In the Arena

McCain’s Speech

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John McCain simply can not give a formal speech–especially one with a rhetorical conceit (“And that’s not change you can believe in”)–in a manner that is even vaguely convincing. Everything about him screams: I. Am. Reading. A. Speech. His weird ghostly grins and false chuckling whenever the rhetoric device came around were totally distracting…and they were very much unlike John McCain, when he plays to his great oratorical strength, which is speaking off the cuff in town meeting settings.

Having said that, I think McCain made a strong argument to independents about his version of reform–no doubt, he’s going to try to saddle Obama with those dreadful votes in favor of the Farm Bill and on what McCain actually called the “Bush-Cheney” Energy bill. Given the fact that exports are a major, growing sector of the economy, Obama’s anti-free trade positions, vehemently taken in the rust belt, also may be a significant area of weakness in those areas of the country that are seeing export-led economic development.

At the same time, McCain’s contention that Obama is “looking to the past” because he favors greater federal activism seems an ancient argument after 28 years of Reaganism. My sense is the public, scared to death by the rising price of everything and the growing gaps in the social safety net, has grown tired of that old rant.

McCain made his same old foreign policy arguments–and even if he’s right about progress in Iraq (quite possibly, he is), it’s easy for Obama to argue back: then why don’t you want to leave, John? And, no doubt, Obama will continue to nail McCain as a Bush foreign policy clone. My guess, is, the candidate who seems more likely to focus on the Middle West than the Middle East will have an advantage.

In all, though, this was a fascinating, substantive speech. Let’s hope that McCain sticks to debating Obama on the issues as he goes forward.

Clinton’s Speech: A terrific, but utterly ungracious speech. It showed the remarkable progress she’s made as a candidate and public speaker–but what are the priorities here? Having a Democrat win in November…or aggrandizing Hillary Clinton? As I wrote yesterday, Clinton’s best course of action now is to demonstrate a whole-hearted support for Obama…I suspect her least likely path to the vice presidency, if that’s what she wants, is to demand immediate negotiations and a commitment from Obama.

Obama’s Speech : What can you say? This was an excellent speech, brilliantly delivered. Two thoughts: He refused to give ground to McCain on any issue–and neatly turned McCain’s challenge that Obama visit Iraq into a challenge that McCain pay greater attention to America. And most striking, he said far more about the historic nature of Clinton’s campaign than the historic nature of his own. Race was an afterthought…as he hoped it would be when he began the campaign. His graciousness made Hillary Clinton’s lack of grace–and lack of realism about her fate–seem unworthy of her and rather small.