As someone who has been a fence-sitter for this whole election cycle, I went into McCain’s acceptance speech not expecting much. I especially didn’t expect to be swayed into moving to either side of that fence. Acceptance speeches are mostly grandiose ideas presented with a lot of style but very little substance behind them. They are, after all, merely words, not actions; words that speak not to the nation as a whole, but the nation of believers sitting in the audience.
Unlike Obama, McCain has never been perceived as a great speaker. Where Obama’s speech was expected to be almost evangelical, the expectations for McCain were simply that he had to at least stir up enough emotion to compare favorably to Sarah Palin’s “home run” of the night before. Most of us watching were not expecting something as electrifying as Obama’s speech or as riveting as Palin’s. I was more prepared for a Grandpa Simpson-like commencement, without the onion belts.
McCain’s low-key approach had me worried that I would not make it very far, and I struggled to really listen to what he was saying instead of concentrating on his delivery. It was hard. Thanks to a dose of Robitussin, I kept drifting off into dreams about mortgages and oil and the Dallas Mavericks, and Grandpa Simpson kept showing up, talking about Vietnam. I came back to consciousness here:
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.
If McCain started the speech there, cutting out everything else, and recited the rest of it with fervor and a spark of life, he would have sold a lot more Republicans who are still sitting on the fence this election.
In one part, McCain seemed to be both echoing Obama’s ideas about contributing to society and making up for one of the few missteps in Palin’s speech, where she brought on the wrath of community organizers everywhere.
If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.
They aren’t words we have not heard before in dozens of political speeches, but they are words McCain needed to speak in order to grab the attention of the more liberal-minded fence-sitters.