When watching McCain's speech last week, my strongest reaction was to the ending. It seemed to me that someone had hit an "applause" sign, the way the crowd got so loud for McCain, who was trying to be inspiring and forceful and just wasn't. There was a striking disconnect on the speech and the reaction. My suspicion was that the delegates were told to go crazy near the end, to try to trick the TV and web audiences into thinking they'd actually seen something exciting (much like late-night infomercials, actually). I've since heard something about fireworks on the screen behind McCain, but I don't know if those were near the end of speech or after it actually finished. Watching the end of the speech again, I had the same impression – ginned up applause. McCain looked tired and confused throughout, and that "fight for me," bit just wasn't anywhere close to Henry V on St. Crispin's Day. (Nor was it Mel Gibson in Braveheart - McCain was even more soporific and less convincing than Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves talking about freedom.)
My favorite comment so far comes Rich Lowry (via Howard Kurtz). The National Review crowd was mostly for Romney earlier, but of course they've been shilling for their party's selection. Here's editor Lowry's "Quick Take" (emphasis added):
Don't focus on the oratory. If Mark Salter wanted to, he could have written prose for the ages, but it wouldn't have seemed true to McCain. Don't focus on the delivery. The election isn't going to be decided on speech-making ability. Focus on the theme—a populist fighter for you. This is exactly where McCain needs to be. Just as Obama needed to ground his politics of hope last week, McCain needed to ground his politics of honor tonight. And he did. At least thematically. What's still lacking is the substance. He needs three simple, stark policy proposals to protect and ease the way of life of average Americans, and I think he already has two (on energy and health care) and can get another (a middle-class tax cut). Then, he needs to master them and talk about them wherever he goes. I'm not sure whether McCain will win this election, but I'm very confident his campaign will do the things necessary to win it. Over the last two months, it has been fearless and shrewd. The celeb ad, the Palin pick, and now this speech were steps in the right direction. So I wasn't bowled over by it, but I'm still encouraged.
Yeah, see, McCain could have had a well-written speech if he really wanted to. And just ignore the crappy content, the lousy delivery, and lack of substance. Most critics weren't as scathing as Jeffrey Toobin, accurately calling McCain "shockingly bad," but nearly all commentators noted it was a both a weak speech and poorly delivered. When even McCain's cheerleaders are making such lame excuses for him, you know it didn't go over well. I suspect a TPM reader is correct – the A-team was working on re-tooling Palin's speech, and McCain's speech was given less attention. As with McCain's selection of Palin as his VP – he had roughly three months to find and vet candidates, and to start outlining a speech, and this last-minute, reckless, substance-less effort was the best he could muster? Add in the Walter Reed Middle School gaffe (it's a few miles from where I live, actually), and the other video issues (fake soldiers, using stock photos of African-Americans while less than 2% of the delegates were black), and it's not a pretty picture. McCain's actual performance, and the truth content of the Republican National Convention, were both abysmally low. We'll see how much the press actually cares, though, to delve into policy - and the character issues revealed by lying - especially when there's outlier polls, horse race questions and bullshit stories about Democrats throwing away American flags to cover. Yes sirree, that's news you can believe in.
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)