Fourth Quarter Fade

John McCain is no Sarah Palin.

The GOP convention ended on a flat note the line up of speakers – culminating with Senator McCain himself – fell short of last night’s spark and energy.  Even the faithful  seemed a little restless during the fourth evening as the speeches dragged on and particularly when Senator McCain mangled some of his applause lines.  The close of the speech was flat out weird as the Senator got the crowd going in an continuous roar and then tried to shout out the last 10 lines over their noise.  It looked like Senator McCain just sort of gave up and wrapped early.

Like every other speaker over the last four day, Senator McCain recited his biography as proof of the depth of his character.  I found his version to be more awkward than all the others, something I actually found endearing.  Like Bob Dole before him, McCain has come reluctantly to trading politically on his military service and it still shows.

Despite all of the talk about how long McCain’s Brain – aka Mark Salter – has spent on the speech, I was underwhelmed.  I also thought the staging hookum – the lectern projected out into the crowd – was inconsequential.  I liked the high-def backdrop but thought it was used weirdly.  During one point it looked like Senator McCain was standing in front of a “green screen” like a weatherman who lost his graphics.

The talking heads are waxing about the specifics in the speech but I didn’t hear all that much – some generalities about job training are all that stuck with me.

One thing I didn’t hear:  “George Bush.”  Despite a quick reference to the current president, Senator McCain seemed to go out of his way to avoid saying his name (or even his father’s).  Maybe he was worried about how it might get used in an attack ad.  This is not surprising as – outside of 8 minutes on Tuesday when the Decider spoke via satellite – there has been almost zero mention of his existence, his eight years in office, the Republican party or the fact that the Washington insiders speaker after speaker railed against were mostly in the room.  As Pogo once said, “I have met the enemy and they are us.”  The Republicans seem to have taken this concept to heart.

Wolf Blitzer, who is far from my favorite pundit, probably put it best: “John McCain is not going to win the election on the strength of his oratory.”

Jeff Toobin (who is a smart person):  “The worst speech I’ve heard from a nominee since maybe Jimmy Carter…shockingly bad.”

I’m pretty much there as well.

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How to Counter Palin? Don’t.

I was going to suggest something like this, but the Atlantic’s Ross Douthat did it for me with some free advice for the Democrats.

Do not attack her… in fact, stop referring to her at all. Attack John McCain, John McCain, and John McCain. … It’s going to be very, very hard for the Democrats to lose a race between Obama and McCain – and as a result, the Obama-Biden ticket has vastly more to gain from changing the subject away from Sarah Palin than they do from placing her candidacy, her qualifications and her background front and center in this race.

I sense he’s right, and the “little to gain” bit is the key point in my book. Sometimes, the most difficult PR counsel to give (and take) in the midst of a surprise whirlwind is to stay your course. Project quiet confidence. Grin. Shrug your shoulders. Do the rope-a-dope. Bide some time.

At least for now. There’s time for the Dems to see where this goes — and how it looks today is probably not the longer-term look it’ll take on next week. small business payroll software fine