There they were on stage. The Old Jedi Master and his young, promising Padawan learner. The contrast almost jumped out at you, an unlikely pair together on the unlikely task of winning an election that shouldn’t even be close. One year ago, McCain was basically told to drop out of the campaign. Guiliani was the man. Conservatives, myself included, said the old war horse didn’t have a chance. His campaign was broke, the media basically ignored him, he was carrying his own bags at the airport. At that time, Sarah Palin was just another name. Few Americans could tell you who the Governor of Alaska was. The battle-scarred born-on-the-fourth war hero and the headstrong family-centered story of the American dream, their paths couldn’t have been more different. Yet, somehow their paths came together and watching them on stage last night, I couldn’t help but feel that something special was happening, a feeling I can’t remember ever having with regards to politics. The old man was lacing up his boots for one last battle and standing beside him was the unlikeliest of rookies. The underdog story is absolutely perfect, both in narrative and in the sheer reality of it all. Who would have ever imagined that it was John McCain, someone I have criticized harshly, that would be giving me this feeling? Amazing. Simply amazing.
Last night McCain was, well, McCain. He was the man who could stumble through a speech but still manage to be effective. I don’t get it. His oratory skill pales in comparison to his opponent, yet he just has this way of keeping you focused. If it were anyone else I would turn the TV off and go about my business. But it’s hard to turn away from John McCain.
His speech was interrupted twice by anti-war protestors attempting to shout him down. The irony was not missed. Here was a guy who suffered beyond comprehension for the rights of Americans, for the freedoms that we hold so dear, and those people were abusing those rights by trying to keep him from speaking. What a shameful moment for those Americans who feel the Iraq war was wrong.
The contrast between the two candidates is evident both in style and substance. McCain looked Presidential last night. And the majority of his speech was devoted to the kitchen-table issues that all Americans are concerned about. The details that his critics demanded were there and they were simple. Lower taxes, shrinking the government, cutting spending, accountability, lowering oil prices, free market health care, increasing the child tax credit…and, more importantly, having government stand beside us and not in front of us (loved that line).
And then he spoke about education, the civil rights issue of this century as he called it. There was passion and I could see that this issue was important to him. Our schools need to stop answering to unions and educrats and start answering to parents and students. I nearly came out of my chair. I soaked up every bit of it and agreed with him 100%.
And finally, the moment that I’ve been waiting for this entire campaign arrived. McCain went after his own party. For two years we’ve heard candidates talk about the ugliness of partisanship, the importance of “reaching across the aisle”. But no one actually acted on it, until last night. I think this is the first time in recent history that a presidential candidate stood before the party that nominated him and openly criticized their actions. Good for him! Recent Republican leaders have violated the very principles that got them elected and McCain called them out on it. It’s about time. Straight talk indeed. If McCain wins this election, the GOP will look back on his words as a turning point for their party, the point where one man got them back to the basics of what made them successful to begin with. So much for all that “Bush’s third term” nonsense.
Which brings me to another point. I don’t have a problem with attacks and criticism, but I do think the criticism should at least be accurate. So far, I haven’t seen that from the Dems. Anybody who has watched McCain knows that he is anything but Bush’s stooge. This guy is one of the few Republicans who has repeatedly stood up to Bush on policy. There is a reason why McCain has had problems with his base, has had problems motivating the GOP to get behind him. There is a reason why Palin’s presence was so important in rallying the GOP base. It’s because McCain isn’t a Republican. This obvious fact alone blows the Dem’s “3rd term” argument out of the water. All of this talk about voting with Bush 90% of the time is nonsense. The vast majority of Senate votes are meaningless procedural votes like designating August as National Watermelon month. What percentage of the time has Obama voted with Bush? It’s more important to look at meaningful issues like immigration, energy and spending. That’s the percentage that matters. Of course, the press won’t ask those questions. This is what I mean when I say the Dems are misleading people on McCain’s record. Don’t even get me started on the $5 million remark, or the seven houses thing. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and I think most Americans know better. McCain is anything but a wealthy elitist out of touch with America. The accusation is beyond unfair.
Then he seemed to find a groove when he started to talk about service and his speech evolved from the ordinary to the amazing. Not just his own service, but the importance of individual service. He issued a call to action, a call to serve, to teach, to heal, to comfort, to reach out to each other without first asking about political affiliation. I was blown away. In a time when Americans are dangerously close to becoming a nation of “me”, this old guy was telling us all to think twice about that. You see, America is greatest when it’s people serve each other and John McCain knows that. He said it himself: “My country saved my life and I’ll continue to serve her as long as I draw breath so help me God”. Unbelievable.
There’s a reason why we’ve had problems with the government needing to step in and provide for the people. It’s because somewhere along the way we stopped providing for each other. We stopped paying attention to the folks who were in need and instead chose to step over them and continue our daily routine. We’re all guilty of it, folks. Democrat and Republican. John McCain gave us pause and asked us to remember what we have come so close to forgetting. The glory of America is in her spirit of giving, whether it’s giving money, or time, or help in any way…and, yes, giving our lives. There is nothing greater than serving something greater than ourselves. Wow! So many politicians have come and gone while brushing across that simple truth and often falling well short of living it. There is truly something special happening here, even the most cynical of skeptics has seen that.
This morning I am doing something I have NEVER done. I am writing a check to a Presidential campaign. I am putting a sign in my yard, a bumper sticker on my car. I might even volunteer to help any way I can. Never has a ticket inspired me that much. Never! My cynicism towards politicians was simply too deep to penetrate, and I was too young when Reagan stormed on the scene to appreciate him. Why on earth didn’t the GOP nominate this guy in 2000?
For a while, I thought there was nothing in politics that would surprise me. It seemed as though I was constantly looking through those “same as usual”-colored glasses. I was totally unprepared for what I saw last night…the image of a genuine war hero, a man who suffered immensely for his country, a man who has truly earned the right to sit on a front porch swing somewhere enjoying his retired years far from Washington…yet somehow feels that his country owes him nothing, that his debt to America has still NOT been paid, that he still has work to do for America…standing in front of us with his arms raised as high as his battered body would allow, asking his countrymen to “fight with me”. Are you kidding me? Senator, you’re damn right I’ll fight with you!!! – as soon as I wipe away a few tears. It’s hard for me to even imagine anyone out there who would say no to that.