Republicans do know how to throw a convention as put on full display last night; there was definitely no shortage of red meat for GOP convention attendees. But I think in the wake of Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman’s performances there has been no observation or comment more prescient than the words of Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager:
For Fred Thompson’s part, his speech was indeed not about the issues. To his credit, it was the best speech he has delivered in this presidential election season, better by a mile than any speech he delivered on his own behalf. But last night’s speech, the text of which is available here, was anything but substantive.
Indeed the bulk of the speech was about John McCain’s tenure as a POW. So much so in fact that even as I was screaming at the television, “Being a POW doesn’t qualify you to be president!” Thompson himself said as much, offering almost like an excuse that while being a POW doesn’t qualify one to be president, it does tell you about one’s character, setting up the money quote:
It’s pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves, “Who is this man?” and “Can we trust this man with the Presidency?”
And this, my friends, is the key. This has been the push from day one in the McCain campaign–because he was a POW, questions as to who he is, if he is trustworthy, and is his strength of character really that sound are inappropriate. You will hear this again throughout the week if I were to make a wager; the Republicans will continue to insist that you don’t need to ask the questions, “Who is this man?” and “Can we trust this man with the Presidency?”
They will tell you you don’t need to ask the questions because the last thing they want anyone doing is actually asking them. Fred Thompson smartly discusses John McCain’s youthful indiscretions partly because they are endearing, and partly because he doesn’t want to get into McCain’s latter day indiscretions, indiscretions that weren’t quite so endearing. He talks about the exotic dancer that McCain dated as a fly boy because it alleviates the first wife that John McCain cheated on and later divorced.
That’s an interesting part of this convention. Joe Biden wasn’t afraid to talk about his first wife, and Barack Obama is still happily married to his, but where’s the talk about John McCain’s first wife? Oh, we don’t need to ask who this man is. Just like we don’t need to ask about how deeply in bed with lobbyists John McCain is (anyone notice how his fiery language against special interests has all but vanished?).
That is the power that McCain hopes the POW story holds; a story that stops people from asking questions. We’ve seen it a million times before in a million different guises; we’ve all met someone who had a showstopper up their sleeve, whether it be a disability, or a moment of heroism; something that makes you feel guilty if you even stop to consider that these people may have character flaws, or done something bad in the past.
The difference between the people you have met and John McCain, though, is that John McCain is running for president. You can’t afford NOT to ask the questions that Fred Thompson got on stage and insisted that you didn’t need to ask.
As for Joe, I just had one point of criticism that burned with me. Beyond that, as always, Lieberman was sleep inducing and looks strangely like an enchanted Howdy Doody Doll:
My big problem with Lieberman’s speech, the text of which can be read here, is that he kept insisting he was a Democrat. This was infuriating–Lieberman’s not a Democrat, no one considers him a Democrat, he’s an independent and has been since he jumped ship on foreign policy, and got beat in the Democratic primary last time he went up for reelection. He caucuses with Democrats on some issues, but if you want to get real technical, Joe Lieberman is an Independent Democrat, after protecting his seat in the Senate under his self styled “Lieberman for Connecticut” party.
Why do I make such a big stink over this? It’s simple, Lieberman last night attempted to go for the Zell Miller effect; he attempted to make it look like he was a major defection from the party, which, of course, it wasn’t. That’s not how it might play to low information voters tuning into the presidential election for the first time.
Happily, I’m fairly positive that most people probably fell asleep or turned the channel before Lieberman got too far into it.
So that’s my report on last night’s festivities. I didn’t want to do it, but I did, and I plan on taking a wire brush to my eyeballs later tonight when I get into the office. As for tonight. I’m not sure I can bring myself to such torture two nights in a row. If anyone wants to do the watching for me, and email me their thoughts, I’ll be happy to post your reports. As for me, I think the yelling was beginning to scare my kids.