McCain: I'm the Change Candidate

In a speech packed with paradox, John McCain accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday night, admitting government "lost the trust" of Americans under the Bush Administration and promising that "change is coming."

McCain sounded a call for bipartisan cooperation after three nights of a convention in which prime time speakers made snarling and sneering attacks, both political and personal, on Democrat nominee Barack Obama. A 26-year veteran of Congress and Beltway insider, McCain vowed to reform Washington's special interest culture. And he promised those struggling economically he would "stand on your side," then offered a list of economic policies that differ little from those of President Bush.

The cross-currents of his speech reflected the conflicting challenges McCain faces in the campaign: how to run as a Republican in a year when the GOP brand has been badly damaged by the policies of an unpopular president; how to combat Obama's message of change while linked to the status quo; how to motivate the base of his own party to work hard for him in a race which he has cast himself as a "maverick."

"Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington crowd," he said. "Change is coming."

McCain, who will never be confused as an orator with, well, Barack Obama, delivered his address in a pedestrian, if avuncular, voice, with his biggest applause lines coming when he mentioned running mate Sarah Palin, who raised the roof on Wednesday night with her attacks on the Democrats.

The speech did have several emotional moments: He struck a stirring note at the finish, when he spoke above the roar of the delegates, clenching his fists and imploring them to "Fight with me" for America. A few minutes earlier, he offered his own, quiet account of his years in a POW camp, which he described as a transformative experience that replaced his self-regarding pride for humility and gave him a burning desire for public service.

"I was blessed by misfortune," he said. "I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's."

The speech text and video can be found here.

With Palin's vice-presidential nomination and acceptance address last night, it seems clear that McCain solved at least one of the problems that he faced before the convention: closing the so-called "enthusiasm gap" between his campaign and Obama's. The Alaska governor, a pro-life movement conservative, electrified the delegates in the hall, and has been largely responsible for millions of dollars in contributions coming into the campaign since her selection.

But as McCain spoke directly to "Americans who have yet to decide who to vote for," McCain was trying to appeal to a much broader audience, including independents and so-called "Reagan Democrats," blue collar voters in the Midwestern battleground states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, who backed Hillary Clinton against Obama in the primaries. He made this appeal with three key themes:

Distance from Bush. McCain did not mention Bush's name although he did thank "our president" for leadership in the "dark days" after the 9/11 attacks. But implicit refutations of Bush, his policies and governing style ran throughout the address, as when McCain acknowledged that "these are tough times and I know you're struggling." He added: "we lost the trust of the American people:when we valued our power over principle:.we were elected to change Washington and we let Washington change us."

Economy. With the troubled economy the crucial issue of the campaign, McCain said that, "I know some of you have been left behind in a changing economy, and it often seems that your government hasn't even noticed," then presented real-life anecdotes about the struggles of individuals he met in Michigan and Pennsylvania. He promised millions of new jobs would be created by an ambitious program to develop multiple sources of energy including more offshore oil drilling. Beyond that, however, the specific ideas he offered were either generic Republican notions like cutting business taxes and government programs, or recycled Bush proposals, like expanded career development opportunities at community colleges.

Bipartisanship and corruption. McCain recounted some of his record fighting against corruption in his own party, including the Jack Abramoff payoff scandal, and vowed to "set a new standard for transparency and accountability." He also promised to crack down on unnecessary government spending by any bills that have "earmarks" in them. And, like Obama, he vowed to move beyond "the constant partisan rancor," highlighting his experience in crafting campaign finance and immigration legislation that drew support from Senators of both parties.

"Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed," he said. "That's how I will govern as President. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not."

With the end of the convention, McCain and Palin left Minnesota to campaign in the Midwest, where Obama and running mate Joe Biden have been spending considerable time. With 61 days left before the Nov. 4 election, the next big scheduled event of the campaign will be the first of three presidential debates on Sept. 26, in Oxford, Mississippi.

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