Oh What a Night: the Republican National Convention
-Richard E. Vatz
From the one beloved figure of the Bush leadership team, the utterly sincere Laura Bush, to a tape on Ronald Reagan to former Senator Fred Thompson’s powerful rhetoric to a profoundly convincing address by Senator Joe Lieberman, much of which was aimed at Democrats and Independents, the first night of the Republican National Convention was a memorable one.
In a short speech broadcast to the convention President George W. Bush praised Sen. McCain’s courage as a P.O.W. , his support of the then-unpopular surge and his resulting reputation as one who would rather lose an election than a war. To those who see Sen. McCain as a yes-man to President Bush, the President countered that “I know!” that he is “not afraid to disagree.”
Leaving aside the question of “where was this great speechmaker in the 2008 presidential campaign,” Fred Thomson’s speech was the kind of speech that not only solidified support for John McCain, but one which made some surely wonder, “How could a serious American voter not support Senator John McCain over Senator Barack Obama?”
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Sen. Thompson said he was not focusing on the vision, but “the man behind the vision.” His praise of Sen. McCain’s judgment, experience, courage and policies was compelling, especially as he contrasted Sen. McCain with Senator Barack Obama, “the most liberal and most inexperienced nominee to run for president,” as a man who “doesn’t think protection of the unborn is above his pay grade,” as Sen. Obama demurred in his only debate thus far with Sen. McCain.
Sen. Thompson also contrasted Sen. McCain’s courageous support of the unpopular, but ultimately successful “surge” in Iraq, an issue left virtually unaddressed at the Democratic convention. The “now we’re winning” claim has no opposing argument evident from the Democratic conventions.
Sen. Thompson’s powerful, detailed salutes to John McCain’s character as evidenced in his courageous suffering of torture for five-and-one-half years – including beatings, heat torture and isolation torture, when he could have accepted an offered early release, the refusal of which brought him more torture. As Sen. Thompson pointed out, the torture per se doesn’t qualify him to be president, but it reveals the character we want in our presidents. He also detailed how Sen. McCain’s family walks the walk with 2 sons in — or going to — Iraq
Along the way Sen. Thompson punctured some liberal shibboleths, like the false, misleading dichotomy of taxing individuals or corporations, wherein it is merely a question of whether one wishes to pay taxes directly or indirectly.
Senator Joe Lieberman gave perhaps the most effective “reluctant testimony” speech since Zell Miller at the Republican National Convention in 2004 and beyond. The former Democrat and Vice Presidential nominee just 8 years ago, who still caucuses with the Democrats, even engendered applause for Bill Clinton (!) as he contrasted President Clinton’s willingness to challenge Democratic ideological orthodoxy (e.g. welfare reform), unlike Sen. Obama. Sen. Lieberman too brought up the surge as the representative event that demonstrated Sen. McCain’s political courage which has, the ex-Democrat implied, no counterpart in Sen. Obama’s policies.
To the indisputable fact that Sen. Obama is a powerful and effective speaker, Sen. Lieberman simply said, “Eloquence is no substitute for a record.” The lack of Democratic references to Sen. Obama’s accomplishments, as noted here previously, stands out as an indictment of his inexperience.
To the Democratic charge of Sen. McCain’s election being tantamount to four more years of Bush, Sen. Lieberman resoundingly emphasized the phrase, “John McCain is his own man.” To those Democrats who detest the Republican Party, Sen. Lieberman urged such voters to go beyond party labels and understand that “country matters more than party.” If the election by-word is “change, both speakers argued, Sen. McCain is the real thing
The only layer of missing confidence, the only discordant note, in the entire evening could be inferred from the praise of Gov. Sarah Palin, whose credentials as Governor, card-carry conservative, reformer and “breath of fresh air” seemed inadequate to compensate for her lack of foreign policy experience. But the emphasis was rightly this night on the top of the ticket, Sen. John McCain.
In rhetoric we look for the “good man speaking well,” which modified for today would be the “good person speaking well.”
Tonight’s political oratory included good people who spoke well and convincingly in praise of the Republican maverick, Sen. John McCain.
Professor Vatz teaches Political Rhetoric at Towson University