Friday, September 5, 2008
John McCain's Speech
Here are some notes, some excerpts from the speech, plenty of my own thoughts, and, before we're done, a piece of the speech which surprised me . . . by moving me.
Like all but a handful of Americans, Senator John McCain is less of an orator than Barack Obama. He's less of an orator than his running mate, I think, and she's no Barack Obama, either. McCain's acceptance speech last night was not a masterful, artistic performance, but it was a good speech. Some folks told me they thought he sounded authentic, and they seemed to rate that positively.
I heard parts of the speech, but not the whole thing. I later read it from beginning to end, as I did Obama's -- without those time-wasting interruptions for applause I've griped about before, of course. Here are some notes and excerpts, mostly in the order in which they appear in the speech.
He promised to change Washington, and to "stop leaving our country's problems for some unluckier generation to fix."
He took this well-deserved shot at his own party:
We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Senator Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. We lost their trust, when we valued our power over our principles.
Then he said:
We're going to change that. We're going to recover the people's trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.
Let's make sure we understand that he was talking about Teddy Roosevelt, okay? Not Franklin D.
All the Right Buttons
McCain hit all the right buttons: lower taxes, fiscal restraint, open markets, strong defense, personal responsibility, rule of law, judicial restraint. I don't mean to sound cynical, but that's one of the things you have to do in these speeches: hit all the right buttons.
He advocated school choice, at least where current schools are failing, but his specific plan is not clear to me from what said. Maybe he was just pushing a button?
Sometimes he compared himself in general terms to Barack Obama:
I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them. I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them. I will cut government spending. He will increase it.
My tax cuts will create jobs. His tax increases will eliminate them. My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance. His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor.
He promised to double the child tax exemption from $3500 to $7000. He promised to have Democrats and independents in his administration. (Watch for Joe Lieberman as Secretary of State, I'm guessing.) But there wasn't a long laundry list of specific promises. There were more promises than I have listed, but most of them got more discussion than just a line or two, more than just a sound bite.
Happily, he didn't say anything stupid about global warming or saving the planet, things the Democrats -- and sometimes John McCain -- have seemed willing to entrone as our national religion, to the peril of our economy and our science.
He portrayed himself as the agent of change where jobs are concerned, and Obama as a throwback:
I know some of you have been left behind in the changing economy and it often seems your government hasn't even noticed. Government assistance for unemployed workers was designed for the economy of the 1950s. That's going to change on my watch. My opponent promises to bring back old jobs by wishing away the global economy. We're going to help workers who've lost a job that won't come back, find a new one that won't go away.
We will prepare them for the jobs of today. We will use our community colleges to help train people for new opportunities in their communities. For workers in industries that have been hard hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one while they receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage.
Nice move. Might work.
As to energy and its geopolitical implications, he promised "the most ambitious national project in decades" (which sounds like about the right thing):
We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. We will attack the problem on every front. We will produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now. We will build more nuclear power plants. We will develop clean coal technology. We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.
I confess wondering how he will do this, unless Congress miraculously turns out to be Republican -- or, and here my disillusionment is showing, even if it does turn out Republican.
He mentioned current and future threats from Iran and Russia, then said more generally something Obama could not say:
We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I'm not afraid of them. I'm prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do. I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it. I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who don't. I know how to secure the peace.
Inside the Beltway
I agree with this statement . . .
We need to change the way government does almost everything: from the way we protect our security to the way we compete in the world economy; from the way we respond to disasters to the way we fuel our transportation network; from the way we train our workers to the way we educate our children. All these functions of government were designed before the rise of the global economy, the information technology revolution and the end of the Cold War. We have to catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in Washington.
. . . but I don't know that McCain's sense of the proper destination of this movement is conservative enough for me. Even if it is, I'm not at all sure how we do this, or if it's even possible. But I'm willing to see someone actually try, instead of just talking about it, and I will hope he succeeds at it better than his predecessor, who thought he could change the tone of Washington, but in the end only managed to puzzle the establishment a little by actually doing some of the things he had campaigned on.
As I read through the speech, I was thinking it was pretty good, if a little light on specific promises. He did a good job talking about his running mate, which he did at some length. And he wasn't offputting to me as a conservative, in this speech at least, though in his politics in the past he sometimes has been. Maybe he was just being careful with his base on the one night he most had to be.
At the end would come a series of short applause lines, as always. He doesn't deliver those very well; maybe that's okay. His intonation and timing seem unpolished at such times, and his voice -- meaning his actual, physical voice -- doesn't seem strong enough to do them justice. That's probably okay. Sometimes it's enough to be authentic; I will hope that the next two months are one of those times.
What I was not prepared for as I read the speech was the simple power of his personal narrative. I knew he had to get to it before he was finished, and I already knew the biographical details. If I thought anything about this part of the speech in advance, I thought it might be a little trite and a bit too self-congratulatory. It was neither. I think he told it superbly well, and I was moved.
Here is that entire section of the speech, plus the following paragraph, which extends the thought:
On an October morning, in the Gulf of Tonkin, I prepared for my 23rd mission over North Vietnam. I hadn't any worry I wouldn't come back safe and sound. I thought I was tougher than anyone. I was pretty independent then, too. I liked to bend a few rules, and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for my own pleasure; my own pride. I didn't think there was a cause more important than me.
Then I found myself falling toward the middle of a small lake in the city of Hanoi, with two broken arms, a broken leg, and an angry crowd waiting to greet me. I was dumped in a dark cell, and left to die. I didn't feel so tough anymore. When they discovered my father was an admiral, they took me to a hospital. They couldn't set my bones properly, so they just slapped a cast on me. When I didn't get better, and was down to about a hundred pounds, they put me in a cell with two other Americans. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't even feed myself. They did it for me. I was beginning to learn the limits of my selfish independence. Those men saved my life.
I was in solitary confinement when my captors offered to release me. I knew why. If I went home, they would use it as propaganda to demoralize my fellow prisoners. Our Code said we could only go home in the order of our capture, and there were men who had been shot down before me. I thought about it, though. I wasn't in great shape, and I missed everything about America. But I turned it down.
A lot of prisoners had it worse than I did. I'd been mistreated before, but not as badly as others. I always liked to strut a little after I'd been roughed up to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.
When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn't know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me.
I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's.
I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.
This is the narrative John Kerry thought he had in 2004, but didn't. (Neither did George W. Bush.) It is a narrative Barack Obama does not have now -- which McCain wisely did not say overtly, though the thought is clearly there even before the last paragraph, where he talks about anointed saviors (small "s"). It is a purer McCain than the real one, to be sure. But one thing that often gets lost in campaigns and other political battles is the awareness that actual governing is a messy business even in the best of times, even for the best of leaders. No decent person is as pure in practice as he or she wants to be in principle. But what a person really wants to be still counts for something, in politics as in life.
All this may not be enough to attract McCain's entrenched opponents, but, combined with Sarah Palin, it should be enough to energize Republicans, at least the "red state" ones who, at some point in their lives, fell in love with their country for much the same reasons he mentioned. And it will likely attract a lot of independents and a few Democrats.
I hope that's enough for 270 electoral votes.
The convention is over. I think McCain-Palin has a fighting chance.
Copyright 2008 by David Rodeback.
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