I wouldn't hold my breath.
McCain's acceptance speech last night requires that you ignore a lot of things. In running against the Washington establishment, you're supposed to forget that McCain has been part of that establishment for the past quarter century. In his call for an end to partisanship, you're supposed to forget the previous night of unrelenting attack speeches. In his call for peace, you're supposed to forget that he's never voted against military action in his life. We're supposed to believe he's a "maverick," despite this:
We believe in low taxes; spending discipline, and open markets. We believe in rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor.
We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench. We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities.
We believe in a government that unleashes the creativity and initiative of Americans. Government that doesn't make your choices for you, but works to make sure you have more choices to make for yourself.
I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them. I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them. I will cut government spending. He will increase it.
Any Republican could've listed those beliefs. It's hard to be a maverick when your beliefs line up with every other Republican in America. So he has to keep saying it. He used the word "maverick" eleven times last night. And, just as on the previous night, there was no such place as Afghanistan. Elvis was mentioned, a tyrannosaurus was mentioned, but no Afghanistan. Will someone please inform the Republicans that we're fighting a goddam war there? They really don't seem to know. It hasn't been mentioned once during the entire convention, as far as I know. It sure hasn't during prime time.
There was a war present last night -- the Vietnam war. The abbreviation "POW" came up fourteen times. Did you know that John McCain's a POW? He never seems to talk about it, except on those rare occasions that the Earth is orbiting the sun. Running a word count on the speech, I find it's 3,971 words long. 634 of those are about how McCain was a POW. That's about 16% or more than one sixth. By contrast, less than half of that page space was devoted to the economy -- 303 words.
Newsflash for Baghdad Johnny; the Vietnam war isn't much of an issue these days. You might want to update your talking points.
The speech itself wasn't much to write home about. In fact, it was a snooze fest. Writes Ezra Klein:
Of the four major speeches delivered across the two major conventions, I have the least to say about John McCain's speech, though perhaps that's because it was the speech in which the least was said. In a sense, the digitized backdrop behind McCain was a perfect symbol for the address: It began with a generic American house, moving quickly to a generic American flag, ending with recorded fireworks. Clip art for the nationalistic set, but moving if you've rarely seen such images before. And so too with his speech.
Klein's assessment isn't unique. Congressional Quarterly's Taegan Goddard calls it "flat," with a "lack of specifics of what he wants to do as president." In Goddard's assessment, as in mine, the "maverick" label fails. "A McCain presidency seems to be mostly about his character and a few tired Republican ideas, such as school choice, cutting foreign aid and the new favorite, 'drill, baby, drill.'"
But no matter the content, McCain had serious delivery problems with this speech. Starting with the awful lime green background (that later turned to blue) and continuing through McCain's difficulties reading from the teleprompter, the speech was very disjointed and hard to follow. To top it off, the crowd reaction at the end of the speech seemed forced and staged, almost like delegates were reacting to flashing "applause" signs at the side of the stage.
Overall, it was a very mediocre performance. I'm not sure it got the job done.
Liveblogging the speech, The Field's Al Giordano, who -- it must be said -- is openly rooting for Obama, wrote:
This is so happily terrible. "My friends, we'll drill them now, we'll drill them now!" Should be an interesting night in St. Paul as they haul in the big oil equipment and open up a hole in the city. Worst. Acceptance. Speech. Evah!
When Obama backers are positively gleeful about a McCain speech, there's a bit of a problem. Another problem is a counter-programming one -- McCain's speech competed with the opening game of the NFL. We'll see how that played out. Even the base wasn't impressed overall:
Some of McCain's toughest critics in punditry came from what you'd expect to be friendly territory. "John McCain has proved that he's not going to win this election with oratory," said Alex Costellanos, a Republican consultant working for CNN.
Fox analyst Karl Rove called his speech "workmanlike" and "not all that great."
"It was a strange speech, a strange week, a strange convention," analyst Charles Krauthammer said on Fox, "and yet I think it was effective."
I'd like to point out that Krauthammer, like fellow neocon/pundit William Kristol, has a pretty consistent record of being wrong. As I wrote yesterday, I think the McCain campaign is closing ranks and beginning to run a base-centric get out the vote campaign. That's what Sarah Palin is all about. We're going to see attack, attack, attack. It was the previous night that represents the McCain campaign from here on, not McCain's near-apology for it that we heard last night.
Last night was McCain's last try at independents and swing voters and I don't believe he delivered. He'll get a bump, but as I said before, that'll be people converted from not voting at all to voting McCain. It'll be a Palin bump, delivering the religious right and right wing radicals who were ambivalent about the candidate, not new converts to the reborn conservative cause.
Don't get used to the nice Grampa McCain's "can't we all just get along?" tone from last night. That McCain will show up for the debates, but on the stump he'll be entirely absent. It'll be right back to the partisanship he found so distasteful last night, as he uses Sarah Palin to reignite the culture war and pound away at wedge issues. Bush III will run a typically Bushian campaign.
For all his talk about change last night, McCain doesn't have that arrow in his quiver. He'll go right back to everything he decried last night. It's really all he's got.