John McCain – Giving people “the opportunity to reach their God-given potential” – by Edward Leigh MP

The Palin bounce

One swallow doesn’t make a summer of course, but an Obama victory no longer seems a safe bet.

The Palin phenomenon is obviously having an effect. In front of the cheering crowds of Republican supporters who interrupted her speech to chant or whoop every few minutes, the moose-hunting “pit-bull” was clearly in her element. She lapped up the applause with a broad grin. Old McCain looked slightly uncomfortable with the same experience. But although his speech was never going to have the novelty value or the star-quality of Palin’s tour de force, it struck me as an excellent expression of true Conservative values.

A touch of Churchill

His tribute to his mother, who, “96 years young”, was in the audience to hear him was to British ears perhaps a little cloying. Nonetheless, her belief “that we’re all meant to use our opportunities to make ourselves useful to our country” showed that his patriotism was something he’d taken in with his mother’s milk. It was perhaps a conscious reframing of JFK’s “Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” McCain developed the patriotic theme throughout his speech, saying of his support for the troop-surge in Iraq at a time when it was highly unpopular: “I’d rather lose an election than let my country lose a war”. There was a touch of Churchill in that remark. My own opposition to the Iraq war is well-known, but I respect those who differ on principle.

McCain of course continued the themes his running-mate had launched into in her speech, including the determination to get rid of big government: “All you’ve ever asked of your government is to stand on your side and not in your way” – a soundbite memorable for its simplicity, a speechwriter’s triumph.

Other themes which I warmed to were his approach to education: “We’ll help bad teachers find another line of work….Empower parents for choice!”, and energy independence: “We’ll drill now!

Pure Cornerstone

But it was when he started on a quietly passionate litany of “We believes” that I was most enthused:

“We believe everyone has something to contribute, and deserves the opportunity to reach their full God-given potential.

We believe in lower taxes, spending discipline and open markets.

We believe in rewarding hard work and risk-takers, and letting people keep the fruits of their labour.

We believe in a strong defence, 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.

We believe in a government that unleashes the creativity and initiative of Americans.

A government that doesn’t make choices for you but lets you make choices for yourself.”

If you change “Americans” to “the British”, I could happily have delivered that section of the speech myself. It is pure Cornerstone.

Of course it was inevitable that McCain would return to the theme of patriotism at the end. The contrast of his war record with Obama’s lame disclosure that he once considered military service but decided against it as the Vietnam War was coming to an end was bound to play to McCain’s strengths. And, whatever your politics, the fact that he resisted the temptation to get out of a wretched jail early on account of being an admiral’s son is an impressive signal of character. So when he said that after the experience of being supported through torture and imprisonment by the encouragement of his fellow-captives and comrades-in-arms, “I wasn’t my own man any more, I was my country’s”, it was no mere speechwriter’s soundbite. It rang true.

As did his statement that “nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.”

He may lack Palin’s pizzazz, but, like her, John McCain has the great virtue of authenticity. His experience, both military and political should also count for something. His character has clearly been tested in the crucible of his Vietnam ordeal.

The race for the White House just got a lot more interesting.

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