John McCain will never be a great orator. He’s no Obama, neither is he a Sarah Palin. But last night’s speech wasn’t about lofty rhetoric: it was about John McCain being John McCain. There was no attempt to gild the lily: instead McCain had the wisdom to realize that the only way he can win is to change the nature of this race.
Between Sen. McCain’s speech and Gov. Palin’s tour de force, this election is no longer what it was before the convention began.
Before, the election was a referendum on Obama. McCain seemed to be fighting a battle to introduce enough doubts in voter’s minds about Obama to win. This was unlikely to work, and probably would have resulted in a narrow Obama win.
Today, this election is about something different: it is about a clash of visions. John McCain has taken up the mantle of a kind of political populism. He is running against Washington D.C. and the political establishment. That is a battle he can win.
He did the right thing. The approval rating of Congress is abysmal. People are disenchanted with the politics as usual. Obama was gaining traction because he was a political outsider with a great gift for oratory and a masterful command of rhetoric. He offered a nondescript vision of “change” and “hope” that was politically compelling, especially to the disenchanted left.
McCain had to offer something different. In the end, what he’s offering is more in line with the American spirit than what Obama is. Obama wants to give you vague hope and change; McCain wants to go to Washington and throw the bums out. This is a “throw the bums out” election.
This election can be 1992 or 1994, depending on what party can best bring a vision of where the country should go in the future.
Obama wants to argue that McCain is Bush 2.0. If that’s the best they can do, then they will lose. That argument won’t fly after this convention, where we saw two styles that were vastly different than that of Bush and Cheney. McCain’s story is so different that Bush’s that it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, for the Obama team to try to paint them as mirror images. It is not a message that will resonate with voters, and it just sounds desperate. It’s the same strategy that the Republicans tried in 2006 when they tried to tag every Democrat with the “dangerous liberal” tag. It didn’t work, because the Republicans never presented a real agenda.
The Republican National Convention was a success. McCain leaves this great state with a political powerhouse as a running mate, an energized base, and a new message. That’s what he needed to do.
This convention lacked the flash and polish of the Democratic Convention in Denver, but it is memorable not for its showmanship, but for producing a new political star. People will remember this convention, and this could very well be the week that leads McCain to another come-from-behind victory in November.