Paul Greenberg

It would have been impossible to match, let alone top, Sarah Palin's suspense-satisfying, chart-busting, positively Obaman performance in St. Paul, which I'd never before thought of as a particularly romantic locale. Then Mrs./Governor/Mooseslayer Palin turned it into a city of lights.

What a difference she's made. After two days of ice-stolid Republican stasis, the (counter-)revolution was on! Was there a single, solemn commentator who could avoid saying A Star Is Born after her virtuosa performance? Talk about a hard act to follow.

When it came time for his acceptance speech, John McCain and stodgy company had the sense to understand that Sarah Palin's was an impossible act to top. And the wisdom not to try.

There was just no way a rhetorically challenged 71-year-old war hero, even Mr. Maverick himself, was going to compete with the telegenic running mate he'd had the genius to pick from nowhere, or, more specifically, Wasilla, Alaska.

Here was the plan: No orator, John McCain was just going to talk from the midst of the convention crowd. For he's a talker, not a speaker. The idea was to invoke the kind of town-hall meeting at which he's excelled in this campaign. So a runway was built onto the convention floor that would allow The Candidate to talk to The People.

It beat just another canned speech. Better to do anything than something you know won't work. Good thinking, but as always the trick is in the execution, not the conception.

John McCain's speech turned out, with a refreshing exception or two, to be only a speech after all - and a John McCain speech at that. A stage setting can do only so much for a play. The rest is up to the actor, who has the playwright at his mercy. And nobody by now expects John McCain's words to come trippingly off the tongue. If Ronald Reagan could make the most obvious cliche sound fresh, John McCain can take his speechwriters' words and make them sound like only his speechwriters' words.

Good idea, that runway. The only problem was that, once he got to the end of it, The Man of the Hour, or about 48 minutes of it anyway, had to deliver a speech. Or so his handlers must have assumed. What a pity his handlers didn't turn the last night of the convention into a real town-hall meeting, instead of a staged facsimile of one. The country's attention might have been held that way.

Unfortunately, the nominee stuck to the script and just gave a speech.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.