On the substance of it, I was relieved the speech was free of red-meat social issues. It was about economics, reform, cutting taxes and spending, and national security. In other words, it focused on the kinds of things that made McCain an attractive candidate beyond the social-conservative base of the party. After all the caricaturing of Palin in the past few days as some kind of religious extremist, the silence on these issues was noteworthy.
On the tone and style of the speech, there were some great one-liners for the party faithful to cheer, especially about Obama's lack of experience and real-world accomplishment. However, I found it just an octave too mocking and smug at times. I wonder how that played with undecided voters who are angry at Republicans but are unsure whether to vote for Obama.
For someone who's closer to McCain than to Obama on matters of economic and foreign policy, the main concerns about Palin are whether she has the knowledge, depth, experience, and general preparedness to be president. If you didn't have these concerns before tonight, of course, the speech was great. If you did, like me, the well-executed and poised delivery of prepared remarks does nothing to allay them.
He's terrible at delivery. He can't read from a teleprompter to save his life. And convention organizers badly managed the aesthetics and failed early on to control the outbursts of protesters.
But with this speech, and with Palin's last night, the McCain campaign has finally moved away from trying to consolidate the base and is making a powerful play for independents and Democrats on the basis of economics and strong foreign policy. This may be the first GOP acceptance speech since 1992, for example, in which the nominee didn't take a swipe at gay marriage.
McCain was refreshingly candid about Republican failures over the past few years, especially on spending. He was respectful of Obama and the Democrats, emphasizing the commonalities and noting the differences without sarcasm. It was the most genuine, generous, and classy speech of the RNC. I got the sense he finally felt free to be himself. For all his shortcomings, it's good to have him back.