Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

McCain’s Speech Last Night

Here’s the text. It is short and semi-sweet. Some of the construction is awkward and unclear--as in the third paragraph where he poses a choice for Americans. You have to read it about six times to understand what he’s recommending.

On the other hand, his focus on the war and on his aims to improve our military and intelligence efforts is admirable. It is both good and wise to force this issue. This bit is not bad:

The most important obligation of the next President is to protect Americans from the threat posed by violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself. They are moral monsters, but they are also a disciplined, dedicated movement driven by an apocalyptic zeal, which celebrates murder, has access to science, technology and mass communications, and is determined to acquire and use against us weapons of mass destruction. The institutions and doctrines we relied on in the Cold War are no longer adequate to protect us in a struggle where suicide bombers might obtain the world’s most terrifying weapons.

I like that he does not hesitate to call our enemies monsters. But he is right not to stop there. He is also very clear about their capacities and their determination and, therefore, the dangers they pose. He does not dismiss them in calling them monsters--as some seem happy to do--implying that there is nothing that can be done with such people. Instead, he attempts to inspire and instruct the dragon slayer hiding in all of us. We can take these guys, he’s saying. Again, not bad.

I am less impressed with his riff on "change"--both in its implied dig at Obama and in his meditation on our "world of change." The attack on Obama’s rhetoric of change as empty would have been more effective if he did not follow it up with that almost equally empty reflection. Empty calls for change vs. confronting real change with experience? I don’t know . . . I suppose it could work, but it didn’t in this speech.

I did like the direction this quote implies McCain can take his campaign:

"We need to marshal all elements of American power: our military, economy, investment, trade and technology and our moral credibility to win the war against Islamic extremists and help the majority of Muslims, who believe in progress and peace, win the struggle for the soul of Islam.
Again, it attempts to inspire us to join the effort and get on board with a team that can and must win. But if this is to hold up as a campaign theme, I think he should get a little more specific about the ways we can join the effort.

I thought the weakest part of the speech was the domestic focus at the end. It was a pudding with no theme. Again, we got the vacuous reference to "change" . . . "The challenges and opportunities of the global economy require us to change some old habits of our government as well. " If McCain never gives another speech with the word "change" in it, it will be too soon. I’m sure it must be possible to give a speech without that word. He should try it. Really.

The biggest problem with this part of the speech is its lazy composition. It began with that empty reference to change, led into a laundry list of as yet unmentioned bullet points, and tried to tie it all up at the end with the too neat and painfully obligatory mention of "the children." It is not hard to do it better.

If he wants to "understand our strengths and rely on the common sense and values of the American people" then he should try articulating the substance of our strengths, our common sense and our values. He hints at it when he points to the "false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people" but he doesn’t quite nail it because this is a combative explanation. Here he is explaining more of what he is not about than he offers an explanation of what he is. Thus, while he invites us to join him in the dragon slaying abroad, he appears to suggest that we park our carcasses and let his "experience" guide us on the domestic front. We have to trust him because he’s older and wiser. That’s not going to play well, I’m afraid. It doesn’t get people fired up to do battle against Barack Obama if their ammunition is nothing more than their "trust" for and the "experience" of their candidate. Where are our guns? What about our capacities? If McCain wants us to trust him, he’s going to have to show us--better than he has--that he trusts the goodness and the judgment and the capacities of the American people. He has to invite us to join him in the fight (really, both fights) instead of just inviting us to tune in for it.

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