TOPICS > Politics

McCain, Palin Speeches Shift Tone of Election

September 5, 2008 at 6:25 PM EDT
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More than 42 million people tuned in Thursday to see John McCain's acceptance speech, matching the number who watched Barack Obama's speech last week. A panel of editors and columnists weigh how the GOP event was received across the country.

JIM LEHRER: Next, the Republicans as seen from beyond Minnesota. John McCain ended the convention last night with a speech to about 25,000 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Here’s part of what he said.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: And let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second crowd: Change is coming.

I’m not — I’m not in the habit of breaking my promises to my country, and neither is Gov. 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. And we’ve…

We’ve got a record of doing just that, and the strength, experience, judgment, and backbone to keep our word to you.

I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost — we lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption.

We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties — and Sen. Obama — passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies.

We lost their trust when we valued our power over our principles. We’re going to change that.

Again and again — again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as president. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again.

My friends…

… I have that record and the scars to prove it. Sen. Obama does not.

We face many dangerous threats in this dangerous world, but I’m not afraid of them. I’m prepared for them.

I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it shouldn’t do. I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it. I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who don’t.

I know how to secure the peace. I hate war. It’s terrible beyond imagination. I’m running for president to keep the country I love safe and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has.

I will draw on all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, and the power of our ideals — to build the foundations for a stable and enduring peace.

McCain's message of 'change'

Rosemary Goudreau
The Tampa Tribune
John McCain is not the most dynamic speaker in the world, but yet he communicated a sense of seriousness, of competence, of confidence, of experience.

JIM LEHRER: Jeffrey Brown takes the story from there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Last Friday, we talked about the large number of viewers -- more than 42 million -- who watched Barack Obama give his acceptance speech in Denver.

According to Nielsen, John McCain did just as well last night and, as Judy said earlier, running mate Sarah Palin was only slightly behind that on Wednesday.

With that evidence of the huge interest around the country, we talk about what people saw on their screens now with two editorial page editors, Rosemary Goudreau of the Tampa Tribune and John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Rhonda Chriss Lokeman, a syndicated columnist in Kansas City, Miss., and Richard Burr, associate editor and writer for the Detroit News' op-ed page.

Well, Rosemary Goudreau, I'll start with you. What did you see last night in Sen. McCain's speech? What struck you about it?

ROSEMARY GOUDREAU, The Tampa Tribune: Well, John McCain is not the most dynamic speaker in the world, but yet he communicated a sense of seriousness, of competence, of confidence, of experience.

And so what came through to me was not just the words, but what the words said. And he was -- he communicated to me a sense that change is coming and that no -- the Democrats may want to say that this is a third term for President Bush, but that's not what I saw last night.

I saw a man who -- who, after accepting his party's nomination, turned and said, "You know what? We've got to change things." And the American people think we need to change things.

And one of the things that I really liked was when he said that, you know, Washington isn't for the insiders or for the special interests or the moneyed lobbyists. I'm there. My job there is for you. So...


OK -- I'm sorry -- Rhonda Chriss Lokeman in Kansas City, what came across to you on television?

RHONDA CHRISS LOKEMAN, Syndicated Columnist: Well, what was it Mark Twain said, "Whatever you say, say it with conviction"? There was an awful lot of that going on this week at the Republican National Convention, from Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, and the nominee himself.

There was a lot of emphasis on Democrats, surprisingly. The Republican Party actually stood on the shoulders of prominent Democratic leaders and were lauded at this convention. I'm talking about John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, and others.

But overall, if you look aside from talking to the choir, what I saw was a clever deceit. I saw the leader of the Republican Party, which the Republican nominee becomes, actually trying to distance himself from his party in a clever, deceitful way, by saying that he wanted change.

Change from what, change from the last eight years of a ruling party led by Republicans? But that was applauded in the arena, and that was, and I believe, a clever deceit.

Effectiveness of McCain's speech

Richard Burr
The Detroit News
John McCain has a certain reputation as being someone who fights against his party, and he's well-known out there, so when he says that 'I'm for change' he has a certain credibility.

JEFFREY BROWN: Richard Burr -- excuse me -- Richard Burr in Detroit, what did you make of this effort to take on the mantle of change? And how did it play as a television event for you in Detroit?

RICHARD BURR, The Detroit News: Well, I think John McCain has a certain reputation as being someone who fights against his party, and he's well-known out there, so when he says that "I'm for change" he has a certain credibility.

Yes, he agrees with much of what the Republican Party does, but he's also gotten a lot of people angry at him. And so when he says the party's gone off on the wrong path and I'm going to bring us back to where we need to be, I think that rings true.

But then you have to follow that up, and set that out, and say, "Well, how are we going to do that?" And he had some snippets of that last night by talking about tax cuts and about providing choice for kids in schools.

But for the most part, he didn't provide a lot of details because there was a lot about the McCain biography in the speech, which probably got a little bit overdone at the convention.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, John Diaz in San Francisco, biography, taking on the mantle of change. And I wonder how you felt about the contrast of the coliseum in Denver versus the more traditional arena, with the balloons and the whole different type of event last night.

JOHN DIAZ, San Francisco Chronicle: Well, I thought the convention overall went well for the Republicans, Jeffrey, but what struck me was the tactical tightrope that John McCain is walking in trying to both appeal to the conservative base on social issues and also to reach out to independents.

You know, there were times in watching McCain's acceptance speech where I almost wondered whether he was aware of everything that preceded him in the two few days of the Republican convention, not only from the tone of the speeches, but also from his -- the message that he sent with the selection of his vice president.

He got on the stage. He talked about things like bipartisanship, reaching across the aisle, changing the tone in Washington. But you look at the speeches of his surrogates, and even Sarah Palin, and I thought they almost defined partisan rancor.

They talked about not only the differences that they had on issues with the Democrats, but themes like, "They're not like us. They don't share our values." I thought it showed the challenge that McCain has in trying to do these dual goals at the same time.

Cultural issues and the media

Rhonda Criss Lokeman
Syndicated Columnist
... in the heartland, people could care less whether you have a baby on one hip and a six-shooter on the other, so long as you help them put bread and butter on the table, help get their kids in schools.

JEFFREY BROWN: I'd like to raise with all of you -- I'll start with you, Rosemary Goudreau in Tampa -- that one of the things much noted on, if you look at the whole week, is the culture issue, cultural issues.

And there was a lot of note about whether we are looking at a new kind of culture war or divisions over class. We had, of course, much of this focused on Sarah Palin, the self-proclaimed hockey mom.

What do you take from this, in terms of -- not the politics so much, but the cultural factors?

ROSEMARY GOUDREAU: Well, I think, first and foremost, people want a president who's going to make them safe and secure and that they have confidence in. And so the most important part of the week was the nomination of John McCain.

But when I looked at the choice of Gov. Palin, I see a woman who looks like a lot of the women that I know, a woman who has fought hard, and, you know, went from the PTA to the city council while raising a family of five.

I do think, when we talk about culture, though, that it's OK to ask about family. And how are you going to manage five kids and a high-powered job?

Because when I'm talking to my friends, that's an issue. There is a life balance issue. And politics is personal. And this was a week where we came to know the people.

And so the criticism of asking about the family and how are you going to do that with five kids, I thought that was a little over the top, because there are -- this is life, and she will have to manage -- manage the balance.

And how does she do it now? You know, does she try to get to everybody's football games? How does she manage it? I think it's a legitimate question.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Rhonda Chriss Lokeman, that was one of the issues out there. What are we even allowed to talk about nowadays when some of these things get put on the table in a political campaign? Do you see a kind of cultural moment here?

RHONDA CHRISS LOKEMAN: Well, I think that the culture war rhetoric of Pat Buchanan did not work in the past and hopefully will not work again in this election.

But to follow up on what the earlier speaker said, in the heartland, people could care less whether you have a baby on one hip and a six-shooter on the other, so long as you help them put bread and butter on the table, help get their kids in schools.

And the people in the heartland who voted for, at least in Missouri, voted for Kit Bond, as well as Claire McCaskill, we may not know how to field dress a moose, but we do know when someone is trying to turn a moose's ear into a purse.

JEFFREY BROWN: Richard Burr, I don't think I'll ask you about moose, but in Detroit another issue that was out there -- I'm sorry, in St. Paul, another issue that was there this week was the media question, and all these questions we've just been talking about, about family, about cultural issues, a lot of criticism of the media. What do you take from that?

RICHARD BURR: Well, I think some of the media stories that came out about Sarah Palin after her nomination were, you know, legitimate because she was an unknown. And so you'd expect the press to deal and look into her record.

But I think things went over the top when Web sites started trying to out essentially Sarah Palin's daughter, who was pregnant. And I think that caused a real backlash among conservatives and just among everyday people.

And the justification that came through on that was, well, see, you know, because Sarah Palin's daughter is pregnant, now we can have a nice, full discussion about abstinence and what really works on family planning.

Well, by that same token, should we now know what the grades of Barack Obama's daughters are so we can try to figure out whether public schools are working? No.

What we want to deal with is the issues, the aggregate data about what works and what doesn't. And I think that people thought that went over the line when they dragged Bristol Palin into this campaign.

JEFFREY BROWN: John Diaz, same question. What do you make of the media and cultural questions that we've seen from this week?

JOHN DIAZ: Well, bashing the media is always going to play well at a Republican convention. And being here in San Francisco, I can say it also plays well with progressives, too.

Let's keep in mind, as much as we had those applause lines of the media elite, the whole issue of Bristol Palin and her pregnancy, this was not an issue that was brought to the fore by the mainstream media or the media elite. This was very much a creature of the blogosphere, until the McCain campaign itself put out the announcement.

And once they put out the announcement, they certainly then began to showcase not only Bristol Palin, but her boyfriend and the family.

I think, in the media, there's not a great deal of interest in looking at her personal life, but there are far more serious questions about her experience, about her preparedness for office.

I think, as far as social issues go, no question. They are going to be a factor, with a fairly small number of Americans, but potentially swing voters, and, as we saw in 2004, as George Bush so adroitly played that issue, they can make a difference.

The outlook in swing states

John Diaz
San Francisco Chronicle
No question, if California is in play, that means this race is over for Barack Obama.

JEFFREY BROWN: You know, some of you are in very tightly contested states. Richard Burr, I believe John McCain and Sarah Palin are coming your way even today. Can you tell -- we're at the end of two very important weeks here. Can you tell yet where the needle has moved, if any kind of impact is out there? What is your sense of things?

RICHARD BURR: Well, as we speak, McCain and Palin are here in Michigan. I think where we are right now in our state, Obama is up slightly in the polls, but you can also get a sense that Palin has energized the Republican Party.

And she's the exact kind of selection that might appeal to blue-collar voters in Macomb County and might appeal to professional men and women in Oakland County, which is considered another crucial county here in metro Detroit.

And so, if anything, I think it's a very close race, and every state is going to count. And Michigan, you're going to be seeing a lot of Obama and McCain and Palin in the next eight weeks.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Rhonda Chriss Lokeman, you're going to see a lot of all of them in Kansas City, as well, right, and Missouri, the rest of the Missouri?

RHONDA CHRISS LOKEMAN: Absolutely. Missouri is a major player in this race, and we couldn't be more excited.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Rosemary Goudreau, same thing in Florida. Do you -- you're going to see them, as well. Can you tell at the end of all this where things stand?

ROSEMARY GOUDREAU: The race is very tight in Florida. I think coming out of the conventions that both candidates got good mojo.

But one of my colleagues is right: They need to start talking about how they're going to come together, how this country can come together and solve the problems.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, John Diaz, I don't think anyone is saying California is in play at this point, but I'll give you the last word here before we go. Where do you see things right now out there?

JOHN DIAZ: Well, we will probably see the candidates, if you don't blink, because they will come out here raising money as they have done throughout the primary season.

No question, if California is in play, that means this race is over for Barack Obama. Right now, he does have a healthy lead in California. And assuming that things go on the course that they've gone so far -- and I think both parties had a good convention -- it is likely to be Democratic here in California.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, John Diaz, Richard Burr, Rhonda Chriss Lokeman, and Rosemary Goudreau, thank you all very much.