Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain's Speech: Did It Suck, or Was It Just Me?

Ok, just got through watching the speech. The MSN (largely CNN and PBS, the only networks I can stand watching this stuff on) seemed to love it. Certainly the crowd loved it - but they're supposed to (have you ever seen a convention crowd NOT like the nominee's speech?). But I thought it kind of sucked. The end was good, for about five minutes. But really, it seemed the most successful thing about it was that McCain actually made it through the whole thing without croaking.

Maybe that's too harsh. And maybe I'm too cynical. It's just hard for me to tell any more.

Of course McCain had to compliment Obama on something: after the last two nights, he'd look pathetic if he didn't. But the idea that the partisan rhetoric is "just the way these things go"? Really - while I've seen hate filled rhetoric on discussion boards from passionate voters all sides, Obama himself has been nothing but class throughout this campaign. That's more than McCain can say. So "that's the way these things go"? Just like the partisanship created by the Bush administration? Of course McCain had to wave a fairy wand and hope we'd forget who's been in charge the past eight years so he could try to usurp Obama's "change" message. He'd lose in a landslide if he didn't. All this stuff was a given so I don't see how he can get praise for doing the obvious.

But is he running on the platform of Cognitive Dissonance? Does he really think this "maverick" image is believable after voting with Bush 90% of the time while spouting Republican bromides from the seventies and right-wing catchphrases like "culture of life" (that's right-wing for anti-abortion) and "legislating from the bench" (that's right-wing for being anti gay rights)? What would have worked for me? If he had REALLY taken on the Bush administration and promised that he'd return to actual, respectable conservative values like: no tolerance for torture or illegal wars; keep the state separate from religion; respect states rights when they decide to provide equal marriage or equal pay; provide a path for illegal aliens to become citizens (he used to be for that, remember?); encourage technological and medical innovation; be a steward for the environment; get us off not just foreign oil but ALL oil. There would have been stunned gasps and silence in the hall, but THAT would have been maverick McCain and THAT would have gotten the headlines that would have been, as they say, a "game changer" for the election.

Instead, he has sold his soul entirely to party operatives and "maverick" is just another campaign bumper sticker for the crowd (and not one they even want to bother printing up officially, lest there be some McCain consciousness still inside there). Words came out of his mouth, and the text was there on the teleprompter, but it was like lips moving and words moving but no connection between the two. Like his brain had tuned out and he was dazed by all the soulless rhetoric on the page he was being forced to mouth by his right-wing captors. I mean, I KNOW I'm not the audience for this but I just don't get how some swing voter out in southern Ohio was supposed to believe all this in a mish-mash of inconsistent standard-fare rhetoric with absolutely no proposals for what to actually do about anything. Just who was McCain trying to be here, the pre-Hillary-Clinton Obama?

If you're going to be Obama, my friend, at least write a speech that has some consistent themes.

Last night: urban community organizers are scum compared with moose-killing, small town mayors.

Tonight: hey, why not join a community organization and give back to your community?

Minute 20: we're going to break the backs of teachers who are giving schools a bad name.

Minute 40: hey, why not go to a community college and become a teacher?

Minute 20: they want to raise your taxes, and we want to lower them.

Minute 40: but hey, just ignore the math because we're not going to leave a budget mess for our children!

And my personal favorite: McCain is going to "out" the names of people who send requests for pork across his desk. Yeah, and the first name on that list is Sarah Palin.

Look. Understand something. I have always liked John McCain. If there was one Republican I'd consider voting for, it'd be him. But this wasn't the John McCain I've liked. This was some robot John McCain brainwashed by the Karl Rove wing of the RNC to spout political double talk and recite his personal biography. I kept half expecting to see the camera cut away to show Angela Lansbery in the background holding up the Queen of Hearts.

There were three good moments in his speech:

1. The protesters. They actually helped him get off the script and seem spontaneous. He's actually better spontaneous. I was hoping he'd just toss the speech and talk impromptu to the audience. (Could you image the RAVES that would have gotten. As an Obama supporter, I'm glad he didn't do that.)

2. He had one genuine moment when he connected to the words and I believed he was actually communicating something sincere: when he explained how terrible war is and how he would carefully consider all options when handling foreign policy before sending troops in harms way. It was the only time I believed a word coming out of his mouth. That IS a change from Bush and I thought this was a terribly important point (Democrats have been trying to portray him as a "war-monger": I thought this was the strongest refutation of that I've seen from him).

3. His POW biography, of course. I've heard the story about six times now and will probably hear it as many more in the coming weeks. But it was nice to hear him tell it: he told it well and made you envision what happened, not just think of it as campaign rhetoric. I'd like to give him a medal for it (oh, ok, maybe another). MAY-BE not the Presidency. It was important to have this biographical story in there. So at the hazard that this might help the McCain campaign, here's some free speech writing advice: if he had put this story at the BEGINNING of the speech, it would have been rousing and moving and would have allowed him to then go on to explain how his policy proposals (if he had had some) come out of this experience. That would have been powerful and riveting. But coming at the end after forty minutes of the mucky-muck, for me, this just sank like a stone.

As far as any other big change moments or policies? Nada - just Republican talking points. And the rousing Obama-style flourish at the end? Oh please. I know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But really. If you're going to imitate Obama, at least talk about something voters will care about. (BTW, was anyone counting how many times McCain said "fight" in this speech? I think it must have been something like 212. "Economy": once.)

All through this election, people have been saying, if you just let McCain be McCain, he'll do okay. Tonight, they let McCain be Evil Robot Obama, as brought to you by the RNC. But there's only one Obama in this campaign, and that's Obama. And McCain - you sir, have a great POW story to tell the kids, but you are no Obama.

But what do I know. The MSM certainly disagrees with me. Or were they just mouthing the party-line talking points? I'd love to hear from independents about what they thought. Or just indicate your quick thought here:

No comments: