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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quick thoughts on Day 2’s convention speeches

Senator Joe Lieberman - once Al Gore’s V.P. nominee, now Republican surrogate - gave us last night what might have been the most surreal moment ever to grace a political convention floor.

He got several hundred Republicans to cheer President Bill Clinton.

Other than that, well, he was ho-hum and dissatisfying. That’s what I thought, anyway. But I’ll come back to him.

First, regarding Sen. Fred Thompson's speech: after tonight, seems to me, the McCain campaign should simply cancel all campaign activities except for Thompson traveling the country giving the speech he gave tonight.

Thompson spoke at length about McCain’s service, his time as a POW, and his independence as a member of Congress. It was tear-jerking; humbling; victorious. It left you with no doubt whatsoever that John McCain is a man of impeccable – superhuman, even – moral strength, whose trials and sufferings have not only proven him to be a man of integrity, but also to have the strength of character to lead an entire nation during difficult times.

That’s a flowery way to put it, and maybe over the top, but that’s where Thompson’s speech left me. It was a great speech.

Lieberman, not so much. I’ll come back to him again.

Next, a word about President Bush. Or, rather, two words to President Bush's staff: web cam.

President Bush spoke to the convention via satellite feed. His speech was fine. No complaints. Except…he couldn’t react to the crowd. Several times, the audience stood up and applauded. Several of the ovations were lengthy. And then they were cut short, because Bush began speaking again, because he didn’t know we were applauding.

They can feed his speech live via satellite, but they can’t set up a simple web cam so he knows if the audience is still applauding?

Plus, it would’ve been so cool for him to react directly to something the crowd did.

Now, back to Lieberman. Could be, Lieberman was just unlucky enough to follow Fred Thompson. That right there was a tough act to follow.

But I don’t think so. Here’s the part that best explains why his speech bugged me:

What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?

The answer is simple.

I’m here to support John McCain because country matters more than party.

I'm here tonight because John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward.

I’m here because John McCain’s whole life testifies to a great truth: being a Democrat or a Republican is important.

But it is not more important than being an American.
Just replace “McCain” with “Obama,” and that could have been any speech given a week ago in Denver.

Senator Lieberman, Democrats say those things, too. Democrats say their policies are better for the country, and it’s Republicans being petty and partisan and forgoing the common good.

What triggered you, Senator Lieberman?

Of course, we know what triggered him: the war. He split with the Democrats, because he thought they were being stupid and partisan about the war.

Oh, sure, Lieberman mentioned the war, but he never put things into context. He never said:

“Look, I’m a liberal. You and I, we disagree on a lot. But we agree on one very important thing: fighting international terrorism is the single biggest responsibility we as a nation have today.

“My old party, the Democratic Party, has split into two groups: Democrats who refuse to see the truth about terror and our actions against it; and Democrats who do see the truth, but out of partisanship, refuse to act.

“I wish I hadn’t had to leave the Party I spent a lifetime with, but I did have to, because following my conscience was more important than following my Party. And that’s why I’m supporting John McCain: because he’ll do the same thing.”

I wish he’d have said that. Emphasize your lifetime as a Democrat. Emphasize that you left your Party because of their partisanship over national security.

Emphasize it - make it central. I know, the political junkies already know all that, but the junkies already know for whom they're voting, too. You have to speak to the non-junkies.

Anyway. Maybe his speech worked for others. It didn't for me.

There were up-notes to Lieberman’s speech, of course: that “surreal moment” I mentioned before? It came when Lieberman said:

In the Senate he has not reached across party lines to get anything significant done, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party.

Contrast that to John McCain’s record, or the record of the last Democratic President, Bill Clinton, who stood up to some of those same Democratic interest groups and worked with Republicans to get important things done like welfare reform, free trade agreements, and a balanced budget.
And the audience cheered…Bill Clinton.

Lieberman’s appeal to Democrats who may have been watching, too, was a good moment – he asked Democrats to look beyond party label, and vote for whoever will be best for the country.

And, again, maybe it was just that he followed Thompson, who gave a great speech. Still, I think he missed a chance to really contrast Democrat irresponsibility with Republican maturity.