Steve Thomas, in the comment section below my earlier post on Rove’s advice for McCain, nailed it:
I just listened to McCain’s speech. McCain’s own telling of his story was different from the telling by his surrogates. It was a story of his passion, so to speak: he told us not about his heroism but about his shame. "They broke me." He was ashamed, he told us, and recovered his, well, self through the help and love of his buddies. The crowd seemed to think he was contrasting himself with Obama. He was rather contrasting himself with the vain, arrogant, self-centered [expletive deleted] named McCain who took off earlier that day from the aircraft carrier. I, an Obama supporter, would have to be morally dead or a partisan goon not to be moved.I got on the blog late tonight, after getting the kids off to bed and checking homework, with the intention of composing a post about exactly that part of McCain’s speech. I meant to do it because, in watching him tonight, I really tried to find some clue about how John McCain really understands himself and what it is he is trying to do--in other words, I wanted to know why he wants to be president apart from the obvious ambition that all politicians possess. The answer he gave us--even if you still don’t like him for it--is an interesting one and one that is, whatever else you may say about it, a much better answer than the one Barack Obama gave that seven year-old some weeks ago.
If you look at his words carefully in that passage where he talks about his youthful arrogance and the eventual "shame" it brought him and you take those words as this whole convention’s central and organizing theme (as I think he clearly meant them to be) you may learn something about John McCain that you might have missed up until now. I think, perhaps, I did. Is it possible that there are a good number of things that many of us have "misunderestimated" when it comes to John McCain? Do we really understand him as he understands himself or do we understand a cartoon that we have painted in our minds because he has "poked us in the eye" one too many times? Forget policy differences (if you can) for just a minute. God willing, we’ll have eight years to "yell at each other" over those. I freely admit that I didn’t like everything about the speech . . . and I could start ticking off a list of things I positively disliked if I wanted to miss the larger point.
Richard Adams had this insight on McCain’s speech and I think there’s also something to it:
After Governor Palin’s speech last night, perhaps McCain thought his task was to play elder statesman. Perhaps the inartful delivery helps a bit with that. The goal was to portray him as someone who might be a bit bored by the bells and whistles of politics, but who is mature, seasoned, experienced, and sober. Will it work? McCain seems to have better political judgment than many think.
When you think about it, it looks like the Democrats still think the old have something more to learn from the young than the young have to learn from the old. Reason tells us that both old and young have something to learn from each other and this is why the dynamic of mentor and student is so compelling to both. But common sense tells us that the young can and should learn more in such relationships because they lack experience and, in with that, enough patience to inform their judgment.
McCain told us how he came to love America and Americans at least as much as he once loved himself and, arguably, deeper and more intelligently than he ever loved himself. There is something more than glory and honor worth fighting for--and possibly dying for--in America. He tried, in his way, to teach us that important lesson. His way may have been imperfect . . . but it was still a damn sight better than anything I’ve seen the last four GOP candidates offer . . . ever, on that score.
So, if you want to make the case that McCain’s wasn’t a "Republican" speech . . . I think there’s something to that on a couple levels. It was, of course, much more than a Republican speech because it was meant to be an American speech--at least as John McCain understands it. It meant to appeal to all Americans (and Steve’s words are a testament that perhaps it did) and, in this election year, a smart Republican will see this less as a "poke in the eye" than a boon to his cause. (There were more than a few serendipitous blessings in disguise at this convention, I must say!) But it also was dissimilar from every Republican speech I have heard since I’ve been politically sentient (so, roughly, 1988 on) in that it make a conscious appeal to young people. And, irony of ironies (or, perhaps, not), it came from an old man accompanied, supported and very well understood by a tough (and, not insignificantly, attractive) young woman. And I, for one, loved the way he ended the speech with a cheer encouraging us to "fight with me" (even though that can--and probably will--be taken two ways). It wasn’t over the top, as some who seem to lack any eros to accompany their thumos, have speculated. Somehow, it fit. Republicans have long been in need of good cheer and a good cheerleader. Who knew that it would take John McCain to provide both?