Capping his extraordinary come-from-behind run for the Republican presidential candidacy, John McCain delivered his acceptance speech at his party's convention last night. And following the previous night's extraordinary performance by his come-from-out-of-nowhere vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, McCain turned away from his usual feistiness and struck a new role: the good cop to Palin's bad cop.
Palin's speech, universally acclaimed as a Cinderella event ... the most frequently used adjective was "electrifying" ... was also widely described as "caustic," "sarcastic," "condescending," and "attacking" her Democratic opponents.
McCain started off on the other foot. After an opening 469 words of the standard thanks and recognition for a long string of his colleagues and family, the speech turned positive: "And, finally, a word to Senator Obama and his supporters. We'll go at it -- we'll go at it over the next two months -- you know that's the nature of this business -- and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and my admiration."
In recognition of his conciliation, The New York Times' headline describing the speech read: "McCain Vows to End 'Partisan Rancor.'"
McCain even went on to say "Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us." In what may have been a bid to demonstrate their similarities, McCain even went on to embrace the Obama campaign's principle thrust: change.
McCain said the word "change" 9 times in his speech, more than half Obama's 16 instances in his acceptance speech the prior week.
Of course, after his conciliatory nod, McCain went on to differentiate himself from Obama, and to strongly assert that he was the better candidate.
Did it work? Not according to a string of reviews listed in an aggregation of reactions compiled by the Huffington Post.
• CNN's David Gergen: "I did not think that the substantive part of the speech worked very well."
• Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson: "Pretty disappointing"
• The New Republic: "A very underwhelming speech."
• CNN's Jeffrey Toobin: "The worst speech by a nominee that I've heard since Jimmy Carter in 1980."
• The National Review: "It was flat, forced and basically a free pass for Obama"
• Time: "A mixed performance."
Time also went on to note John McCain's well-known difficulty with the Teleprompter. "He's struggling, as he sometimes does -- misplacing the emphasis on words, sounding at times like he's reading the speech for the first time, losing energy during the sections on issues he's never been particularly passionate about, burying applause lines in a string of sentences. It's as if he can't bring himself to pretend he's not reading a teleprompter -- that the charade distracts and frustrates him."
All of the above now becomes prologue to the main events: the actual face-to-face debates between the presidential candidates. Barack Obama and John McCain will finally meet directly on September 26th, October 7th, and 15th.
Let the chips fall where they may.