Word or tag cloud software has been used to visually represent a frequency count of terms in a given piece of text, providing a clue to the importance of certain ideas. Font sizes indicate the weight or emphasis on certain words. The word clouds of Sarah Palin and John McCain’s speeches at the convention make an interesting study in contrasts. Palin’s address is stocked with what I would call action or power words like ‘energy’, ‘oil’ and ‘reform’. She also uses the name of John McCain frequently. McCain by contrast hardly ever mentions himself in the third person. Remarkably, his speech has a lot of softer words such as ‘jobs’, ‘children’, ‘health’, ‘peace’. It is almost as if he had turned down the volume of political discourse to strike a conciliatory note. But both speeches also share common themes. One obvious pattern is a repetitive emphasis on the themes of ‘country’ and ‘America’, which are also the motifs of the campaign. (Hat tip to a reader who suggested this analysis)
But there are some messages which cannot be grasped by statistical analysis. John McCain’s speech has been described as “workmanlike”. That’s correct in a wonkish sort of way. At its deepest level the speech cannot be understood in terms of word clouds and policies. McCain’s speech was the declaration of someone with nothing left to prove. Any man who can admit that he was broken and afraid under interrogation is describing a kind of endurance, which while any intelligent person might understand, I think only men who have themselves been afraid can truly empathize with. There are places on that dark path which you know you could not have crossed through your strength alone. And whether you owe your emergence to luck or to God might be a matter for debate. But you know you do not wholly owe it to yourself. And this realization makes you less willing to blame others; less ready to stand in judgment of those who failed the test. It doesn’t make you lower the bar. But it makes you aware of how high that bar is.
What John McCain was describing was his redemption; which always brings with it a kind of recklessness in the true sense of the cost being immaterial. It is the realization that the first person singular truly doesn’t matter. “In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test.”