McCain Acceptance Speech: Shake-up Time
St. Paul, Minn. -- John McCain accepted the Republican presidential nomination last night and then rebuked his own party for failing its trust with voters, its reform ideals, its conservative compass and its once legendary spending discipline. The elephant in the arena no one talked about? President Bush. McCain never mentioned him by name. "Change is coming," the new nominee said.
The week certainly had bright and stirring moments like most big conventions, but McCain's presence as a different sort of Republican nominee -- one often at odds with the party leadership -- gave a different feel to the affair.
This was much more a McCain convention, entirely candidate-driven, than a Republican convention, and his message as its new leader was a sober and strict one -- that a change in course is in store.
It almost seemed at some points that McCain wanted to make his odds of being elected seem longer so he could prove his mettle even further. Several lines drew silence.
Of Republicans, he said, "We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us."
He said both parties are to blame for increased spending, wasteful pork projects and bigger government. "Trust was lost when several Republicans let temptation lead to corruption," he said.
He had to deliver the scolding. It was his way of making a clean break with the Bush administration, essentially divorcing himself and his own presidential quest from the party's setbacks, losses and sliding popularity in the last several years. It was also a direct message to independents and moderates that he would steer a different course as president, pledging to include Democrats and independents in his administration and to adopt the best ideas of both parties with credit for all.
"I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself," McCain said. "I work for you....I fight for Americans."
He ran through a checklist of initiatives, including expanding nuclear energy and oil drilling, promoting hybrid cars and renewable energy, plus school choice and free trade. It was the duller part of his address, but it served to blunt criticism that he was short on big ideas, even if he was short on specifics about them.
McCain also told of his prisoner-of-war years in Vietnam, the most touching point of the speech, and a reminder of his determination to see tough times through. While he said being a POW ultimately broke his spirit and body, he found his own renewal with the help of others, adding that when he returned to the U.S. a wounded veteran, he realized, "I was no longer my own man. I was my country's."
Direct comparison's to Barack Obama were few but included warnings that Obama would raise taxes, increase spending and hurt small businesses. They were standard Republican lines.
Other comparisons to Obama were more subtle, such as McCain's assertion that he is better equipped to deal with national crises and rising threats. "I know how the world works, I know the good and evil in it," McCain said. "...and I know how to secure the peace."
And as for experience, both in life and public service, McCain said, "I have the record and scars to prove it. Sen. Obama does not."
A truly rousing speech? No. There was also no humor. The largest applause was when he recognized and praised vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska and the clear crowd pleaser.
It may not have been McCain's aim, though, to pump up the crowd time and again. It's never been his natural style or talent to deliver barnburners. He doesn't relish the often soaring oratory of his Democratic opponent. McCain much prefers what he has long called his own "straight talk", and he's banking that more voters, especially beyond the Republican base, will too.