on the GOP side) were disappointed, some blazingly so.

    And yes: Supreme Court.

  • It was a good speech. Yes, it had flaws, but for someone who usually does bad with this kind of thing, he pulled it off tonight.

    By the way, so much for “TMV is a lefty site” considering how much of its authorship thinks the speech was good.

    “Couldn’t he have added “Become a community organizer” to that last paragraph on service? The disconnect is striking.”

    Elrod, perhaps message loyalty? Maybe McCain didn’t want the media dwelling on how disconnected he was from the other convention speakers from the last two days, many of whom belittled the community organizer option.

  • troosvelt_1858

    Thanks all for the comments. It is nice to see a wide diversity of views.

    As I said, while I think the speech was good I also don’t think it will do very much good for McCain.

    I understand it was not a speech intended to appeal to liberal Democrats or Greens, but neither was the Obama speech intended to appeal to conservative Republicans or Libertarians.

    As to my wanting him to do well, I’ve said several times I have no horse in this race yet. Did my positive review of the Democratic speeches or my negative comments on Thompson mean I wanted them to succeed or fail ?

    I call em as I see em. Simply that.

  • DLS

    The speech was a good one, better than could have been expected. The children on the Stephanie Miller show are laughing about it (sorry, children, but the ends of the crossbar of the T were not circular, and there was no ellipse at the end or bottom of the upright, as I speculated about last night), and others who are detached from reality think it was no good at all, but they’re wrong, as usual. McCain managed to maintain his party’s momentum this week (gained by the choice of Palin as Vice Presidential candidate). McCain’s speech was not as good as either Obama’s (the best) or Palin’s (next best); Biden really doesn’t enter the picture as he is a foreign-policy-and-establishment hole-filler for Obama. (Note to Biden: Palin is Governor, not Lieutenant Governor. Lucky for you the media are on your campaign’s side openly and you have disappeared from the radar this week.)

    The speech was never going to be accepted universally by conservatives, let alone both conservatives and liberals (or Republicans and Democrats) any more than McCain himself was. A suitable review of the speech can be found here, for example:

    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iMQlffIG-58cpK8KqU-AHJ8ZzerwD930JU1G0

    And now that the GOP convention show is over the Obama campaign will resurface and we’ll have to see how well both campaigns develop their agendas and offer us details (that we can believe) and we’ll see how both sides are doing in a week or two.

    Note that with McCain’s reach to the center and beyond (whose scope is beyond merely that of the tempting Clinton voters), Obama could counter it right away with likely improved prospects for his own (Obama’s) campaign by settling the Clinton voter question with a promise of a Cabinet or other suitable appointment for Clinton. (Clinton herself needs to be more responsible here and reveal what she wants after November. Stay in the Senate, join the new administration, if the latter, what does she want? She should tell us.)

  • Jim_Satterfield

    NPR was playing his speech in Wisconsin this afternoon. They also covered his response to the new unemployment numbers. He believed that continuing the Bush tax cuts and cutting corporate taxes even more is an adequate response. Change???

    I’m so tired of being lied to it’s not even funny.

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