Friday, September 5, 2008

TPH: Breaking Convention

The Political Hoedown
The Republican National Convention

(Make sure you check out the polls in the sidebar!)

The GOP's big to-do has come to a close in St. Paul/Minneapolis. We've had an abbreviated convention this year, focused as we were over the weekend and on Monday, the first official day of the Republican National Convention, on the threat of Hurricane Gustav. Well, the media frenzy whipped up by the hope of another national natural disaster proved premature, and the RNC moved forward, truly starting on Tuesday.

So did they make their case? Did Gov. Palin's roll-out continue as dramatically as it started? Are any other teenage Republican daughters sporting buns in their ovens?


As stated, the RNC did not get off to the same start the Democratic National Convention did last Monday. Where they had pacific weather and a harmonious speech by Michelle Obama, the Republicans were left essentially running a "boot fund," passing the plate to raise money for hurricane victims. And though Laura Bush and Cindy McCain did a great job as MCs of the truncated first night, it was a dud for all involved, a misfire that nearly cost them their week's publicity.

Then came night two, and two very different speakers.

I'll start with the boring approach first. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I...or D) is a friend of John McCain's and the two share a similar policy view for Iraq, the war on terror and the Middle East. On most other things, I don't think they see eye to eye, but many vote on one issue and Joe cast his lot just that way. But did you care? His speech, while filled with a number of good lines and ideas about bipartisanship that really ticked off Dems, came across flat and monotone, more of a Ben Stein parody than a keynote address.

But at least he had Fred Thompson, former Senator, warming the crowd up before him. Whew! That man can rumble. He told McCain's story better than anyone, with that perfectly cadenced, deep southern drawl, giving us a human portrait of an individual often thought of as "hero" before "man." It was a firebrand speech that got people whooping and cheering, elicited great response and had no small measure of laughter.

Night three followed the cavalcade of almost-were Presidential candidates: Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani. This triumvirate was to cause McCain the most headache on the campaign trail, because they were the best liked for a long time. But each did their part to get the audience revved up for the true introduction of Sarah Palin. Romney hit Obama hard and stressed economic talking points while Huckabee did his own hatchet work and came across like the southern preacher he is.

Giuliani, however, had the best lines:

"[Obama] ran for the state legislature and he got elected. And nearly 130 times, he couldn’t make a decision...I didn’t know about this vote “present” when I was mayor of New York City....You don’t get “present.” It doesn’t work in an executive job. For president of the United States, it’s not good enough to be present."

"Because change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy."

"How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her children and be vice president. How dare they do that. When do they ever ask a man that question? When?"

He led right into Sarah Palin's speech and, as you know, this writer was taken with it.

She tossed a heap of red meat into the audience, got the waters churning, and really dug into Obama like few in the Republican camp have done. Her personal story is fascinating, as is Obama's, and she used it to reach out to blue-collar, average Joe Americans who might have gotten married at 19 because of a roll in the hay with your high school sweetheart, or had the life-altering happen when their child was born with a handicap, or seen a son or father or brother ship off to a foreign shore, possibly to never return.

But for all that, she was still a pit-bull with lipstick and I can't imagine Obama isn't still smarting at her jabs:

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities."

"We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco."

"Here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."

"Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems — as if we all didn't know that already. But the fact that drilling won't solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all."

"And there is much to like and admire about our opponent. But listening to him speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform — not even in the state Senate. This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word "victory" except when he's talking about his own campaign. But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed ... when the roar of the crowd fades away ... when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot — what exactly is our opponent's plan?"

"In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.They're the ones whose names appear on laws and landmark reforms, not just on buttons and banners, or on self-designed presidential seals."

Soundbites, some written weeks ago, quips meant as radio and TV fodder - but they're effective. Palin's speech was watched by only a million less than Obama's. Think about that. Anyone who looks at those numbers (38MM vs. 37MM) and thinks she isn't shaking up the campaign should take another look. I imagine her impact in the polls will be seen after the weekend and people have had a chance to watch her some more.

But what about McCain?

"Stand up and fight! Nothing is inevitable here." His closing remarks indicate his willingness to take this all the way. Despite the almost laid back quality of his speech, it's conversational town hall tone and lack of soaring rhetoric, he still managed the slow boil that brought deafening cheers to the Twin Cities.

We cannot argue Obama's skill with the spoken word. McCain has no chance competing with Obama for the same part in community theater. But for the Presidency, he presented a measured, even-tempered approach far different from the quick-hammer "Yes we can/No he can't" oratory that has typified Obama's many (excellently delivered) speeches. McCain's speech was literary, building a narrative about his life, the changes wrought with age and experience and the goals and ideology he has in store for America. A few lines:

"Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, and that's an association that means more to me than any other."

"...the first big-spending pork-barrel earmark bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it. I will make them famous, and you will know their names. You will know their names."

"Now, 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."

"Education is the civil rights issue of this century...but what is the value of access to a failing school?"

" I hate war. It's 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 war as my family has. I will draw on all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, military, and the power of our ideals -- to build the foundations for a stable and enduring peace."

" 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."

Certainly, his speech wasn't aimed at liberals, but centrists at best, those not so calcified in their positions that they can't see something positive in the other side. We'll check in with the fine folks at Gallup next week to see the daily tracking data, and if McCain succeeded better, worse or as well as Obama. He didn't actively distance himself from Bush, but also didn't tie himself to the President. He criticized his policies, his administration and the government these last several election cycles. Did he do enough to (at least start to) sunder the hoops of steel created by Democrats that they hope bind him to Bush?

I predict he'll close to within two points in Gallup and even in national averages (CBS already has him dead even).


There was a reason for this post's title aside from being quippy. Past RNCs have been militant in their Republicanism, their conservatism, their "right wing" ideology. Granted, none of that was missing, except from McCain's speech. Yes, his ideas are those of the GOP, but there's a lot behind, between, next to and in those words. He, like Palin and Lieberman, slammed the Republicans and partisan politics enough to jump-start again the "maverick" image, and cable commentators picked up on that.

His break with party orthodoxy may not seem so severe to you reading this. You say, he has a 90% pro-Bush voting record. Well, a lot of Congressmen on both sides of the aisle have a pretty strong pro-Bush record as well; that doesn't mean they're yes-men to the guy. Not every vote is an authorization for war. And McCain has put his name on legislation that is unpopular to Republicans, teamed up with Democrats to get business accomplished. Aside from his war stories, stressing the earned image of the "maverick" is his best asset, one Obama cannot claim to have.


On a purely personal note, I was happy with the anti-union rhetoric. We've moved beyond the days of the union - and the need for such, one one time necessary, organizing among workers. The only folks now who could benefit are illegals, and they shouldn't be here anyway.

Whoops! There I go again...


Please comment with your reaction to the RNC, the speeches and all that jazz.

I might put a piece up over the weekend on the protests that interrupted McCain a few times, what it means for both parties as well as our freedom of speech. Protests in front of 45,000 fans sure do get a lot more airtime and voice than those in front of 80,000.


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