Apparently realizing that he couldn’t live up to the rhetorical challenge laid down by either his running mate or his opponent, John McCain played to his strengths and turned his acceptance speech into a format as close to a town hall meeting as possible in a vast arena. John McCain has is awkward in giving a speech and uncomfortable with set pieces; he likes to talk one-on-one. In his convention speech, he faced a crowd worn out by the hassles of security checks and a non-stop round of networking, partying and high-intensity electioneering. In addition, there was the emotional let-down of the day after a rip-roaring night where Sarah Palin, the GOP vice presidential candidate, brought down the house. He faced an uphill battle to change the scene and re-energize the convention.
Plus, John McCain’s strong suit is his experience and experience doesn’t count anymore. Especially for Republicans, experience is suspect. In a climate of change and reform, in a climate of rhetorical flourishes and theatrical settings, in a climate of youthful vigor, optimism and idealism, what could a battered and scarred warrior who left his vigor on the battlefield and substituted his idealism for a bone-deep vision and mission do?
He could be himself; he could present the real John McCain with authenticity, sincerity and a powerful personal narrative. He could showcase the driving force that propels him forward and tell America about the point when his life’s “calling” became “Country First.” He could wrest away empty-suit “change” and provide programmatic substance to the theme. He could show his fighting spirit and make the case that reform means battle scars, not a glib tongue. He could prove that he is not out of touch, but very real and engaged with the issues. He could honestly admit that his party has lost the trust of the people because of corruption and earmarks. He could vow that, as a maverick, he is the one to take on the special interest groups because he knows the playing field, the players and which game plans work.
He did all that and he reveled in the success of his choice for sparing partner –– emphasizing the way he and Alaskan governor Sarah Palin reinforce each other’s natural gifts and the power of the record they share as mavericks not afraid to face down the political bullies.