John McCain's Excellent Victory Speech

Steven M. Warshawsky
On Tuesday night, after securing the Republican presidential nomination with wins in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont, John McCain gave one of the best speeches of the primary season so far, by him or any other candidate.

McCain's speech, which effectively kicked off his general election campaign, sounded in themes of patriotism, service, responsibility, and optimism.  It was very well-crafted and even eloquent at times.  McCain delivered the speech in an utterly sincere and authentic style.  Despite being a skeptical and reluctant supporter of McCain, I was impressed by the speech and hope he is able to build on its themes in the coming months.

Early in the speech, McCain introduced his main themes in the following brilliant paragraph:

Now, we begin the most important part of our campaign: to make a respectful, determined and convincing case to the American people that our campaign and my election as President, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interests of the country we love. I have never believed I was destined be President. I don't believe anyone is pre-destined to lead America. But I do believe we are born with responsibilities to the country that has protected our God-given rights, and the opportunities they afford us. I did not grow up with the expectation that my country owed me more than the rights owed every American. On the contrary, I owe my country every opportunity I have ever had. I owe her the meaning that service to America has given my life, and the sense that I am part of something greater than myself, part of a kinship of ideals that have always represented the last, best hope of mankind.

Two points about this paragraph:

First, McCain wisely has decided to "take the high road" in his campaign against the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  Hence, his emphasis on running a "respectful" campaign.  In other words, there will be no personal attacks on Clinton or Obama based on their sex, race, religion, etc.  I confess that I was annoyed with McCain when he sharply criticized talk radio host Bill Cunningham for using Obama's middle name (Hussein) while "warming up the crowd" at a McCain rally in Ohio.   But McCain recognizes that many voters, especially urban independents and moderate Democrats, will be concerned about appearing sexist or racist if they decide not to vote for the Democratic nominee.  What McCain is trying to do is assure these voters that they can vote for him with a clear conscience.  This is very smart politics.

Second, I liked how McCain directly punctured the arrogance and pretension of the Democratic candidates, both of whom have been touted (first Clinton, now Obama) as the "inevitable" winner in November.  McCain's expressions of humility and service contrast starkly with the manifest self-importance of Clinton and Obama, both of whom believe they are uniquely qualified to govern the country, i.e., to tell other people how to live their lives.  Of course, McCain is himself an ambitious, opinionated, career politician.  But his public persona is much more humble, and the gratitude he feels towards America is palpable.  These are very important traits for a presidential candidate.

The centerpiece of John McCain's presidential candidacy has been his strong support for the Iraq War (and the "war on terror" in general) and his opposition to the "cut and run" policies advocated by the Democrats.  Not surprisingly, in his victory speech, the Iraq War was the first substantive topic he discussed:

America is at war in two countries, and involved in a long and difficult fight with violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself. It is of little use to Americans for their candidates to avoid the many complex challenges of these struggles by re-litigating decisions of the past. I will defend the decision to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime as I criticized the failed tactics that were employed for too long to establish the conditions that will allow us to leave that country with our country's interests secure and our honor intact. But Americans know that the next President doesn't get to re-make that decision. We are in Iraq and our most vital security interests are clearly involved there. The next President must explain how he or she intends to bring that war to the swiftest possible conclusion without exacerbating a sectarian conflict that could quickly descend into genocide; destabilizing the entire Middle East; enabling our adversaries in the region to extend their influence and undermine our security there; and emboldening terrorists to attack us elsewhere with weapons we dare not allow them to possess.

As I have argued, the Iraq War could be McCain's Achilles Heel in the general election.  Public opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans, including one-third of Republicans, oppose the war.  While only a minority of Americans want the U.S. to pull out of Iraq "immediately," most Americans are eager to end our occupation of Iraq in the foreseeable future.  Consequently, to bolster his chances of winning in November, I believe that McCain must offer the American people a "new" plan for Iraq, one that is aimed at ending the occupation, not remaining in Iraq for "maybe a hundred years," as McCain remarked at a New Hampshire town hall meeting in January.  Significantly, McCain appears to have started this process in his victory speech, when he emphasized that "[t]he next President must explain how he or she intends to bring that war to the swiftest possible conclusion . . . ."  Swiftest possible conclusion.  This is a very important message for the American people to hear.
 
I also liked McCain's rejection of a nationalized health care program, stating "I will leave it to my opponent to propose returning to the failed, big government mandates of the sixties and seventies to address problems such as the lack of health care insurance for some Americans. I will campaign to make health care more accessible to more Americans with reforms that will bring down costs in the health care industry down without ruining the quality of the world's best medical care."

The conclusion to McCain's speech was confident, patriotic, and included just the right amount of inspirational rhetoric:

Nothing is inevitable in America. We are the captains of our fate. We're not a country that prefers nostalgia to optimism; a country that would rather go back than forward. We're the world's leader, and leaders don't pine for the past and dread the future. We make the future better than the past. We don't hide from history. We make history. That, my friends, is the essence of hope in America, hope built on courage, and faith in the values and principles that have made us great. I intend to make my stand on those principles and chart a course for our future greatness, and trust in the judgment of the people I have served all my life. So stand up with me, my friends, stand up and fight for America -- for her strength, her ideals, and her future. The contest begins tonight. It will have its ups and downs. But we will fight every minute of every day to make certain we have a government that is as capable, wise, brave and decent as the great people we serve. That is our responsibility and I will not let you down.
This week's speech launched John McCain's general election campaign on a high note.  This is very good news to all those who shudder at the thought of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama becoming our next president.

On Tuesday night, after securing the Republican presidential nomination with wins in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont, John McCain gave one of the best speeches of the primary season so far, by him or any other candidate.

McCain's speech, which effectively kicked off his general election campaign, sounded in themes of patriotism, service, responsibility, and optimism.  It was very well-crafted and even eloquent at times.  McCain delivered the speech in an utterly sincere and authentic style.  Despite being a skeptical and reluctant supporter of McCain, I was impressed by the speech and hope he is able to build on its themes in the coming months.

Early in the speech, McCain introduced his main themes in the following brilliant paragraph:

Now, we begin the most important part of our campaign: to make a respectful, determined and convincing case to the American people that our campaign and my election as President, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interests of the country we love. I have never believed I was destined be President. I don't believe anyone is pre-destined to lead America. But I do believe we are born with responsibilities to the country that has protected our God-given rights, and the opportunities they afford us. I did not grow up with the expectation that my country owed me more than the rights owed every American. On the contrary, I owe my country every opportunity I have ever had. I owe her the meaning that service to America has given my life, and the sense that I am part of something greater than myself, part of a kinship of ideals that have always represented the last, best hope of mankind.

Two points about this paragraph:

First, McCain wisely has decided to "take the high road" in his campaign against the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  Hence, his emphasis on running a "respectful" campaign.  In other words, there will be no personal attacks on Clinton or Obama based on their sex, race, religion, etc.  I confess that I was annoyed with McCain when he sharply criticized talk radio host Bill Cunningham for using Obama's middle name (Hussein) while "warming up the crowd" at a McCain rally in Ohio.   But McCain recognizes that many voters, especially urban independents and moderate Democrats, will be concerned about appearing sexist or racist if they decide not to vote for the Democratic nominee.  What McCain is trying to do is assure these voters that they can vote for him with a clear conscience.  This is very smart politics.

Second, I liked how McCain directly punctured the arrogance and pretension of the Democratic candidates, both of whom have been touted (first Clinton, now Obama) as the "inevitable" winner in November.  McCain's expressions of humility and service contrast starkly with the manifest self-importance of Clinton and Obama, both of whom believe they are uniquely qualified to govern the country, i.e., to tell other people how to live their lives.  Of course, McCain is himself an ambitious, opinionated, career politician.  But his public persona is much more humble, and the gratitude he feels towards America is palpable.  These are very important traits for a presidential candidate.

The centerpiece of John McCain's presidential candidacy has been his strong support for the Iraq War (and the "war on terror" in general) and his opposition to the "cut and run" policies advocated by the Democrats.  Not surprisingly, in his victory speech, the Iraq War was the first substantive topic he discussed:

America is at war in two countries, and involved in a long and difficult fight with violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself. It is of little use to Americans for their candidates to avoid the many complex challenges of these struggles by re-litigating decisions of the past. I will defend the decision to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime as I criticized the failed tactics that were employed for too long to establish the conditions that will allow us to leave that country with our country's interests secure and our honor intact. But Americans know that the next President doesn't get to re-make that decision. We are in Iraq and our most vital security interests are clearly involved there. The next President must explain how he or she intends to bring that war to the swiftest possible conclusion without exacerbating a sectarian conflict that could quickly descend into genocide; destabilizing the entire Middle East; enabling our adversaries in the region to extend their influence and undermine our security there; and emboldening terrorists to attack us elsewhere with weapons we dare not allow them to possess.

As I have argued, the Iraq War could be McCain's Achilles Heel in the general election.  Public opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans, including one-third of Republicans, oppose the war.  While only a minority of Americans want the U.S. to pull out of Iraq "immediately," most Americans are eager to end our occupation of Iraq in the foreseeable future.  Consequently, to bolster his chances of winning in November, I believe that McCain must offer the American people a "new" plan for Iraq, one that is aimed at ending the occupation, not remaining in Iraq for "maybe a hundred years," as McCain remarked at a New Hampshire town hall meeting in January.  Significantly, McCain appears to have started this process in his victory speech, when he emphasized that "[t]he next President must explain how he or she intends to bring that war to the swiftest possible conclusion . . . ."  Swiftest possible conclusion.  This is a very important message for the American people to hear.
 
I also liked McCain's rejection of a nationalized health care program, stating "I will leave it to my opponent to propose returning to the failed, big government mandates of the sixties and seventies to address problems such as the lack of health care insurance for some Americans. I will campaign to make health care more accessible to more Americans with reforms that will bring down costs in the health care industry down without ruining the quality of the world's best medical care."

The conclusion to McCain's speech was confident, patriotic, and included just the right amount of inspirational rhetoric:

Nothing is inevitable in America. We are the captains of our fate. We're not a country that prefers nostalgia to optimism; a country that would rather go back than forward. We're the world's leader, and leaders don't pine for the past and dread the future. We make the future better than the past. We don't hide from history. We make history. That, my friends, is the essence of hope in America, hope built on courage, and faith in the values and principles that have made us great. I intend to make my stand on those principles and chart a course for our future greatness, and trust in the judgment of the people I have served all my life. So stand up with me, my friends, stand up and fight for America -- for her strength, her ideals, and her future. The contest begins tonight. It will have its ups and downs. But we will fight every minute of every day to make certain we have a government that is as capable, wise, brave and decent as the great people we serve. That is our responsibility and I will not let you down.
This week's speech launched John McCain's general election campaign on a high note.  This is very good news to all those who shudder at the thought of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama becoming our next president.