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About Last Night

11:42 AM, Sep 5, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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1) The Speech - In case we needed a reminder that the great orator in the race represents the other party, Senator McCain's acceptance speech provided it. Soaring rhetoric and a mastery of the teleprompter aren't this candidate's strong suit. The general mediocrity of the speech and the mediocrity-minus of the delivery were a tad disappointing, but we knew coming into the week that we hadn't nominated a latter day William Jennings Bryan. Regardless, the speech got the job done as it represented the same verities that the candidate himself has come to represent - reliability, solidness and experience.

McCain's awkwardness in a strange way reaffirms the notion that he's a man of substance rather than flash. Listening to the end of the speech where he focused on his biography, the objective facts of his life confirmed that this guy can handle the job. And that part of the speech, because of its unadorned honesty, was quite moving. The other guy in the race is the sizzle, McCain is the steak.

As for the substance of the speech, it was a bit too heavy on compassionate conservativism and Shrumian populism for my tastes. But then again, that's why the Republican party has as its nominee the one guy who actually has a chance of winning this race. In many ways, McCain is the anti-Republican, which given the fact that we have an incumbent president with 30% approval ratings is not only a good thing but a necessity. McCain's moderate brand of politics is one of the principal reasons why he has an excellent shot in November. A more doctrinaire conservative could have given an acceptance speech that would have thrilled ideologues like me. He then would have gone on to receive 42% of the vote in November.

2) The Presentation - Last week in the wake of the Democrats' impressive closing night spectacular, I recalled the 1980's, and how Michael Deaver's mastery of political theatre caused liberals everywhere to gnash their teeth. I observed that the Obama campaign's ability to create stirring visual images made it our turn to gnash our teeth.

That was before I knew what an incompetent job the RNC team would do on presentation. The backdrops behind the speakers alternated between being distracting, irrelevant and hideous. During McCain's acceptance speech, the RNC committee achieved the rare trifecta, resurrecting the lime jello backdrop in order to display a schoolhouse in California. The videos were consistently awful. The one on McCain actually made one of the most interesting lives of recent years seem boring. And why precisely did we need such lengthy video on Cindy McCain?

And then there was the bizarre selection of speakers that preceded McCain's acceptance speech. I know Tom Ridge and Lindsey Graham are dear friends of the nominee and ardent supporters, but neither one speaks particularly well. Perhaps the RNC had the perverse goal of putting on as dreary a show as possible to serve as a counterpoint to the DNC's Invesco spectacular. If that was the case, mission accomplished.

Still, even with all these shortcomings, the past week was a tremendous success for the McCain campaign. But it must be noted that the convention succeeded in spite of the maladroit ministration of the showbiz wizards who put on a simply execrable show.

3) The Protestors - At this point, it's almost trite to observe how liberals get to deliver their speeches without being interrupted by the occasional shrieking moron. But who cares? I just pointed it out anyway. McCain could have handled the protestors with a touch more wit, but he did well. Regardless of how McCain handled it, every time these loons get some camera time it hurts the left.

4) Meanwhile on the O'Reilly Factor - Barack Obama made another goof while chatting it up with the Big Guy. "I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated," opined the One. "I've already said it's succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." This is of course a characteristically solipsistic read of things. The surge did succeed beyond Obama's wildest dreams, but not everyone's. The guy who he'll be debating three times this fall did in fact expect such successes.

Obviously, McCain can't run on the Surge. The Iraq War simply isn't where the electorate is at. But Obama has based much of his campaign on his magnificent judgment, and here's a big one that he blew. And he just sort of admitted it. Since the issues of judgment and experience will come up at the debates, this is one comment that Obama will have thrown back in his face at an inopportune time.