Friday, 5 September 2008

A powerful riposte from John McCain

For the first third of the speech, it seemed like McCain was allowing his opportunity to drift. It was just generic Republican ideology in non too poetic language. He declared at one point, "We need to get this country moving again." George W Bush was there in title but not in name and it was as if John McCain wasn't and never had been a Republican.

Then he started to get onto the issues. On education, energy, foreign policy, work and welfare he put something concrete out there. Now he was starting to get into the swing of things as the issues were starting to bite somewhat even if they were off-the-shelf conservatism. He was now taking on Washington though and that worked if you can suspend disbelief for a moment. His party may have been in control for eight years but now he was taking back the corrupt and bloated Washington that has captured his party nonetheless.

And finally, having earned the right to move onto biographical territory, he told the story of his incarceration from his own perspective. It was touching and in many ways profound. With that, he moved onto a rousing conclusion.

To uproarious cheers, he implored America to 'fight with me, fight for what's right....stand up to defeat, stand up, stand up, stand up and fight...we are Americans, we never give up....we don't hide from history, we make history.....'

Obama's poll bounce is almost certain to deflate and there are some signs that it is doing so already. The media reaction to Sarah Palin's speech has been almost universally warm and excitable. It's slightly over the top given that it was actually a very thin speech and snide in parts. Her attack on Barack Obama's community organisation work is unforgivable. I've spoken with a lot of people who worked with Barack and knew him. His work in the 1980s still has a legacy today. His experiences will have shaped him and given him a deep understanding of the significant issues that America faces.

That aside, she is a new story and she can deliver a speech and that is enough for the media (which ironically is being criticised for being too hard on Sarah Palin!) It will not be enough as time goes on. I'm starting to feel a degree of empathy (as much as a British guy can do!) with your typical American mom who is expected to fall for Sarah Palin because she is a mom too. I can't imagine any more condescending notion.

Tonight's John McCain speech was infinitely better though. Formidable, patriotic, powerful, reformist, outreaching, there was no particular vision for the future but he asked for the people's forbearance based on his character and record. The question is whether the nation is willing to accept John McCain the anti-Republican. Barack Obama will need to fight for his life to ensure that, in his words, the Republicans 'own their own failure.'

Don't think that this is anything other than close. Has the game changed this week? Yes, to a degree the McCain campaign has repositioned its message to one focused on reform. Does he have the answers for a nation that is staggereing abroad and stumbling at home? Will the repositioning acquire credibility? The next few weeks will be the test of that.

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