Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain's Speech

Sen. John McCain accepted his role as the Republican nominee with a speech that ranked among the better public appearances McCain has made this campaign. McCain has never been a polished speaker, and tonight was no exception. Yet it was a well prepared speech and, as such, counts as a plus in the speech column.

McCain's was a speech long on biography, short on policy and heavily sprinkled with buzz phrases. He regularly pressed his image as a contra-Washingtonian, an insider who chafed at the tony lifestyle of the national elite. Yet of the list of policy points McCain did touch upon, nothing seemed at all out of step with the Republican party platform: increased oil drilling, vouchers and reducing taxes (though he doesn't say whose taxes).

When it comes to McCain's own signature issue, earmarks, however, he is undercut by his own VP selection. Gov. Sarah Palin spent most of her political career ensuring her constituents received as much federal money as possible; including those funds that were to go towards the infamous "bridge to nowhere". The project-which Palin only spoke negatively about after it was canceled-never came to fruition, but the funds were sent to Alaska anyway and distributed.

The most compelling portion of the evening was Sen. McCain's own personal story. His experience in Vietnam is one that defies summation. His story is one that is not so far removed from some of the friends and family we are close to. While it is a history that many Americans see within their own families, it has taken on an almost totemic quality in the McCain campaign.

Following his military career, McCain decided to enter public life and run for office. It is on those terms that we should judge him. Did he support campaign finance reform and then abandon it? Did he interject himself in an international dispute between the United States and Russia over a country-Georgia-which had, until recently, kept McCain's foreign-policy advisor on retainer as a lobbyist? If McCain believes that needling Russia over the issue of Georgia's rebellious regions- thus reigniting conflicts Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have worked to mediate, and perhaps jeopardizing our efforts to mediate Iran's nuclear threat among other efforts-then it should be front and center in the debate.

It's unlikely McCain's seech gave anyone who wasn't already a supporter something to vie for. However, he did provide a counterpoint to Gov. Palin's red meat on Wednesday night. It may seem like a smart move, to contrast McCain as the moderater of the Republican fight points, but given that he has to moderate his own VP-usually considered a complimentary role-does not bode well for how his campaign views the heft at the top of the ticket.

Palin was a pick from deep in right field. Prior to her selection, and the resulting enthusiasm amongst the base, McCain was effectively dead in the water when it came to the several million conservative votes that kept President G. W. Bush in the White House for the past eight years. His speech might be enough to maintain his reputation as a moderate (despite the record his campaign is putting together), but if the ticket does make it to the Oval Office, it won't be due to McCain's persuasion.

- Murphy

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