10/06/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Schizoid John

Before he became the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain suffered through five and a half years as a POW and eight years of the Bush Administration. Sadly, these horrific experiences eroded his mental faculties and when the Arizona Senator finally took the stage at the St. Paul Republican Convention he flubbed his big chance. McCain's speech was like biting into a chocolate candy and inside finding a turd. He promised change but delivered the standard GOP talking points.

Recently, there's been a lot of comment about McCain's mental health, the fact that he no longer thinks quickly or clearly. CNN reporter Jack McCafferty observed: "[McCain] no longer allows reporters unfettered access to him aboard the "Straight Talk Express" for a reason. He simply makes too many mistakes. Unless he's reciting talking points or reading from notes or a TelePrompTer, John McCain is lost." Halfway through Thursday night's speech, McCain wandered off track.

If you only listened to the beginning and ending of McCain's acceptance speech, you might have been convinced that McCain the "maverick" was back. He began with the promise, "change is coming" and ending by asking his audience to "Fight for our children's future." In his most memorable phrase, the Arizona Senator called on the GOP to change: "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 the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption."

The problem with the speech was the middle; the specifics were the standard Bush talking points. McCain acknowledged that many Americans are suffering from a woeful economy, but promised little tangible support: "All you ever asked of government is to stand on your side, not in your way." His economic stimulus plan was to cut taxes: "My tax cuts will create jobs." His plan to lower energy costs was similarly simplistic: "We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now. We will build more nuclear power plants..."

With regards to Iraq, McCain repeated his formulaic rhetoric, "I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do... Thanks to the leadership of a brilliant general, David Petreaus, and the brave men and women he has the honor to command, that strategy succeeded and rescued us from a defeat."

McCain's paradoxical speech was representative of the Republican convention, in general. Going into the convention they had two antithetical challenges: solidify the Republican base - which didn't particularly like McCain - and appeal to Independents and disgruntled Democrats - Hillary Clinton supporters who remained pissed off after the Denver Democratic convention. Republican leaders talked as if they were going to make the substantive changes required to move the Party away from the far-right track it had been on for eight years.

The Republican activities began on a promising note. First, Party bosses decided to make Alaska Governor Sarah Palin the Republican vice-presidential nominee. To attract Independents and disgruntled Democrats, McCain had wanted to have Independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman be his running mate, but GOP powerbrokers nixed that. They settled on Palin, arguing that she was a woman, a good speaker, and someone who - because she was an unknown - could reach outside the Party. But Palin's acceptance speech effectively put an end to this thrust when she was revealed as Dick Cheney in drag. Focus groups indicated she didn't appeal to Independent or Democratic women.

Thus, it was up to seventy-two-year-old John McCain to accomplish the impossible Republican dream. And he couldn't deliver. Given the iron grip with which Bush-Cheney conservatives rule the Party, that's not surprising. Even an orator with the gifts of Barack Obama couldn't have accomplished this task given the script John McCain was handed.

Ultimately, that's a key difference between Democrats and Republicans. Both Parties talked about change. But at the Denver Convention, Barack Obama wrote his speech and it rang true. At the Republican convention, John McCain gave the address prepared by the GOP orthodoxy and it was hollow. No wonder he looked bewildered: McCain wanted to be maverick but instead was a puppet.