Convention speeches, follow-through, and reform

With John McCain’s and Sarah Palin’s convention speeches done, the campaign kicks into high gear for the next two months. Both speeches were effective – McCain’s was workman like and Palin’s was historic.

Both speeches had in them what was missing from Barack Obama’s convention speech last week – former speechwriter Peggy Noonan put it into words for me:

“Wit, wit, wit. Humor. ‘A maid laughing is half taken,’ said a randy old Elizabethan poet. A voter laughing is half yours, and just received a line he can repeat next weekend over a beer at the barbecue or online at Starbucks. Here is a fact of American politics: If you make us laugh we spread your line for free…

We are a political nation. We talk politics. So fill that area with humor: sly humor, teasing humor, humor that speaks a great truth or makes a sharp point.”

Obama’s address didn’t seem to involve his audience like a good convention speech should. It can be engaging and fun for the hearer whether nearby or watching on TV. A couple of days ago I mentioned the first acceptance speeches of both Presidents Bush (in 1988 and 2000).

George H.W. Bush ran on President Ronald Reagan’s record:

“My friends, eight years ago this economy was flat on its back – intensive care. We came in and gave it emergency treatment: Got the temperature down by lowering regulation, got the blood pressure down when we lowered taxes. Pretty soon the patient was up, back on his feet, and stronger than ever.

And now who do we hear knocking on the door but the doctors who made him sick. And they’re telling us to put them in charge of the case again. My friends, they’re lucky we don’t hit them with a malpractice suit!”

George W. Bush ran against the Clinton/Gore record, and one of his refrains that solicited a terrific response from the convention audience was this:

“This administration had its moment. They had their chance. They have not led. We will.”

Both Bushes expressed important sentiments eloquently. George W. Bush, obviously in the wake of the Clinton scandals, included this:

“A hundred years from now, this must not be remembered as an age rich in possessions and poor in ideals.

Instead, we must usher in an era of responsibility…

Their highest hope, as Robert Frost described it, was ‘to occupy the land with character.'”

Say what you will about President Bush’s failure to veto spending bills, you can’t say dignity wasn’t returned to the White House.

Going forward, however, we desperately need to see more successes from our elected leadership. Both McCain and Palin have grabbed onto the “reform” message and John McCain injected another central theme: he’ll fight for that reform. And in my view he nailed it exactly by saying this:

“I’m not in the habit of breaking promises to my country and neither is Governor Palin. And when we tell you we’re going to change Washington, and stop leaving our country’s problems for some unluckier generation to fix, you can count on it.”

Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s speech was packed full of great lines. My favorite by far:

“My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of ‘personal discovery.'”

Now we face a two month battle. Should McCain/Palin win, rank and file Republicans must do all they can do to ensure this ticket is able to successfully follow-through on as many promises as possible. McCain and Palin won’t be able to succeed on everything, of course, but they must fight to make progress so the next team can build from there.

The key word in all of this, it seems to me, is “reform.” As I often point out, the Democrats aren’t the problem. Our side has the solutions; we just need professional, capable, committed and visionary Republican leadership.

By the way, don’t believe everything you’re hearing from members of the Illinois GOP delegation. Sure, they’re going to be attempting to glom onto the energy that Sarah Palin has brought to the national party. But the reality is that the word “reform” hasn’t been in their vocabulary. If it finds its way into it now, you can assume it has about as much meaning as the word “change” does to Barack Obama.