Friday, September 5, 2008

RNC, Day Four: The Great American, Passed By

John McCain is a great American. He is a true hero and his service to his country should be honored.

We heard these words countless times last week during the Democratic National Convention, the words used to set up attacks on his positions, so that no one may infer that the attacks were personal. That does not make them any less true: John McCain is a great American. He is a true hero and his service to his country should be honored. The end; I will not attack him tonight.

We just finished watching the convention of a party that has solved its horrible turmoil. In control of all branches of the government for six of the last eight years, they had presided over a dark time for America. A major attack on our soil, the failed pursuit of the attack's architect, an unpopular and ill-advised war, a major economic downturn, the coming-home-to-roost of America's sense of entitlement. They sported a President with one of the worst approval ratings in history. Their control of Congress was wrested from them in one fell swoop two years ago. Every one of these signs said that there was no way the Republicans could come close in this election. The opposition party found its savior, the living embodiment of the change so desired by the country. How could the Republican party come together to put forth a face that could stand the environment and overcome its challenges?

In its previous two victories, their candidate was deeply religious, he answered to a "higher father". In 2004, marriage equality referendums came up throughout the country, driving the right to the polls and winning an election with the power of these religious values. But when the primaries arrived in 2008, nobody could be found to carry on this mantel. The major players: Mitt Romney, a Mormon wearing a "flip-flop" albatross around his neck; Rudy Giuliani, a pro-choice big city mayor who had become somewhat of a joke because of his one-track mind and personal scandals; Mike Huckabee, a deeply religious former pastor whose economic ideas were far too liberal; and John McCain, an American hero and the country's most famous non-Kennedy Senator, who had been so badly ravaged in 2000 by Bush and Rove. As Iraq, prior to the economic collapse, continued to take center stage and the Republicans realized they needed something different to attract a more moderate American public, McCain became the runaway choice. He wrapped up the nomination fairly quickly, with his only (small) speed bump being the conservative values of Huckabee. And so the GOP put forth a man with the reputation of being a maverick and a relatively non-religious one at that. After the Bush years, was the religious right really in control, and, if so, would they embrace a man who was not wholly on the same page with them?

We found out the answer this week. After Senator Obama chose Joe Biden, a man who he felt would help him best govern, John McCain reportedly wanted Joe Lieberman, a man who would do the same for him. And the base wouldn't go for it. They would never be able to let go of certain value issues, such as the "culture of life". McCain instead made what has seemed like a rushed decision, picking Sarah Palin. The pick attempted to attract disenfranchised Clinton voters and it was very much focused on reassuring those in the religious right who were not sold on McCain's values credentials. For the base of the Republican party, the pick seems to have worked. Too well.

I keep going back to a point in Rudy Giuliani's speech last night when he was talking about Obama's background and said that it was a story that "could only happen in America." And then the crowd laughed. They jeered and booed and I still can't understand why they showed such disrespect to their opponent and to the American dream. But then Governor Palin took the stage and was just as sarcastic and disrespectful. The crowds screamed for her and laughed with her at "community organizers" and they ate her up with a freaking spoon. And then John McCain took the stage tonight.

Putting aside the horrific visuals of the speech (the colors behind him, his age, the sea of white faces in the crowd), McCain did exactly what he needed to do. He took the Republican party to task for its failures over these last eight years. He preached reform and bipartisanship. It was the speech of a true maverick and it gave me a glimpse of his greatness. His line, "We came to Washingon to change it, but Washington changed us," is as honest a line as has been spoken during this entire campaign. It got a mere smattering of applause. He finally spoke at length about the economy... and the crowd seemed bored. Sure, he was taking these delegates to task for decisions they had made in the past. It was tough love. But it was tough love that they needed in order to retain control of the White House and to find some bipartisan way to work with what will be an even more solidly Democratic-controlled Congress. The delegates seemed to want none of it. What they wanted was Sarah Palin. Her introduction in the speech got the loudest applause of the night. They love her because she has their values, unlike McCain. It turns out that the religious right had gained control of the Republican party. The extremism reigns and it will send the moderates looking for somewhere, anywhere else.

John McCain is a great American, one of the greatest. He has served his country in ways that I will never be able to. For all of my disagreements with his views on foreign policy, I recognize that now. I see why people have held up his ideal for so long.

John McCain is a great American. He deserves better than this.

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