September 4, 2008


Maverick followed up the Unicorn Rider's rather bland and formulaic speech of last week with one of his own, but then hit his stride at the end, John McCain's Acceptance Speech (John McCain, St. Paul, Minnesota, 9/04/08)

I've been an imperfect servant of my country for many years. But I have been her servant first, last and always. And I've never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I didn't thank God for the privilege.

Long ago, something unusual happened to me that taught me the most valuable lesson of my life. I was blessed by misfortune. I mean that sincerely. I was blessed because I served in the company of heroes, and I witnessed a thousand acts of courage, compassion and love.

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.

If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you're disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

I'm going to fight for my cause every day as your President. I'm going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him: that I'm an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me.

Fight for what's right for our country.

Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

Fight for our children's future.

Fight for justice and opportunity for all.

Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.

Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.

Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We're Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.

Thank you, and God Bless you.

That much of the speech was excellent and explained just why it is that he wants to be president. They should have just ditched the specific programs, which obviously don't interest him that much, if they weren't going to go with big ideas. And while the bit about changing the GOP was actually helped by the tepid reaction in the Hall, the stuff about how hard times are and how we need a return to peace and prosperity deserved to be greeted with the perplexity it received.

More than anything, what the deeply mediocre speeches of the two current nominees did was remind what a gifted politician W was. Here's a section of his 2000 Convention speech that gets down to details far more effectively than Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain did:

Tonight, in this hall, we resolve to be, not the party of repose, but the party of reform.

We will write, not footnotes, but chapters in the American story.

We will add the work of our hands to the inheritance of our fathers and mothers -- and leave this nation greater than we found it.

We know the tests of leadership. The issues are joined.

We will strengthen Social Security and Medicare for the greatest generation, and for generations to come.

Medicare does more than meet the needs of our elderly, it reflects the values of our society.

We will set it on firm financial ground, and make prescription drugs available and affordable for every senior who needs them.

Social Security has been called the "third rail of American politics" -- the one you're not supposed to touch because it shocks you.

But, if you don't touch it, you can't fix it. And I intend to fix it.

To seniors in this country ... You earned your benefits, you made your plans, and President George W. Bush will keep the promise of Social Security ... no changes, no reductions, no way.

Our opponents will say otherwise. This is their last, parting ploy, and don't believe a word of it.

Now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to end the politics of fear and save Social Security, together.

For younger workers, we will give you the option -- your choice -- to put a part of your payroll taxes into sound, responsible investments.

This will mean a higher return on your money, and, over 30 or 40 years, a nest egg to help your retirement, or pass along to your children.

When this money is in your name, in your account, it's not just a program, it's your property.

Now is the time to give American workers security and independence that no politician can ever take away.

On education ... Too many American children are segregated into schools without standards, shuffled from grade-to-grade because of their age, regardless of their knowledge.

This is discrimination, pure and simple -- the soft bigotry of low expectations.

And our nation should treat it like other forms of discrimination ... We should end it.

One size does not fit all when it comes to educating our children, so local people should control local schools.

And those who spend your tax dollars must be held accountable.

When a school district receives federal funds to teach poor children, we expect them to learn. And if they don't, parents should get the money to make a different choice.

Now is the time to make Head Start an early learning program, teach all our children to read, and renew the promise of America's public schools. Another test of leadership is tax relief.

The last time taxes were this high as a percentage of our economy, there was a good reason ... We were fighting World War II.

Today, our high taxes fund a surplus. Some say that growing federal surplus means Washington has more money to spend.

But they've got it backwards.

The surplus is not the government's money. The surplus is the people's money.

I will use this moment of opportunity to bring common sense and fairness to the tax code.

And I will act on principle.

On principle ... every family, every farmer and small businessperson, should be free to pass on their life's work to those they love.

So we will abolish the death tax.

On principle ... no one in America should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government.

So we will reduce tax rates for everyone, in every bracket.

On principle ... those in the greatest need should receive the greatest help.

So we will lower the bottom rate from 15 percent to 10 percent and double the child tax credit.

Now is the time to reform the tax code and share some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills.

The world needs America's strength and leadership, and America's armed forces need better equipment, better training, and better pay.

We will give our military the means to keep the peace, and we will give it one thing more ... a commander-in-chief who respects our men and women in uniform, and a commander-in-chief who earns their respect.

A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam.

When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming.

I will work to reduce nuclear weapons and nuclear tension in the world -- to turn these years of influence into decades of peace.

And, at the earliest possible date, my administration will deploy missile defenses to guard against attack and blackmail.

Now is the time, not to defend outdated treaties, but to defend the American people.

Of course, the contested election results kept even reasonable Democrats from helping him reform SS, but he did proceed to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, to pass NCLB, to enact tax cuts every year of his presidency, and to deploy missile defense. He believed in some big ideas, ran on them, and enjoyed remarkable success in achieving them.

To some considerable degree, neither candidate this year believes in any ideas. Rather, each believes that he'd be a good president. The Obama camp is in a huff because the McCain campaign said that this isn't an election about issues, but that's quite right. And it is for precisely that reason that it is the personal story that Mr. McCain got to in the last ten minutes of his address -- and the really stark contrast it offers to Senator Obama's rather meager life experience -- is so effective. This is a poetry election, not a prose one, and John McCain offers an epic, with himself as the hero. It'll gall Democrats that he's cast himself as the fighter for the forgotten man, a theme they've used unsuccessfully cycle after cycle, but it jibes with the narrative that his personal history provides and can certainly be a winning message in a time of free-floating angst. People may not know what they're scared of or who they want to lash out at, but Mr. McCain can make a compelling case that he's the one they want leading the fight when they settle on a target.

John McCain's moment (Boston Globe, September 5, 2008)

What might have been a battle over the two parties' policy differences has instead shaped up as a battle of biographies. Democrat Barack Obama has leaned heavily on his hardscrabble upbringing. McCain has every right to campaign on his past heroism.

-McCain Draws On Biography To Make His Case (Jennifer Skalka, Sept. 5, 2008, National Journal)
On Thursday...McCain banked his political future on a broad-brush recounting of his Vietnam service and his "maverick" reputation, not a series of specific policy proposals to cure an ailing national economy, the top issue of concern to voters. Despite intense Republican criticism of Obama for pushing his personal story and running a campaign that turns on "celebrity" and not leadership, McCain's address -- and the week's Republican convention storyline -- was heavy with talk of McCain's 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war. [...]

Others saw the speech as an affirmation that McCain has broken with Bush's Republican Party to steer his own path -- on the economy and national security. Former Rep. Mickey Edwards, R-Okla., who is now a lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, said McCain used his address "to set his own course and make his campaign a call for belief in America's greatness and its possibilities."

"He used his own story as the basis for his commitment to service," Edwards said. "In many ways, it changed the emphasis of the campaign, talking not just about security and the most obvious national problems -- lost jobs, mortgage foreclosures, fuel prices -- but calling on people to feed the hungry, teach the illiterate, and generally turn to a life of service. He also couched his security credentials in a condemnation of war when it can be avoided."

To invigorate a Republican faithful suspicious of his devotion to their issues, McCain chose as his running mate a little-known first-term female governor from Alaska who opposes abortion rights and carries a reputation as a reformer. Speakers Thursday night pitched the duo -- McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin -- as the "maverick" ticket, extending McCain's longtime label to his 44-year-old pick for vice president. Palin, who addressed the convention Wednesday night to rave reviews, has sparked a new enthusiasm among conservatives for the Republican ticket.

"John has picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin', basketball-shootin', moose-huntin', fly-fishin', pistol-packing mother of five for vice president," declared Cindy McCain, who was escorted onstage last night by the couple's seven children. "And as a fellow hockey mom myself and a Western conservative mother, I couldn't be prouder that John has shaken things up, as he usually does."

The nominee issued another challenge. McCain, who at 72 would be the nation's oldest first-term president, cautioned that he and Palin would challenge the nation's capitol to start fresh.

"Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming," McCain said to wild applause.

-A Glimpse of the New: The central drama of the convention was the struggle by reform Republicans to break through the pull of old habits and create something new. (David Brooks, 9/05/08, NY Times)
In his own speech on Thursday, McCain showed that he is not naturally the smoothest of speakers. He did not have an over-arching story to describe how the world has changed in the 21st century and how government must adapt.

He did not lay out a new doctrine to give shape to his administration. Bill Clinton had a new Democratic agenda to describe how his party would evolve, and in 2000, George W. Bush had compassionate conservatism. McCain had nothing like that. He did not offer as transformational a domestic policy agenda as one would have liked.

But he described traditional conservatism-plus: low taxes and free markets with some activism built on top; compensating workers for lost wages when plants close; a grand national project for energy independence. Through it all, he communicated his burning indignation at the way Washington has operated over the last 12 years. He communicated his intense passion to lift government to a plane the country deserves. He did note that he has fought to change the Republican Party during its period of decay. And he diagnosed that decay Thursday night (to the tepid applause of the faithful).

And this passion for change, combined with his proven and evident integrity, led to the crescendo of raw energy that marked this convention’s conclusion.

His policies are still not quite there yet, but McCain has the heart of an insurgent.

-New McCain plan: Reclaim maverick image (JONATHAN MARTIN, 9/5/08, Politico)
By picking an across-the-board conservative, McCain aides argue, they’ve allayed long-festering fears about the unpredictable Arizona senator among the conservative core of the party and empowered him to move away from the party brand without unduly angering GOP stalwarts.

“The base will now stay solid,” said a top McCain aide. “The VP choice helps ensure that.” [...]

Further, McCain’s camp believes Palin helps reinforce a key strength that McCain intends to highlight in the coming 60 days.

“You can’t suggest that Barack Obama and Joe Biden have better reform credentials than John McCain and Sarah Palin,” said a McCain staffer.

Talking up McCain’s many battles in Washington over the years and spotlighting Palin’s challenge to what one aide called a corrupt “old boys’ club” in Alaska, Republicans intend to frame the ticket as the senior and junior partners on a mission to overturn business as usual.

“They’ll be the reforming, crusading duo who are uniquely suited to shake up Washington,” promised a top aide.

-John McCain: Grade: B+ (Mark Halperin, 9/05/08, TIME)
Not the speech of a lifetime — simply fine and solid. Started slowly (impeded by a disruption by some antiwar protesters), but hit a stride before too long, and kept improving.

Americans face exquisite choice between Obama and McCain (Kelly McParland,. 9/05/08, National Post)
John McCain is one impressive human being.

No matter how many times you hear that story of his -- and the Republicans told it about a thousand times this week -- you can't fail but be inspired by it. Anyone, Democrat or otherwise, who can listen to the details of MCain's ordeal in Vietnam and not come away in awe is beyond the reach of rational thought. (And that would include the two dunderheads who twice disrupted McCain's acceptance speech and, with any luck, cost the Democrats a few hundred thousand votes for their brainlessness).

Thursday night was the first time I've heard McCain tell the story himself, and it was even more inspiring. The Republican nominee, it is said, doesn't like dwelling on his past in public, but confronted by an opponent who has turned his life story into his campaign, the Republicans had little choice but to do the same thing.

By far the most impressive part was McCain's description of how those years as a captive beat the cockiness out of him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 4, 2008 10:37 PM
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