A SWING AND A MISS…. Baseball metaphors seem to be the preferred standard for political success lately (“homerun,” “grand slam,” “hit a triple”), but after watching John McCain’s acceptance speech, I’m inclined to think he fouled one off. The pressure was on, but he just couldn’t connect the way he’d hoped.
Hilzoy already offered up some terrific overnight analysis, but I’d just add that by any reasonable measure, McCain’s speech was a bit of a dud. It wasn’t necessarily a humiliating failure — he didn’t commit any obvious gaffes or embarrass himself — but McCain had a handful of key tasks he needed to do last night, and didn’t complete any of them.
With Democrats hammering McCain as “more of the same,” and running ads showing him voting with Bush/Cheney at least 90% of the time, I expected McCain to go to great lengths to explain how he’d be different from Bush. He didn’t; indeed, he barely tried. McCain vowed to bring “change,” but a) he left us with no idea what kind of change; and b) his message was fundamentally the same as Bush’s, who promised the same thing.
McCain also had to say something compelling about the economy, which the entire Republican convention took pains to ignore. At one point, McCain said, “I know some of you have been left behind in the changing economy and it often seems your government hasn’t even noticed.” So, terrific, McCain is going to “notice” the sorry state of the economy. But what will he do to address the situation? Apparently, he’ll keep doing what Bush has been doing, and wait for it to start working.
And that, ultimately, is why the speech didn’t work. McCain simply didn’t have a vision or a policy agenda for the future. He has his character, and his biography, and he hopes that’s enough. The message of the night, and practically the entire convention, seemed to be: “Vote for John McCain, not because he’s right, but because he’s John McCain.”
As for the style of the speech, one has to wonder what the campaign was thinking. McCain still struggles with a teleprompter and he spoke (again) in front of a green screen. The speech wasn’t well written — the “too many cooks” phenomenon seemed obvious — and wasn’t well delivered. Gauging the reaction of the crowd, one almost expected someone to stand up and say, “Can we get Sarah Palin to come back out?”
Once the speech was over, it occurred to me that I still don’t know what McCain wants to do as president, or even why he’s running for president. Apparently, it has something to do with McCain’s sense that he’s earned it, he’s entitled to it, and it’s his turn, gosh darn it.
As it happens, Bob Dole made the exact same pitch. It didn’t work then, either.