McCain the Nominee Delivers a Eulogy for McCain the Maverick

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank gives a behind the scenes look at the life of an Eastern media elite. Video by Akira Hakuta/
By Dana Milbank
Friday, September 5, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 4

"You all know, I've been called a maverick," John McCain declared Thursday night as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination.

Indeed he had. Over and over again through the evening's program. "Some people call him a maverick," said former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, one of McCain's warm-up acts. "May we summon ourselves to our best efforts and call this maverick forward."

"The original maverick," said another speaker, David Cappiello.

Convention organizers distributed hand-painted signs announcing "Maverick." Biographical videos proclaimed the "maverick" status of McCain and his vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

But the most striking thing about the message of the maverick Thursday night was how conventional it was. There were the requisite references to Sept. 11, including a video showing, to an ominous bass, the planes hitting the towers and the towers collapsing. "We remember buildings burning, bodies falling," the narrator said. There were the mandatory multiple warnings about "a dangerous world," leading to McCain's assurance that "we face many threats in this dangerous world, but I'm not afraid of them; I'm prepared for them."

And McCain read the usual Republican boilerplate. "I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them," he said, to boos from the crowd. "I will open new markets to our goods and services; my opponent will close them." (More boos.) "I will cut government spending. He will increase it." (Boos again.) He spoke of school choice. He called for more oil drilling. He opposed Obama's "health-care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor."

"We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench," the onetime maverick recited.

With such predictable fare, the intrigue in the room rested primarily in the backdrop behind the candidate (it changed like a mood ring, from green to blue) and in the audience. Three times during his speech, hecklers interrupted, forcing the audience to drown out the disturbance with chants of "USA." "My dear friends," McCain said during one interruption, "please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static." Perhaps the most daring gesture of the evening was made by the convention planners, who tried to get the mostly old, overwhelmingly white delegates to dance to Kenny Loggins's "Footloose" and "Highway to the Danger Zone," then Heart's "Barracuda."

Largely missing was the McCain of yore, who campaigned against the "Agents of Intolerance" on the religious right and the "Death Star" of the Republican establishment, instead promising honest economics and clean politics. Missing, too, is the McCain who won the Republican primary with freewheeling and frequently off-message town hall meetings. In its place was a convention program that hewed to the traditional attacks on the Democrats.

Republicans came to town a listless and somewhat demoralized party, and the embarrassing revelations about Palin (the latest: She attended six colleges in six years) haven't helped. But Wednesday night's speech by Palin -- a self-described pit bull with lipstick -- electrified the Xcel Energy Center here. By Thursday, when the official theme of the convention was "peace," Republicans were eager for a fight.

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