John McCain's acceptance speech tonight at the Republican National Convention was fascinating: this 25-year veteran of Congress tried to position himself as an outsider intent on changing Washington and his rhetoric suggested that his party was ready to mount an assault on the status quo--particularly ironic, considering the Republicans have controlled most of the institutions of government in recent history.
While McCain said some nice things about his Democratic opponent, we heard only lip service about reaching out to independents and Democrats. I had hoped the "maverick" would be willing to speak truth to his party on topics such as global warming, torture, and immigration reform--where he's demonstrated an independent streak in the past--but that never materialized. While he seemed to reject the politics of personal attack and division, McCain's speech capped a week in which speaker after speaker engaged in mockery, sarcasm, questioning the patriotism of Democrats, and plenty of Obama-bashing. Moreover, McCain was pretty loose with the facts in mischaracterizing his opponent's positions on taxes and nuclear power, preferring to pander to the passions of the Republican delegates in the hall with ready-made applause lines.
In the past four days in St. Paul, Minnesota, we heard precious little in the way of new ideas. Instead, lots of (admittedly stirring) personal biography, some harsh attacks, and loads of faux patriotism dominated the proceedings. It was clear the name of the sitting president was taboo. I certainly had hoped to hear some fresh thinking on the economy, the topic most Americans identify as their highest concern nowadays. It would have been nice if we had been offered solutions, rather than cheap shots and one-liners this week.
The convention provided ample evidence that Karl Rove's lieutenants are firmly in control of the McCain campaign now. That is especially worrying, since George W. Bush in 2000 promised to govern in a bipartisan fashion (as "a uniter not a divider") too, and then presided over the most rabidly partisan administration in memory. I think John McCain can rise above that standard, but we will need to see signs that he's willing to challenge his own party a lot more in the 60 days left in this campaign.