Vice Presidential Acceptance Speech: If Her Friends Could See Her Now
-Richard E. Vatz
All I can say is “wow.” And when John McCain ascended the stage after Governor Palin’s speech, he said “wow” too.
What an amazingly auspicious speech for an aspiring Vice President candidate to give. In the Geraldine Ferraro era, all of the rhetoric of a major female candidate had a defensive cast. This speech was a confident, aggressive speech by a female candidate for Vice President who knows what she thinks and knows from what values her assertions come.
A little lead up, if I may – if I must. Governor Mitt Romney’s speech and Governor Mike Huckabee’s speeches were not bad, although I must say Gov. Huckabee is an acquired taste. Gov. Romney said Washington has changed, and the real change would be a move to conservatism. He also rang some good notes on the Democrats’ love of dependency and aversion to seeing evil when it occurs. Gov. Huckabee took some good shots at the effete quality of Senator Barack Obama and added an effective allegory involving soldiers who teach children what it means to earn something.
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Now to the Republican Rhetorical A-team. Rudy Giuliani is a brilliantly convincing and persuasive speaker, and one feared that he would be so compelling that Gov. Palin would pale (no pun intended) by comparison. He emphasized all of the right matters: that Governors as executives must make decisions, while senators are all persuasion with little or no real-world reality testing. He reminded Americans of Sen. Obama’s lack of executive experience: “…he’s never run a city, never run a state, never run a business. He’s never had to lead people in crisis.” He reminded people of the senator’s dereliction of responsibility as a legislator, the abundance of “present” votes in the Illinois State Legislature.
He hit on the “surge” issue, as almost all Republican convention speakers have done, with the notation that Democrats in the one visible test of leadership in the past 2 years failed on the decision, failed on the follow-up, and failed to recognize the surge’s success. Mayor Giuliani emphasized Sen. Obama’s contrasting indecision and took a neat shot at one of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s irresponsible remarks, “This war is lost.” If the Republicans ever run out of Reidian dumb mots, they need new and better researchers.
Sarah Palin not only hit her speech out of the park, but she first went through the Democrats’ mitts. Women should be proud that their first presidential or vice-presidential candidate had all of the strength and aggressiveness-without-offensiveness required of candidates for the vice presidency. Gov. Palin was consistent in her praise, but never in awe, of Senator McCain. His impressive war biography, best articulated by Sen. Fred Thompson last night, was mentioned by all speakers tonight.
Gov. Palin’s attacks on Barack Obama were all fair game, in acceptable political taste, some with great humor – and telling. She said that while her former job as Mayor was derided by some Democrats, it was sort of like being a “community organizer” (Obaman claim to fame) , but with “actual responsibilities.” This line of argument had several iterations, and she also detailed the devastating list of liberal values that would undermine a president who put America first: negotiating with Iran, terrorists, and ignoring our need to “drill now.”
She used her own Reidism, “I can’t stand John McCain,” to further promote her presidential nominee. Thank God Reid is the poison well that never stops giving.
Gov. Palin detailed her own willingness to curtail financial corruption, whatever the party that commits it. Her prioritizing of honesty and integrity in government came through loud and clear. Her fluency in discussing energy policy was reassuring. The only thing lacking in her speech was evidence of sophistication in dealing with Islamic radicalism, resurgent Russian imperialism, and the complex challenges of China.
I usually rank elocution as the least important variable in a speech, but Gov. Palin’s had to be exquisite, and it was. Surely, the outcome of this powerful, moving address was to erase doubts regarding her viability from many low intensity supporters on the right and on the left.
Richard Vatz is professor of Political Rhetoric at Towson University