Arizona Senator John McCain stood before cheering partisans in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Minneapolis last night and accepted the Republican nomination for President of the United States. For the former POW the route to his party’s nomination has been long and difficult, starting from a bitter primary fight against President George W. Bush in 2000 and being counted out on numerous occasions over the course of the past year. He literally was the last man standing as his rivals in the party – former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Senator Mitt Romney – all came up short despite early predictions from various pundits that each one was the likely choice for President among their party’s faithful.
McCain’s speech came after a short biographical video that played heavily upon the patriotic themes that the Republican Party has embraced. The video highlighted the candidate’s military career and sought to associate the Republican candidate with so-called American values. His entry on stage followed a voice over introduction by former Senator Fred Thompson, a role the actor played four years earlier for President Bush at the party’s convention in Madison Square Garden in New York City. As he strode on stage with no musical accompaniment, McCain was greeted by thunderous applause and the chant “USA! USA!.”
For McCain, not known for being an effective public speaker, the night was a major test considering the generally favorable reviews delegates gave Alaska Governor Sarah Palin the night before when she accepted the vice presidential nomination. The senator thanked the delegates to the convention and formally accepted the Republican nomination for President. Early in his speech he acknowledged his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, and stated his intention to put the country first despite the differences between the two and the expected battles on the campaign trail. McCain later acknowledged his running mate Governor Sarah Palin stating, “She knows where she comes from and she knows who she works for. She stands up for what’s right, and she doesn’t let anyone tell her to sit down.”
Senator McCain sought to draw distinctions between he and Senator Barack Obama by pointing out differences in their tax policy, with the Republican candidate lambasting what he claimed was a tax increase that would result from his opponent’s plan. He also ridiculed assistance for unemployed workers saying “government assistance of unemployed workers was designed for the economy of the 1950’s,” without explaining what he proposed to do to help those displaced by the new economy. Though he did suggest the focus should be on helping people secure new jobs in the global economy and not restore old jobs lost to globalization.
On public education McCain reiterated his support for public school choice, charging Senator Obama was captive to teachers unions and public school bureaucracies. The GOP nominee also took on Senator Obama over energy policy by stating his intention to support more offshore drilling and nuclear power. McCain ran off a series of energy initiatives – clean coal technology, wind, solar power and natural gas – that he promised would be a part of his administration if elected.
Little has been said over the course of the last four days about the war in Iraq. In fact, the decision to keep President Bush at arm’s length was primarily due to the public’s disapproval of the war in Iraq. Still he used his personal story to suggest that he was better prepared than Senator Obama to keep the nation safe because of his personal experiences. “I hate war,” spoke McCain, “It is terrible beyond imagination. I’m running for president to keep the country I love safe, and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in was as my family has.” It was another example of how the Republican Party has claimed patriotism with a sense of entitlement.
On several occasions Senator McCain struck a bipartisan theme but then quickly returned to a more partisan appeal, making clear his differences with Senator Obama along the way; and often time displaying both personalities in the same breath. He boasted, “I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as President. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not.”
McCain ended with a rousing volley of declarations punctuated with “fight” and “stand up” that brought the convention delegates to their feet. It was probably the most effective public speech McCain has ever delivered. Not known as a gifted orator and often prone to stumbling over his words, McCain’s ability to “deliver” was the subject of much speculation going into the evening. With his speech coming just 24 hours after the scorched earth address delivered by his running mate, McCain sought to appear above partisan sniping and used his personal narrative to make his case to the nation. As the candidate and his family were joined on stage by Governor Palin and her family for the traditional balloon drop, the presidential campaign began in earnest. Now the words that resonated within the rank of file of each party a their respective conventions will have to be re-shaped and repackaged to draw the support of the vast swath of voters who have yet to decide where to cast their allegiance.