Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics.com stole some of my thunder with his analysis of Day 1, and I agree with him on virtually all points, the difference being that my vantage point was from outside the bubble, as opposed to Tom, who is inside the bubble as I was back in Philadelphia for the RNC in 2000.
I only tuned in starting with Senator John McCain’s speech, having got home from work right around 7pm PST. I don’t disagree with Bevan’s assessment that “The content of the speech was good, but the delivery was average, at best,” and that many times the senator “came across awkward”. Really, I was quite disappointed with the delivery, as the speech itself was quite good, and the performance squelched any notion I had that McCain might be a formidable candidate in 2008 despite his age (he’ll be 72 then). Andrew Sullivan also noticed, and comments, “It was oddly flat, almost drained,” and that “McCain seemed tired”.
I differ from Sullivan, however, on the nature of McCain’s speech. Sullivan takes McCain’s modest diplomatic language that he peppered throughout the speech when referring to Democrats to be part of a speech that was “not a complete endorsement of everything Bush”, and even “an implicit rebuke to Bush’s hubris”. That’s what I expected to hear at some level, but it’s not something I think I actually heard. Instead, when McCain began referring to the Democrats’ good intentions and downplayed the vitriol between the two camps, what I saw was a subtle but clear foundation for the main thrust of his message: John Kerry and the Democrats’ approach to the war on terrorism is dead wrong, however sincere they may be in their own brand of patriotism. Don’t let the butter fool you–McCain was quite clear that he thought Bush was the right man for the job, and that Kerry’s approach to the war on terrorism (especially as it pertained to an understanding of Iraq) was fundamentally unsound. McCain, a true war hero about whom there are no doubts or controversies, made it clear that he salutes President Bush, which I thought was a subtle but cutting jab at Kerry’s salute in “reporting for duty” at the DNC. (Hat Tip: Ann Althouse)
I’ll end my thoughts on McCain’s speech by saying that if he was using his platform at the convention to angle for the 2008 nomination, I didn’t see it. Rather, it appeared to me that he was being a loyal soldier. While his rhetoric wasn’t soaringly delivered, it was nevertheless responsible and deferential to the audience, showing that he’s been mislabeled as a maverick when in fact he’s simply a statesman.
The interlude between McCain and Rudy Giuliani was filled with short speeches from three widows of 9/11. I don’t know how anybody could help but be very moved by what they had to say. What also struck me was the utter partisanless nature of their remarks; their platform was designed to say “Thank you, America”, “Keep up the fight”, and most importantly, “Never forget”–not lend their support to Bush. We can debate about whether a political convention is the right place to do this, but it was done tactfully, and the message was appropriate to the city and venue, as well as to the audience and occasion. Democrats were keen on making much of the RNC’s reliance on 9/11, but the retort seems pretty obvious: One party wants to use its convention to bask in the glow of its nominee’s performance in a war that took place over thirty years ago; the other is using its convention to salute its leader for the tremendous job he’s done leading us in the war we are in right now, and which began on 9/11 with the attacks in New York. Now you tell me which seems inappropriate.
And so we arrive at Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani was simply brilliant. He was controversial (the Arafat and Munich references made me cringe and cheer at the same time). He was long-winded. But most importantly, he was colloquial and he connected with the audience. Rudy draws you in, as if you’re talking to him on a first-name basis. Granted, I could not get over his slight lisp, but the man exudes toughness and resiliency–everything you’d want in a New Yawk mayor (and perhaps a president). Once he’s won you over with the ethos, he’s politically lethal (see: Bill Clinton). His attacks on Kerry and the Democrats were surpassed in effectiveness only by his reminders of what it means to be a leader, and how much President Bush has personified that in the past four years.
I won’t repeat any of Giuliani’s remarks, but I don’t think another speaker will follow in the next three days that will be as effective as the former mayor, until the president himself speaks (and yes, the bar has now been set pretty high–quite unlike his last nomination acceptance speech in 2000). Ahnold will be fun and engaging, Laura Bush will be compelling, and Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic Senator Zell Miller will command respect, but we will remember Rudy (for those of us who saw him). My money is now on Giuliani vs. HRC in 2008.
The best comment I heard the whole night came from Ron Silver (never heard of him until now, sorry) in a pre-McCain interview with Brit Hume on Fox News. I did not catch his speech (nor that of former Democratic Mayor of New York Ed Koch), but in talking to Hume, he said something to the following effect:
“Brit–I am liberal and disagree with this administration on many issues. But President Bush is the right man for the job, and we need him another four years. Make no mistake, I will be on the opposite side of the aisle after November, but I’m voting for President Bush.”
Overall, the one thing that stuck with me about Day 1 more than anything else was the 9/11 imagery. The Republicans were not afraid to exploit the memory of that day, and indeed, it’s high time this campaign focused more on 9/11 and what it meant. I don’t think Kerry gets it, I don’t think the Democrats get it, and I’m glad the Republicans aren’t avoiding the topic just because the liberal media and Democrats want to cry “unfair”. We need to be frank: We need to talk about Iraq, we need to talk about 9/11, we need to talk about the war on terrorism, and we need to be clear about what it all means. We need to take this seriously, and the Republicans would not be doing their jobs if they did not remind us of that tragic day, and use it to explain why President Bush is the right man for the job, and why John Kerry is not.