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Saturday 6 September 2008 (05 Ramadan 1429)

McCain speech breaks record
Barbara Ferguson I Arab News

FISTFUL: Presidential nominee John McCain finishes his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday night. (AP)

WASHINGTON: After back-to-back convention weeks with some soaring oratory and flawless television productions, Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s crowning night offered a befitting finale.

A record 38.9 million US TV viewers watched John McCain accept the Republican nomination for president on Thursday, slightly more than the 38.3 million people who tuned in for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech, Nielsen Media Research reported. McCain’s tally was also higher than the 37.2 million Americans who tuned in to hear Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s address, Nielsen said yesterday.

McCain portrayed himself as a fighter, and he brought some fight to a party that had seemed unsure of its footing.

But McCain emerged from the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the helm of a party suddenly united behind a throaty, aggressive foreign policy and a domestic policy rooted in the commonsense values of Palin.

He offered Americans a markedly different option for change from the convention hall podium.

Rather than the youthful vigor of Obama, McCain offered experience and steely determination forged by five years of imprisonment in a Vietnam prison and three decades in Congress.

Calling himself a “maverick” he tried to label himself as an outsider not caught up in Washington’s political mire after serving there 25 years. “Let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second crowd: Change is coming,” McCain said.

One of the livelier moments of the evening came when McCain was interrupted by several antiwar protesters, who had infiltrated the hall. On man held up a sign that read: “McCain Votes Against Vets.” Their signs were quickly ripped from their hands, and they were carried out of the arena as the delegates shouted, “USA! USA!” McCain, by now accustomed to these kinds of interruptions, responded: “Please don’t be diverted by the ground noise and the static,” then added “America wants us to stop yelling at each other, OK?” He also promised his delegates to move the nation beyond “partisan rancor” and narrow self-interest in a speech that was markedly toned down from the blistering attacks launched against Obama during the first days of the convention. But yesterday, when speaking with Palin before a group in Wisconsin, both he and Palin resumed their attacks against Obama.

Observers said he was sending a confusing message to voters. They had seen “slash-and-burn personal attacks against Obama by Republican after Republican at the convention, and then he closed his speech pledging to move past ‘partisan rancor’.”

“Does he want to reach out to the other side or slaughter the opposition? It’s confusing,” a colleague told Arab News.

Yet the speech had many “stark, simple and eloquent” lines, said ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, one of Palin’s few critics the night before. CNN’s Anderson Cooper said he heard more specifics from McCain than from Obama.

Some of McCain’s toughest critics in punditry came from what you’d expect to be friendly territory. “John McCain has proved that he’s not going to win this election with oratory,” said Alex Costellanos, a Republican consultant working for CNN.

Fox analyst Karl Rove called his speech “workmanlike” and “not all that great.”

“It was a strange speech, a strange week, a strange convention,” analyst Charles Krauthammer said on Fox, “and yet I think it was effective.”

“He doesn’t have the sizzle that Sarah has,” Rick Lacey, 51, a delegate from Springfield, Illinois told reporters. “That’s probably why he picked her.”

Meanwhile the Obama campaign sent out a press release highlighting that one of McCain’s speechwriters, Matthew Scully, had crafted much of her speech Wednesday night. Arab News was told by a State Department official, on background, that the speech had actually been written two weeks before the convention, and had to be tweaked, because it was originally written for a man, not a woman.


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