McCain’s speech can validly be criticized on various grounds, most of which John covered in his post below. It was flat at times. McCain seemed almost to be going through the motions when he talked specifics (sort of) on domestic policy. His recitation of specific hardship cases in various swing states struck me as lame, and he didn’t really clear make it clear what he was doing to “fight for” these individuals. (As an aside, one of the cases was the family of Matthew Stanley of New Hampshire. When I was with McCain, he left the reporters on the back of the bus to call that family). And, though McCain perked up when he got to foreign policy, even here he wasn’t as compelling as I expected. Thus, in many ways, Barack Obama probably gave a better speech, qua speech, last week.
But with all that said, I think McCain may well have connected better with the American people on an emotional level than Obama did. And nothing matters more than that.
For McCain seemed more real and more sincere than Obama, and he seemed to be speaking more from the heart. This was certainly true when he brought his speech to a rousing close with a humble recitation of his experiences in Vietnam (including the concession that “they broke me”), followed by his seamless transition to an impassioned appeal for service to country.
Prior to that point, as John observed, the speech seemed to lack structure. But as it unfolded, the speech did have a unity constructed around the themes of (a) fighting entrenched interests to achieve change and (b) rising above party bickering — themes which, themselves, were unified by the broader theme of putting country first. Both themes could have been better supported by specific examples from McCain’s career — a viewer unfamiliar with McCain and tuning in the convention for the first time might have deemed what he was saying just the usual talk of a politician. But McCain’s demeanor (the smile was really working well tonight), his tone, and his decision not to attack Obama, all reinforced his themes.
I’m pretty sure that McCain’s ceaseless travel throughout the United States has convinced him that these are the two winning themes this year. And he may very well be right.
So I think the speech worked.
UPDATE: My friend Peter Robinson captured much of what I’m trying to say in this passage from a column written several days before McCain’s speech: “Mr. Obama may be able to offer voters all the attractions of high rhetoric, but Mr. McCain can offer something else: an uncomplicated love of country.”
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