Friday, September 05, 2008

Fixing McCain's Convention Speech

Ok, it kind of sucked. But in it were some small kernels that could have been good. And it's driving me crazy! It'd be so easy to fix this speech and make it great. At the risk of giving the Republicans a leg up, here's how the speech should have gone:

1. McCain should have opened with the POW story. But put it in perspective by being a bit ironic and saying, "I'm sure you must have heard by now that I was a POW" - get some self-ironic laughs from middle America. Then tell the story. He told it well, so why not recognize they've been using it politically? That would have made it more palatable.

2. Use that story and the idea of his loyalty to "America first" as a theme throughout the rest of the talk after people understand in their gut where that comes from. Next stop: take on the Republican party. Talk to the issues and say, "I'm known as a maverick. That's because I'm going to say some things that may not be popular in this hall tonight." Then say some genuinely maverick-like things. Like: The U.S. will respect the rule of law and WILL NOT TORTURE. The government needs to fix the deficit and here are the programs I will cut ('earmarks' - yeah, that's going to save, what, .001% of the budget?). I believe that states should be left to decide divisive social issues without interference from the White House. We need to fix Wall Street so that it doesn't run at the expense of Main Street. We need to find a way to reform HMO's and cover more Americans with health care without taxing citizens more. Etc. Say that *this* is what putting America first means. Make sure you even get a couple of boos from the convention hall. (That will get the right story in the press.)

3. Next: don't run from Bush and the White House. Explain what successes (few as they are) Bush has had, and where McCain has stood on these issues. But actually have the cajones to defend Bush and frame it with some reality: say something like, "I know the opinion polls are low for our President. But being President isn't about being popular. Here's what he's done that is not fully appreciated: he's changed tactics in Iraq, bringing down the violence, and I supported him. He's....." (ok, I admit, I've run out of things here. But surely the RNC could think of a couple more.) The point is: don't just run as John McCain. Do something to define and repair the Republican brand as something other than a Christianist party. Explain how the mess we are in is really not so bad. Else YOU WILL LOSE.

4. Now that we know who John McCain is and how he differs with Republicans - and now that we've gotten the interest of the independents who appreciate someone who can recognize the political truth when it's out there, NOW you can give a hall-rousing speech and explain to Americans why the Republicans are one of two great American parties. Talk about Regan "tearing down the wall." Talk about Teddy Roosevelt's love of the environment. Talk about Lincoln's passionate ideal that "all men are equal." And here, perhaps, you can throw Bush under the bus: say that you will be the leader he hasn't been and will restore Americans pride in both the country and the Republican party. (Ouch. No applause. But that's what the country needs to hear. If they heard it, then throw an applause line, like: "tell me that Obama would take on Nancy Pelosi like that." Oooh - double goodness then! But you can't make a charge like that stick if you're not willing to do it yourself first. Otherwise, you just sound unserious and lame - which is what the Obama attacks were.)

5. Okay, so then you can go into your opponent. Sound like you actually mean it when you credit Obama's popularity. Stop belittling Democrats and address Obama's key strength (which is not his oration, it's his appeal to unity) but say, "I know the country needs unity. But unity requires someone who can take on Congress and deliver programs all Americans want." Then explain the working across the isle stuff. And Name Names. Don't be afraid to give some Democrats credit.

6. Republicans care about defense. We get it. You can tone down the foreign policy reminders but do bring up issues like Georgia and Iran at the end. Now take the serve your country message from the beginning of the speech and bring it back together with the POW story. End by saying, "Obama's right: it's not about me. It's about you. But it's also about the guy who's sitting in the Oval Office representing you...."

That would have been a great speech and a good way to take advantage of being able to respond to what Obama said last week.

Oh yeah. And rehearse it some and get some sleep the night before, so you can sound like you actually mean it all.

But he didn't do that. As a Democrat, I'm glad....

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