President Bush, Senators Fred Thompson, and Joe Lieberman addressed the Republican convention tonight. This program was only recently put together. Thompson replaced former NYC Mayor Giuliani for tonight, presumably because there was no need for a moderate Republican if the campaign was already going to invite the Independent/Democratic Lieberman to the podium, and presumably because the Republicans are afraid of losing parts of the South they have taken for granted for the last 40 years (Thompson is a son of TN). The Republicans are taking the message of change quite literally, and Hurricane Gustav has revealed Team McCain's savvy ability to offer leadership by improvization. Given the circumstances, this was a great first night for them but the Republicans have a lot of catching up to do given new polls showing Obama's post-convention bump.
The video of John McCain did a great job of returning the attention away from Sarah Palin to the top of the ticket. (Perhaps the campaign should have announced or leaked the Palin decision and her full biography - glitches and all - earlier so that the media would have done all its digging by the start of the convention. Instead their coverage of Palin and her daughter so far this week has significantly crowded out McCain's message.) The video reminded us that this convention is about John McCain, and it was a fitting overture to Fred Thompson's speech, which highlighted McCain's biggest political asset - his character. Even though he was clearing his throat almost every minute, the lines were spot on. You might not agree with McCain on everything, Thompson told us, but you know you can trust him. Thompson reminded his audience that McCain was the original maverick (indeed the maverick that this same audience rejected in 2000) and used that idea to link McCain with Palin - a powerfully anti-establishment, anti-Washington narrative necessary for a tarnished Republican brand this election year.
If the Democrats were chanting "yes we can," implying that "no, we haven't yet," all of last week, Republicans tonight were chanting "USA, USA," implying that who we are and what we have achieved is worth celebrating. Both sides ought to think about what gets the base going, and how these war cries reveal the cleavage between the parties that any winning candidate to the White House must bridge. Joe Lieberman tried to help McCain do just that tonight, using a specifically designated portion of his speech to speak to Independents. But in this hyperpartisan era, I wonder how many minds he changed. This Zell Miller of 2008 will likely not receive any committee chairmanships next year, especially if Democrats get close to the magical 60 in the Senate.