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September 8, 2008

Final Notes on the Sarah Palin Convention


John McCain’s acceptance speech Thursday night, which closed the Republican National Convention, can almost be considered the exact opposite of that of his running mate, Sarah Palin, the night before. Where Palin gave a well-delivered speech, albeit one full of red meat and cheap shots, McCain's speech was the reverse – it was respectful and classy, but not delivered very skillfully.  


The McCain who spoke Thursday was the John McCain of 2000-2004, the post-partisan, reforming, reach-across-the-aisle, not-afraid-to-distance-himself-from-George-Bush John McCain. It wasn’t the John McCain we’ve seen on the trail for the past 18 months or the one whom the party spent the week praising. Nevertheless, it was great to see him again.


Sure, he tripped over his words a few times, had trouble with the teleprompter and – again! – found himself in front of an ugly green background. And even in the speech’s very stirring final seconds, McCain tried to talk over the applause, which only had the effect of making him barely audible.


The speech had some very affecting passages, especially in which the candidate discussed his military service and the section when he vowed, “I will draw on my experience, all the tools at our disposal, to build the foundation for a stable enduring peace.” Or when he called out his own party, something that doesn’t often happen in acceptance speeches at conventions.


If he actually governed the way he came across in the speech, I'm convinced McCain could be an excellent president. But I have no confidence whatsoever that he will.


(An aside: What were three words long-associated with McCain that were barely spoken at all at the convention? “Campaign finance reform.” Why not? Probably some combination of the idea’s general unpopularity in the GOP and the fact that McCain/Feingold hasn’t exactly worked out as planned.)


But regardless, this will never be remembered as John McCain’s convention, but rather as Sarah Palin’s. Not only did the vice-presidential nominee outshine her ticket mate, but none of the other speeches or events were memorable in any way whatsoever. RNC ’08 will be looked back on first and foremost for Palin, with the hurricane-caused delay and the “drill baby drill” chants likely taking the second and third spots.


In just over a week as the nominee, Palin has managed to galvanize the conservative base in a way that not only McCain never did, but every single Republican who ran in the primaries failed to do. If Barack Obama wins in the fall, expect Palin to enter the 2012 cycle as the heavy favorite on the Republican side – that is, assuming McCain’s loss isn’t seen as her fault.


Indeed, the convention was full of moments of irony. Such as an angry denunciation of “eastern elites,” delivered by a billionaire former Massachusetts governor with two degrees from Harvard. Or a defense of small-town values from a former New York City mayor. Or a shot at Hollywood celebrities, at a convention in which Fred Thompson had a prominent speaking slot. Or, strangest of all, a full-throated bash-the-media strategy, used in support of a nominee with more of a reputation for media popularity than any Republican politician in the last 25 years.


The convention also included a very problematic "9/11 tribute" video that looked more like the trailer for a disaster movie than any sort of sincere tribute, and brought back the memories of the worst of what journalist Chris Suellentrop, during the 2004 convention, called “the GOP convention's nostalgia for tragedy.”


Meanwhile President Bush, not even in the house, saw fit to denounce the “angry left” and predict – correctly, I guess – that McCain will have an easier time with them than he did in the Hanoi Hilton.


During the convention, tribute videos were shown for the following people: John McCain, Sarah Palin, Cindy McCain, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Medal of Honor winner Michael Mansoor and the 9/11 victims, and that was just in primetime. Where was Dubya’s tribute? Did they try to assemble one and just give up?  .


And so, with the conventions ending after Labor Day for the first time ever, we enter a 60-day sprint toward Election Day, with debates still to come. The campaign has seen a thousand surprises already, with many more likely to come.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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