President Bush: No one could have blamed him had he wanted to come to Minnesota and receive the warm send-off to which he's entitled. But he obviously knows his approval ratings are low and that he could best help John McCain win -- and thereby secure the country's safety for the next eight years -- by staying away. A gracious and humble decision, a low key speech avoiding the self-congratulatory, chest-thumping tone of his most recent predecessor. All I could think of was the contrast with Bill Clinton's "all about me" valedictory in 2000.
Fred Thompson: His retelling of John McCain's bio was well done on the whole. The only false note was all the discussion about John McCain being a hellraiser and dating a dancer in his youth. I understand the impulse to try to play up the image of McCain as wild and virile guy. But does anyone think that all that macho-man-yuk-yuk-chortle-chortle is going to resonate even with Republican women, much less the independent women McCain is trying so hard to attract? And it strikes me that the convention may have lost a good number of viewers during the long biography speech, given that a lot of Americans already feel like they "know" McCain. I wonder how many of those who tuned out could have stood to hear from Joe Lieberman, who was clearly the big event of the night?
Joe Lieberman: Well, his speech was pretty much his wave b-bye to his committee chairmanship (no doubt he figures that being a cabinet member is more fun anyway). It's going to be chilly for him at the Democratic caucus lunches . . . assuming he even gets to return. His dismantling of Barack Obama's rationales for running -- "change" and "bispartisanship" -- was complete. His characterization of Barack as a "gifted and eloquent young man" -- zing. And the direct appeal to Democrats and independents was very effective.
Altogether, it's clear that the McCain campaign understands that the GOP is a tarnished brand this year. Just as Barack took care to offer a speech that was less about him and more about generic Democrat promises (given that generic Democrats are running ahead of generic Republicans by a greater margin than his over McCain's), McCain did the opposite for the same reason. You'd barely know you were watching the Republican convention; the effort to repackage it as the John McCain convention is obvious. Let's hope it works.