No grandiose staging for John McCain’s speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president. At his request, convention organizers had reconfigured the stage to build a sort-of fashion model’s catwalk that jutted into the audience so McCain could be amongst them when he addressed them – a more intimate “town hall” type conversation rather than an oratory from Mount Olympus.

He was relaxed – so much so that he remained completely unperturbed when a Code Pink protestor diverted his and the crowd’s attention – and gave a speech that promised bipartisanship and a return to the bedrock values of the Republican party, contrasted his policies with rival Barack Obama’s and told the country in very personal terms why he is running for president.

McCain’s delivery was much more expressive and fluid (video) as is typical for him – his speeches always read better than they sound – and he was able to move the crowd both to tears and to their feet.    

He made it a point to express his gratitude to “wife, Cindy, and my seven children” – that’s two more than his running mate Sarah Palin has! – and obliquely referred to how the media savaged her over the past several days and how it contrasted with what average Americans thought by thanking “everyone here and all over America for the tremendous, wonderful, warm reception you gave her last night” and saying that she “deserves” the admiration and respect she was shown by the delegates. And her résumé provided the perfect segue for the part of his speech where he made the case that as a team, he and Palin can deliver on the promise of change that Obama can only talk about:  

I’m very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country, but I can’t wait until I introduce her to Washington.

And let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big- spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second crowd: Change is coming.

I’m not in the habit of breaking my promises to my country, and neither is Governor Palin. And when we tell you we’re going to change Washington and stop leaving our country’s problems for some unluckier generation to fix, you can count on it.

We’ve got a record of doing just that, and the strength, experience, judgment, and backbone to keep our word to you.

You well know I’ve been called a maverick, someone who… marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment; sometimes it’s not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.

And with Palin having locked up the base, McCain was able to reach out to independents, moderates and Repubs who are disgusted with the way their party has conducted itself in Washington. He also connected the dots between how his policies differ from Obama’s and how those policies will help the GOP find its way back to respectability:

I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us.

We lost … the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties – and Senator Obama – passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. We lost their trust when we valued our power over our principles. We’re going to change that.

We’re going to recover the people’s trust by standing up again to the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics. …

I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them. I will open…

I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them.

I will cut government spending. He will increase it.

My tax cuts will create jobs; his tax increases will eliminate them.

My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance. His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government-run health care system where a bureaucrat … stands between you and your doctor.

McCain also offered two new assistance programs to undercut Dem claims that he “doesn’t get it” that people are struggling to pay their mortgages while the prices of food and fuel are skyrocketing and their jobs are being outsourced: doubling the child tax exemption to $7,000, as well as a financial bridge to encourage re-training that makes up the difference when a worker with seniority in one industry faces a significant salary cut when switching to a new job in a different industry.

McCain also told the delegates how much he “hates war” and why his judgment and experience will not only keep us safe from the “many dangerous threats in this dangerous world” that our country faces – “I’m not afraid of them. I’m prepared for them” – and that “I know how to secure the peace.”

He ended his speech by explaining why he is running for president. And he didn’t contrast his virtues against his opponent’s (“I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need.”) he did something much more interesting: He contrasted the man he used to be in his youth (“I liked to bend a few rules and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for my own pleasure, my own pride.”) with the man who stands before his fellow Americans today asking for their votes.

At this point in the election, The Stiletto has heard several retellings of McCain’s days as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton and thought that Fred Thompson had given an extremely moving and powerful rendition of the story (he is an actor, after all), but McCain brought tears to more than a few eyes when he told his story himself:     

I was in solitary confinement when my captors offered to release me. I knew why. If I went home, they would use it as propaganda to demoralize my fellow prisoners.

Our code said we could only go home in the order of our capture…

But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before, for a long time, and they broke me. When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn’t know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door to me, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me.

Through taps on a wall, he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for my country and for the men I had the honor to serve with, because every day they fought for me.

I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of its people.

I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again; I wasn’t my own man anymore; I was my country’s.

My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

And then he rallied the crowd with exhortations to make our country better by serving a cause “greater than yourself” – each delivered with an increasingly urgent cadence: 

Fight with me. Fight with me.

Fight for what’s right for our country. Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

Fight for our children’s future. Fight for justice and opportunity for all. Stand up to defend our country from its enemies. Stand up for each other, for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.

Stand up, stand up, stand up, and fight.

Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up.

We never quit.

We never hide from history. We make history.


Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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