Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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McCain’s Speech

I guess in the most important respect it was successful as a moving display of WHO he is. It was intensely delivered, if neither smooth nor elegant. Is is permissible to say too much patriotism and biography at the expense of actual policy? It’s hard to know the actual kind of CHANGE he wants, except to put country above self etc. I liked the call to service--to, for example, joining the military. I fear Mac allowed us to love and respect him while also judging he’s not really right for the presidency. He might not have inspired enough confidence that he’s the "can do" guy when it comes to the problems facing ordinary Americans today. I hoped for a little more populism rightly understood, although I know it’s tough for an honorable man to play that card. To tell the truth, he seemed pretty old, although vigorously evangelical for his American way--for the idea of America. I’m not one who needed to be sold, so I’m not sure how he played to those really undecided. It was basically not a Republican speech, which may have added to or detracted from its effectiveness (or both).

Discussions - 23 Comments

The patriotism and biography were the parts that made the most sense. I did not feel that he was wrong for the presidency, but I am going to have hard time listening to his speeches if they will be like this one.

I hoped you would tell me that it was a wonderful speech and why. My dismayed bafflement is nearly made complete with your post. It was anti-Republican speech in too many ways, even when propounding Republican ideas, those were presented as ideas that were above party. Not that anyone in the crowd seemed to notice; they applauded just the same. Maybe it will all seem better in the morning.

I watched his speech of 4 years ago, to the GOP Convention. It was re-aired on C-Span the other day. And other than that quip about Moore, the speech was over-earnest.

Tonight's speech was over-earnest as well.

God I wish I had the opportunity to go over that speech!

The timing was blown apart early on by the protest in the stands. That threw off the teleprompter sync, and thereafter, McCain had to rely on memory and the print-out before him. That was an ongoing problem for him. And you can tell it disturbed the delivery.

The wife's speech too went on way long, and was characterized as well by an over-earnestness. Her video struck just the right tone. But her presentation did not add upon that video.

If you observed the speech 4 years ago, and compared it to the one tonight, --------- you'd see clear similarities between the two speeches. It's almost as if this speech simply continued on upon the theme developed 4 years ago.

This wasn't a bad speech; it just that it didn't have as much of an impact as I'm sure his staff hoped it would.

Last night's Palin's speech was termed a "grand slam," a "home run." McCain's speech left some runners on base. Runs were scored, but not as many as could have been.

He didn't comment enough on Congressional inaction and incompetence.

He didn't try to do damage to the Democrats down the ballot.

There was not enough specifics on legislation where he previously worked with Democrats. He had an opportunity there to run down a list a country-mile long, and he let it pass. Other Republicans have repeatedly mocked Obama for having no legislative record. McCain left cards on the table there, because he could have presented a stark contrast between his legislative accomplishments and the non-record of the unready poseur.

AND CAN SOMEONE explain to us why this is the THIRD GOP CONVENTION IN A ROW where protesters gained entry, and tried to make a mockery of the proceedings. We're talking about a dozen people over the last 12 years who had no business being in the Convention center, but nonetheless gained entry, and caused as much disruption as they could. Now where I come from that's INCOMPETENCE. And someone, {could be plural...} needs to pay for that incompetence with their job.


I agree with you on nearly all points. I also thought it was a courageous speech, since he risked the allegiance of many Republicans when he owned and acknowledged some failures -- not a fashionable thing to do, but a brave and honest choice, I think.

I fear Mac allowed us to love and respect him while also judging he’s not really right for the presidency.

Well said.

Actually, I didn't mind the bits about acknowledging failures. That needed to be done. It was just the right thing to do.

Dan, I cannot see anything wrong with his consistency. However, he needed to be speaking to his party and gaining their support. Did he do that?

And could he speak to his past, his lengthy legislative record of working with Democrats, without reminding his audience of the very things so many of them have problems with?

I don't know that it was not Republican. I think that I have a stronger take on the McCain speech as it complements the ticket. The ticket seems to capture the entire Republican coalition with varying strengths, to borrow from jwc's article (

religious conservatives, whose principle is biblical faith.

libertarians, founded on "spontaneous order," the postulate that a tendency is operative in human affairs for things to work out for themselves, provided no artificial effort is made to impose an overall order.

neoconservatives, it is a version of "natural right," meaning a standard of good in political affairs that is discoverable by human reason.

traditionalists, it is "History" or "Culture," meaning the heritage that has come down to us and that is our own.

The liberterians, I would add are more or less the subtext of his economic platform, which is not surprisingly similar to the Clinton platform of 1992. It is a sort of liberterianism, but in the sense of Hayek's economics on a global scale. And if we're not ready for that scale (e.g., the factory workers in Michigan), together we can pull each other up with community colleges and "on-the-job training." So much for small town values.

Palin offers the plausible alternative within the ticket to the global economic liberterianism -- she comes from a small town and conceivably could have left to join oil prospecting or some other lucrative Alaskan industry at odds with the small town. This makes her the only real populist on either the Dem or Rep ticket, though she is clearly tempted by the taste of liberterianism.

The religious conservatives can pretty much count on their place on the ticket and in the speeches whenever the "culture of life" is rehtorically dropped. Their problem is that while McCain reminds them that he is an avowed pro-lifer, his vision for their movement involves appointing "constructionist" judges -- not the sweeping assimilation into the mainstream I think they'd like. Again, only Palin offers the plausible alternative: WHO she is, the mother of a down syndrome baby, an avowed and bona fide mother in most respects.

Finally, I think that the faction of the coalition that won tonight was the neoconservative both as far as WHO he is and what he represents as a warrior for an idea. Defending natural right as the foundational idea of American life, from Madison and Hamilton to Lincoln to Iraq underlies or overshadows most every other theme. And I wouldn't call that fluffy. McCain clearly wants it to be known that his is the party of Lincoln as far as natural rights are concerned, and he's probably right. How much communities defined by particular History fit under that framework, it would seem only Palin's addition to the ticket might rectify.

I think with Palin he has the party behind him, so I don't think that was who the speech was geared for.

I don't fault the speech for a want of policy specificity. That's the line from the NRO guys, and I completely disagree with them.

I fault the speech for a lack of humour. McCain has a sense of humour, more of that needed to come through. For that would have helped the viewer gain a better understanding, a deeper insight into the guy that survived the Hanoi Hilton.

The campaign's mantra is his strength, his honour, his devotion to country, and that's all true. But there's more to him than that, and were the American electorate to know that McCain, ------------ Obama wouldn't have a prayer.

I'd like to question the team that prepared that speech.

What were the points they were trying to make? What was the audience? What theme did they hope to develop?

Even that video I'd have made some additions to. Why no pictures of him near the BBQ grill, beer in hand, talking to his boys, with the glory of Arizona as a backdrop. Why nothing like that?

In these situations, be aware of WWMDD. Which stands for "What would Michael Deaver do?"

It was anti-Republican speech in too many ways, even when propounding Republican ideas, those were presented as ideas that were above party. Not that anyone in the crowd seemed to notice; they applauded just the same.

What else can they do? When you put party before principle, your stuck with the same old Rockefeller party. The "mav" is just one more direction away from conservative governance – the Rockefeller GOP has no real problem with THAT though…

Just a few comments on a pretty good--not great--speech, given the lowered expectations due to his following Gov. Palin and our knowing NOT to expect much from Sen. McCain in this kind of venue.

Really liked the fact early on that his audience did not like being talked down to as needing a savior for president when McCain shifted onto Democratic rhetorical territory: to wit, I feel your pain, you have mortgages you can't pay, what horrible and desperate lives you Americans live, I as president will show you the way. Audience actually booed the suggestion that they expected him as president to rush in and save them from their presumed plight. Yes, McCain was pitching this part of his speech to the undecided/independent/what-have-yous, but the partisan, rock-ribbed Republicans in attendance were not about to listen for long to McCain channel a Democratic muse at a GOP convention. Nice to know that given all the non-partisan rhetoric of late, the Republican rank and file still think it's their party, and are willing to vote for Reform and Change as long as it has GOP principles informing its direction.

I liked that he was not afraid to praise President Bush for being a strong leader in these dangerous times--praise quickly and resoundingly echoed by applause from the crowd.

The clear take-away from the speech was that McCain is the man you want standing a post to defend the nation from her enemies. Obama simply has no chance wresting the mantle of Commander-in-Chief from a POW who has found his calling in public service and DEMONSTRATED his devotion to the country by positions he has taken (like early support for the surge). Explicitly and implicitly, Obama is going to get hit with the charge that he is long on talk and short on action, and deservedly so. Obama's political opportunism will be placed n increasingly greater relief as the campaign progresses and folks see time and again that McCain/Palin can point to actual reform, actual change, that they have accomplished, whereas Obama simply ascended from one political job to another until the only one left was the presidency.

In a 2004 year-end issue of Rolling Stone (a few months after Obama's rockstar debut at the Dems' National Convention), Obama denied he would run for the presidency in 2008. Since then, he has confessed that a mentor told him to "strike while the iron is hot." So four years later, what impact has he made as a U.S. Senator? Nuff said; just a tune-up for the presidency because of mere popularity, esp. among the disaffected Dems of the Anyone But Hillary contigent.

At bottom, Obama has been dressing for his NEXT political job throughout his public career, which leads us to conclude not only that this aspiring emperor has no clothes, but they have been woven by the man himself.

Kate, good question about naming legislation without irritating the base. But he has so much legislation to his name that he could easily have found a half dozen or so. Needn't have been recent, just had to have been bipartisan.

I don't think he blew anything tonight. He just might not have scored as many "runs" as we would have liked.

I forget where I read that the speech sought to forge an emotional bond with the voters. That it assumed a level of knowledge about Senator McCain, but tried to kick that knowledge into a more immediate and personal connection.

I don't think we'll find out what they were really trying with that speech until after the election.

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.

Someone suggested they were trying to contrast McCain's humble sense of himself with the messianiac delusions we saw last week in Denver.

Perhaps that was it.

McCain's team has displayed an unerring sense over the last 6 weeks. Their pick of Palin wasn't the only thing they got right.

So I'm going to hold off on any hard criticism of that speech, because I'm confident they were working some kind of angle. Which angle, or angles, I can't say, anything I had to offer would be purely speculative.

Audience actually booed the suggestion...

Really, I missed that. There was some half-hearted applause, but I did not catch any booing.

How about that ending, was it over the top or what? An attempt at their own little bit of fervent emotism??

Aren't conventions supposed to be over-the-top?

Aren't conventions supposed to be over-the-top?

That speech was not about the convention surely...

The speech was weakest where it needed to be strongest. His stuff on domestic policy was vague Republican boilerplate (and could have been delivered by any of his primary opponents) and he delivered it like he couldn't wait to get to the more important stuff - his biography, bipartisanship, foreign policy. If you were middle class or working class and wondering if McCain understands your problems and has clear solutions, you are still wondering.

Ultimately, the speech was about character and McCain's rootedness (brutally acquired) in love of country. He knows who he is. His maverick spirit reflects a deeper understanding of his soul. He is a Progressive, but a conservative one. The policy stuff will require other occasions.

Obama clearly does not know who he is, in the profound sense reflected in his autobiography (a must-read for all who post or comment on this most thoughtful of blogsites) or in the opportunistic politicking, attempting, e.g., to mimic Republican positions on national security issues.

Whom do you want as president?

I agree with the good but not great speech... His honor was not in doubt, what people wanted to hear is more about was his judgment. Some swing voters are concerned about his recklessness, others about his randomness and indifference when it comes to domestic issues. The "natural right" thing isn't interesting if you don't give nature some content. One view of nature, the Lockean one, is that self comes before country, after all. But don't take me too seriously here: McCain's teaching style just doesn't correspond to my learning style. I admit I dozed off a time or two during the speech, as did a couple of distinguished (and much younger) political scientists I talked to this morning. And according to one excellent publisher: "McCain is an honest man, and I don't trust him." I gotta admit I'm half on board with that.

Given this speech, McCain as honest man does give pause. James' comments in #6 were a comfort, in that the careful balance of ticket of the different elements of the party is a good thing and natural right as the foundation of McCain's America Is a very good thing.

Of course, Americans do not listen to convention speeches with that understanding. If swing voters see McCain as a conservative Progressive or as Teddy Roosevelt-type candidate might be a better way to express to the nation at large.... Wait. Bull-Moose McCain: how does that sound to you? That might play. If McCain can be seen as honest and Obama can be seen as deceptive and intellectually cunning; that might play. If McCain can be seen as honorable AND willing to listen to the people in some honorable way, while Obama can be made to seem someone who plays to the crowd and without honor; that might play, too. As to the latter, it was honorable to give honor to the president. If, as I am reading, Iraq is winding up, that would be all to the better.

If the speech will simply be remembered for making "what McCain is as a man" clear and he can have Sarah Palin as cheerleader and root to the base; that all might play. It all depends on what America, not you political science guys nor the news writers, saw in the speech. I hope they did not see what I saw in that speech. I can't see that playing well. Maybe it was a big score and I am too clueless about the rules of the game to get it. I sure do hope so.

I agree that McCain was short on policy detail, and at all the wrong moments. He had golden opportunities while clamoring about how he was fighting for various families who were struggling. Yet, he failed to deliver the specifics, leaving those people feeling as if the "fight" might be rather short.
I'm sold on McCain due to the desperation of my choices. Similar to McCain's view on the war, I would rather lose an election than vote for Obama.

I thought it was about an effective speech McCain can give in that forum....although I have to agree with Peter that I found the first half pretty boring (and the last 10 paragraphs are so much more compelling) and came close to dozing a few times (and I think I'm a couple of years younger than Peter)....the question of McCain's prudence is a thorny one since on the one hand there's obvious thirst for change, and not just incremental change--an air of seismic reform is in the air and both sides are trying to exploit it. However, we tend to expect great reform to come from risk takers and visionaries rather than cautious, restrained statesmen--Mac has to be the fiery reformer while also assuaging fears about his unpredictablity. Sarah Palin as VP has been that kind of decision---first appearing incredibly risky and unanticipated but then seeming like a moment genius. This is hard (and risky) to coherently convey in a speech...

Boy, are you guys clueless! The audience was

1. The social conservatives and women who are enraged by the Old Media's treatment of Palin, and

2. The base, who stayed home in droves in 2006 and are enraged by the elite Washington Republicans who campaigned on fiscal responsibility and spent like democrats.

What in the world do you think his "Fight!" mantra was about?

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