Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain trots out laundry list; America prepares to get taken to the cleaners

I thought it was the worst speech by a nominee that I've heard since Jimmy Carter in 1980. I thought it was disorganized, I thought it was it was theme-less, I thought it was very, very boring. . . I personally cannot remember a single policy proposal that he made because they had nothing connecting them. I found it shockingly bad.

That was Jeffrey Toobin, speaking on CNN, just after John Bush, er, um, John McCain delivered his tedious, uninspired, disjointed, hackneyed laundry list of standard Bush-era Republican talking points in place of the bold acceptance speech we were all told to expect by Team McCain’s spin doctors. Normally, I take vocal aim at the establishment punditocracy—of which Toobin is most definitely a part—but such a sizeable number of them, from across what passes for a spectrum in this arena, saw what I saw, I am reduced to quoting liberally.

Take Michael Gerson, one-time George W. Bush speechwriter, who spoke from the floor of the Xcel Center soon after McCain’s confetti canons were set to “stun”:

The policy was the problem, the policy in the speech was rather typical for a Republican, pretty disappointing. It didn't do a lot of outreach to moderates and independents on the issues that they care about. It talked about issues like drilling and school choice, which was really speaking to the converted. I think that was a missed opportunity. Many Americans needed to hear from this speech something they've never heard from Republicans before, and in reality a lot of the policy they've heard from Republicans before.

Or, how about one-time Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton advisor David Gergen:

I did not think that the substantive part of the speech worked very well. It was mostly a rerun, retread of a lot of old Republican ideas that have brought us to where we are now. I think the country is looking for fresh answers. It's hard to separate yourself out from President Bush when you essentially have the same economic policies as President Bush. I thought that the policy presentation was a little thin.

Stunning, but maybe you are thinking, Wait, if the right is so upset with the speech, maybe there was something good here. Cue left-of-center soon-to-be-host of her own MSNBC show Rachel Maddow:

Honestly it was sort of like a long term paper about Bush Republican economics. . . But people aren't mad at Barack Obama about the economy, people are mad at George Bush about the economy, and [John McCain] just proposed a lot of Bush's economic ideas.

And, Maddow’s more “centrist” colleague, David Gregory:

I am however surprised. . . that there is not more of a blueprint of an appeal to independent and swing voters on policy issues that they will work off of. . . When [McCain] talks about education, he talks about it being a civil right for the new century; that is a George W. Bush line from the year 2000 when he called education the new civil right. It's a carbon copy.

In fact, the more inaccurate (and absurd) evaluations of Senator McCain’s ramble came from print reporters that seemed to be nowhere in range of Johnny Mac’s awkwardly mis-modulated voice, and from some of the TV correspondents unfortunate enough to have been on the floor of the convention as the mother of all balloon drops buffeted them about the head.

Take, for example, Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper of the New York Times. Their story, comically titled “To G.O.P., McCain Issues Call for Change,” was actually published over half an hour before McCain had finished his speech.

Standing in the center of an arena here, surrounded by thousands of cheering Republican delegates, Mr. McCain firmly signaled that he intended to seize the mantle of change Mr. Obama claimed in his own unlikely bid for his party’s nomination.

. . . .

With his speech, Mr. McCain laid out the broad outlines of his general election campaign. He sought to move from a convention marked by an intense effort to reassure the party base to an appeal to a broader general election electorate that polling suggests has turned sharply on Republicans and President Bush.

To that end, Mr. McCain returned to what has been his signature theme as a presidential candidate, including in his unsuccessful 2000 campaign: that he is a politician prepared to defy his own party.

Now, I understand that candidates release texts of their speeches to journalists in advance of delivery—it’s a useful courtesy—but wouldn’t it have been courteous to their readers if AdNags and Cooper had waited to actually hear McCain deliver that text, hear what he emphasized and what he glossed over, hear what got rabid applause and what provoked deathly silence?

And maybe it would have been worth a minute or two of their time to listen closely for something other than McCain’s self-assessment of his “mavrick” status. Were there any actual proposals in the speech? Anything a President McCain might do to change course after eight years of Bush-Cheney misrule? The Times twosome might have read that McCain would state, “Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as president,” but did they look or listen for any specific fixes, any specific plans?

If they had, they would have discovered that there were none.


Beyond his calling for pretty much a total elimination of foreign aid (stupid, counterproductive, and a fiscal drop in the bucket), McCain did not say anything that could be confused with a proposal or even a roadmap for a different course.

Instead, all that the America actually listening got was a recitation from the standard-issue Republican hymnal: lower taxes, smaller government, school vouchers, a judiciary free of “activist” judges. . . and McSame read it with all the zest and zeal one would reserve for a “honey-do” list.

The tedium was contagious, and so, when the television reporters stationed on the convention floor were forced to give their instant “analysis” (read: summary) of the speech, they could only seem to remember the last ten minutes.

Those final passages, to no one’s amazement, were about John McCain’s time in a North Vietnamese prison, about how he was severely injured, brutally tortured, and coerced into betraying his country (no, he didn’t quite put it that way—McCain said that he eventually “broke” under torture). Like practically every other speaker at the RNC, McCain lingered on the gory details of his time as a POW. The fetishization of the torture and violence was squirm-in-your-seat uncomfortable.

But that is not really a surprise. For several months now, many have joked that McCain’s speeches and interviews had become “a noun, a verb, and POW.” The surprise here was that floor reporters (Kelley O’Donnell and Andrea Mitchell come to mind) decided that this was the first time that John McCain had “opened up” about his POW experience.

What??? I really have no way to even analyze that. Were they paying no attention? Was it just the pressures of the TV format, requiring that they make some broad declaration to justify their airtime? Did they just turn to the only memorable narrative from the entire 45-minute speech? (Was it head trauma caused by the balloons?)

And it is the only narrative—memorable or otherwise—that McCain has to tell. “Maverick” has been reduced to a buzzword, a stand-in for an idea that has no substantive underpinning. Senator McCain has spent the last six years cozying up to the Bush agenda (need I remind anyone that he has voted with Bush 95% of the time?), and he has spent this lengthy campaign season pandering to the rightwing Republican base deemed essential for Johnny Mac to realize his burning ambition. He is no more the maverick than any of the other Bush-Cheney apologists that took to the Xcel stage. . . even if most of them scrupulously avoided any mention of their party’s leaders, Republican President George W. Bush and Republican Vice President Dick Cheney.

But, if it is the case that most people tuned out (or never tuned in), and they get their talking points from the New York Times (or from an AP wire story that is even more absurdly off base), and they somehow find themselves voting for this non-non-partisan, hobbyhorse maverick, then they will get exactly what John McCain promised in Thursday’s acceptance speech: Nothing.

Nothing but more of the same, anyway.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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