Great hero, wrong timePosted: Friday, September 5, 2008
It was not a great and rousing speech — yes, his personal story is rich and worthy, and at another time, perhaps in place of either Bush, Sen. John McCain could have been (past tense) a fine president (or at least better than either Bush). But like his Silent Generation cohorts, he still seems more of a behind-the-scenes worker. Just like those of a prior generation (but of the same generational type, as Strauss & Howe defined it) — Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun — he is a Great Compromiser (not, of course, a compromiser of his own ideals but rather a person who can get two sides to talk). And though his backstory inspires, he himself lacks that inspirational touch of a leader.
You can see it in his speaking.
What could have been the most powerful part of his speech, where he at last made the very frequent drawing on his own POW history relevant (it’s been powerful, yes, but relevant?), where he said he hoped no family should go through what his has in War, he topped the ball rather than drive it solidly.
I still don’t know if it was a problem of delivery — he was getting there, his voice rising in power. But he didn’t finish the note with a flourish, with inspiration in his voice. I originally thought this was a failing of the speechwriting, rather than the delivery.
I’m running for President to keep the country I love safe, and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has. I will draw on all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military and the power of our ideals — to build the foundations for a stable and enduring peace.
See? Re-reading it, it reads so much better than when he spoke it. This is where a great speaker can inspire the masses, something as true and as old as the ancient Greek democrats themselves, something the GOP has been deriding lately, but also overlooking (oddly, they the Party of the Great Communicator).
What did turn out to be the most powerful part of his speech, the “a cause greater than yourself” line, resonated with me. It echoed in some ways the JFK and Obama calls to service.
If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.
Some of these, ironically, harken to Obama’s derided days as a Community Organizer (“Defend the rights of the oppressed”) and one of them recalls a famous calling of the newspaper business: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” (Of course, I once drank the Kool-Aid and felt that way about journalism (and still do in many ways). My skills were in writing, in curiosity, in seeking truth and telling people about it. I felt like I could use my skills to make the country a better place in many ways, I really did (sniff). But his Party hates the media, so what I have to offer the country is useless, according to them. Cheers. And I digress.) That’s McCain, though: unpredictable as ever.
Still, there were not enough specifics for my taste in tonight’s speech (with the notable exception of the “doubling the child tax exemption from $3,500 to $7,000” and a few others), and too much of the GOP’s old party lines.
Otherwise, I cannot dislike McCain. He is honorable. He has served and suffered. Yes, he is a hero. If it had to be a Republican the last eight years, why couldn’t it have been him? In many ways I like him better than the bitter Pelosi and Reid in Congress. Not so much the very ambitious-sounding Palin (the third song played playing after McCain concluded his speech was Heart’s “Barracuda,” and McCain better what his back from someone who, gifted speaker as she is, clearly seems to like the spotlight — fine for the person at the top of the ticket, maybe not so much for the Veep, eh?).
(Minor point: I can’t make that much of this, since I thought it was bullshit when it was called on Obama, but where was McCain’s flag pin on his lapel? Granted, you can in no way question McCain’s patriotism, but this only serves to point out the ridiculousness of questioning Obama’s.)
(On the other hand, McCain needs to watch out for the ambitious Veep selection he’s selected — talk about a pragmatic Gen X’er, grabbing the brass ring and not letting go!)
All that said, and like I said with Hillary, Obama is simply a better choice this time around. That’s no dis on McCain (or Hillary, for that matter). Don’t blame him. It’s just his generation.