As I walked out after viewing John McCain's nomination acceptance speech into the balmy Northwestern evening, with the sun still illuminating the apricot clouds on the horizon, I looked up at the row of houses just across the street, and saw, through each of their front windows, eerily identical TVs showing the same giddy delegates and reporters and pundits at the Republican National Convention.
John McCain's speech was moving, smart and well-delivered for his television audience on streets just like this one across America.
The nominee punctuated his words with many wide smiles, grinning during a pause for disruptive protesters: "My dear friends, please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static." (Only because I was with a veteran and an airline captain did I learn "ground noise and static" was a fighter pilot term.) His speech danced with highs and lows, allegro and andante, until a crescendo in which he urged listeners, "Fight with me...Fight with me...! Stand up...Stand up for each other, for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America! Stand up! Stand up and fight!..." By then the crowd was wild, jumping and waving placards and screaming, and my little group was whooping and pounding the table and applauding, all with approving laughter mixed with tears.
You felt after hearing his description of his Vietnam captivity that this was a real hero, one who admitted his early immaturity and through adversity became humble and devoted and strong, and committed to one over-riding loyalty, the freedom and goodness of the United States of America. The take-away message was that he did not and will not waver on that fundamental commitment, and by extension, in delivering on his promises. Very few political speeches convey this convincingly. Certainly Barack Obama's acceptance speech did not.
Sen. McCain made some promises with which I disagree. He said, "For workers in industries that have been hard hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower-paid one while they receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage." I blanched when I heard him offer this new type of handout, which will, of course require another federal bureaucracy to verify individuals' old salaries, enrollment in retraining, employment at "temporary, lower paid" jobs--as well as tax dollars to fund all of it. Distributing unemployment benefits is traditionally a state function, not a federal one. Administering this differential pay plan would be even more complicated, and tough to run from afar.
My other objection is to McCain's federally meddling with education down to "shaking up failed school bureaucracies" and "attracting and rewarding good teachers." School districts need to be local, responsive to their particular neighborhoods; what business does the United States government have deciding if a teacher in Kansas is as "good" as one in Maine? George Bush was wrong to insert the feds into classrooms with "No Child Left Behind," which simply imposed more paperwork and test-based curricula on teachers already struggling to tailor lessons to their students.
I understand that McCain had to address education, given the sweeping promises made by Obama--but I'd thought a Republican principle was to minimize government's reach into families' lives, not increase it.
But these are just two objections, small compared with at least fifty-two points I applaud: Thanking President Bush for keeping our nation safe. Acknowledging Obama's "achievement" without specifically mentioning race. Using Obama's "change" theme to highlight his own differences from the status quo, without dissing his opponent. Emphasizing his allegiance to citizens--"I work for you," a slogan suggesting his humility, in contrast to "The One" the Dems revere. Brilliantly reminding that he is a maverick, a reformer, one who stands on principles, and a military veteran--all with the single word, "fight." He's a fighter; he invites everyone to stand up and fight with him. He fought the bad guys, in Vietnam and in Washington: "I fight for Americans. I fight for you."
And finally, I liked John McCain's speech because he was not afraid to mention God and faith. I just re-read Obama's acceptance, and aside from the expected "God bless you and God bless America" closing, there was no reference to a power higher than himself. By contrast, in praising Obama, McCain chooses to quote the Gettysburg Address and Declaration of Independence, saying, "We're dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights." And later: "I don't mind a good fight. For reasons known only to God, I've had quite a few tough ones in my life." Several paragraphs further on, he describes opportunity for all to fulfill their "God-given potential," calling Americans "all God's children." He described the aggression of Russia, noting, "The brave people of Georgia need our solidarity and our prayers."
There's more: When Sen. McCain spoke of his dedication to this country, he added, "and I've never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I didn't thank God for the privilege." He referred to being blessed, repeatedly; he urged service through entering the ministry. He pledged loyalty to our nation "as long as I draw breath, so help me God." And he vowed to work so that every American "has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him..." for opportunities that, with "hard work, strong faith, and a little courage" this nation affords.
Between McCain's solid experience and Palin's novelty and appeal, this is one energized, enthusiastic party. I'm eager to see the poll numbers; I think (and pray!) this campaign could be much easier to call than we might have expected. I guess we'll have to stay planted in front of our flat-screens to watch it play out.