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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Friday, September 05, 2008


The first three quarters of Sen. John McCain’s speech at the RNC tonight was underwhelming. Nondescript. There was almost nothing to it.

In fact, I found more to dislike about it than to like. We knew McCain was no conservative dream candidate to begin with, and at times he sounded like it.

School choice, for example. McCain spoke strongly in favor of it tonight.

Conservatives love that, because conservatives figure that they’re our kids, not the school district’s kids. So the decisions ought to rest more with us than with them.

But wait: education is a subject that conservatives decided long ago should be left to the states. The further right along the political scale you go, the greater the desire to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education entirely.

So how’s that going to work? How’s the federal government going to enact school choice when our side – the side that wants school choice – doesn’t want the feds mucking around in it?

That’s one example, and there are others. McCain crept close to sounding like a Democrat at times: to sounding like he wants to fix our problems for us. And here I went and wrote two days ago:

Captain Leslie Smith (U.S. Army, retired, who lost a leg and the sight in one eye to a blood disorder):

“…the most liberating day of my life came when I stopped saying...'Why me?' And started saying, 'Why not me?'"
NOTE: Okay, so that particular quote isn’t unusual – kinda boilerplate, actually. A common anecdote told by people who have overcome some kind of adversity. I include it only to compare it to what we heard, over and over again, at the Democratic National Convention.

There, it was: things are so bad, we’re in such a bad spot, can’t somebody help us?

At the RNC, it’s: let’s do this.

We can, we will, vs. can’t someone? Won’t someone?
But, okay, we knew McCain wasn’t the conservative dream candidate to begin with. He’s got his moderate-liberal streaks, and stands by them. That’s why he gets the “maverick” label. That’s why, ironically enough, conservatives like him today. Because we’re sick of watching even Republicans belly up to the trough, because that’s just how things are done.

Even so, I figured, maybe I was being too sensitive. Conservatives are, sometimes.

But I wasn’t wrong that the speech was…boring. Very few zingers. Very few standout lines – oh, sure, the crowd stood and applauded plenty of times, but that’s a hyped-up bunch of good Republicans who came to St. Paul to cheer.

But then McCain began telling us his story. His four-star grandfather, his father who left to fight WWII when McCain was 5; his time as a prisoner of war and the way that experience turned him from a callow young man into someone who understands that there’s something bigger than him. That there’s something more important than him, and his own desires.

It occurred to me then: they’re going to run this race on McCain’s story. They don’t want him to sling around a bunch of zingy one-liners. They want everyone to know his story.

As several speakers here have said over the last few days, being a prisoner of war doesn’t qualify you for the Presidency. But, man, surviving that says something about you. Something that garners respect.

As the speech finished up, as McCain continued to talk about service, as the ovation around him began with the words “fight with me” and grew louder and more raucous with every line and every repetition, it occurred to me that this was why the speech started slow, and stayed slow. McCain’s not known as a speechifyer. Not a guy who grabs and audience and hangs on. So they gave him one crescendo, right at the end, that repeated over and over the images of McCain that the campaign wants us to have: fight, stand up, serve.

Now, I’m a pundit, and like any pundit I want always to be the smartest guy in the room. Thus, maybe I’m over-thinking. I’m in the bubble, too, surrounded by Republicans and conservatives. Thus, maybe my objectivity is off.

Nah. My objectivity was never that great to begin with.

This speech isn’t one that’ll go down in history, because history remembers things written down. Reading it, it wasn’t much. But seeing it…

…I think this was a great speech.