Sen. John McCain of Arizona accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night with a dual message: Sen. Barack Obama does not have the judgment to govern the nation, whereas he himself can reach across party divisions to “get this country moving again.”
In an address at the party’s national convention in St. Paul, Minn. — briefly interrupted when three yelling anti-war protesters were hustled out of the hall as delegates chanted “U.S.A., U.S.A.” — McCain promised to “reach out my hand to anyone to help me.”
“Americans want us to stop yelling at each other,” McCain ad-libbed as he called for delegates to ignore the disruption.
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It was the perfect segue for his main message of the evening.
“Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed,” McCain said in a call to end “the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems.”
“I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not,” he said.
At the same time, McCain offered his “respect and admiration” to Obama, the first African-American ever nominated for president by a major political party.
“I wouldn’t be an American worthy of the name if I didn’t honor Senator Obama and his supporters for their achievement,” he said.
McCain left most of the attacks on Obama to his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and his close friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Their sarcastic digs — Palin in her well-received introductory speech Wednesday night and Graham in an Iraq-heavy denunciation Thursday night — freed McCain to get off a few well-chosen shots at his Democratic opponent while devoting most of his time to establishing himself in voters’ minds as a proven, trustworthy steward of American security and prosperity.
McCain: Yes, I’m a maverick
McCain embraced the label that has been applied to him throughout his political career as a cantankerous, relatively moderate Republican willing to buck his own party.
“You know, I’ve been called a maverick — someone who marches to the beat of his own drum,” McCain said to cheers. “Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment, and sometimes it’s not.
“What it really means is I understand who I work for,” he said: “I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.”
In a passage that surely will be replayed in Republican campaign ads at all levels for the next two months, McCain neatly encapsulated what he — and, by extension, the party he will lead into battle — stands for:
“We believe in low taxes, spending discipline and open markets. We believe in rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor.
“We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law and judges who dispense justice impartially and don’t legislate from the bench. We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities.”
‘I’m not afraid’ of threats to U.S.
Turning to foreign affairs, an arena in which Republicans say he is vastly more qualified than Obama, McCain called Iran “the chief state sponsor of terrorism” and accused Moscow of harboring ambitions of “reassembling the Russian empire.”
“We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I’m not afraid of them,” McCain said. “I’m prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better and what it should not do.”
He promised to establish good relations with Russia “so we need not fear a return of the Cold War,” but he did not say what he would do about Iran.
McCain closed by recounting the story of his 5½ years as captive of North Vietnamese forces during the war in Southeast Asia, although in less graphic detail than former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had the night before.
“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s,” he said. “... I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my country’s.”
The lesson he learned was always to “fight for what’s right for our country,” he said, bringing the crowd to its feet for a sustained ovation with a determined call for action:
“Fight for the ideals and character of a free people! Fight for our children’s future! Fight for justice and opportunity for all! Stand up to defend our country from its enemies! Stand up for each other — for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America!
“Fight with me! Fight with me! Fight with me! Fight for what’s right for our country!”
As he spoke, police on horseback thwarted plans by anti-war demonstrators to march on the convention hall.
Scattered protesters inside interrupted his speech briefly near the start. He dismissed them, telling the crowd not to be diverted by "ground noise and static." The crowd chanted “U.S.A., U.S.A.” to drown them out.
Graham paints Obama as ‘patronizing’ defeatist
Embracing his attack-dog role Thursday night, Graham said Obama “cannot appreciate that our troops are winning in Iraq” and “inspired those who supported retreat and would have accepted our defeat.”
Graham said President Bush’s “troop surge” last year in Iraq had tamed violence in Iraq, crediting McCain with supporting it from the beginning.
“We know the surge has worked. Our men and women in uniform know it has worked. And I promise you — above all others — al-Qaida knows it has worked,” Graham said. “ The only people who deny it are Barack Obama and his buddies at moveon.org.”
Graham’s characterization of Obama’s position on the surge was at odds with Obama’s own statements. In an interview Thursday on Fox News Channel, Obama told host Bill O’Reilly that the infusion of tens of thousands of new U.S. troops had, in fact, “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams .”
Nonetheless, Graham insisted that Obama “refuses to acknowledge [the troops’] success.”
“They have worked too hard and sacrificed too much for a patronizing pat on the back,” Graham said. “... He should not be their commander-in-chief.”
GOP happy with Palin speech
Graham’s comments built on a biting attack Wednesday by Palin, whose poised and polished performance remained the talk of the convention.
Of Palin, who was formally nominated by acclamation early Thursday evening, McCain said he “can’t wait until I introduce her to Washington.”
“And let me offer an advance warning to the old big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming,” he said.
Republicans said Palin’s address went a long way toward answering doubts raised by Democratic critics about her political training as a small-town mayor and her brief tenure as Alaska’s governor.
The McCain camp also pushed on with its fierce public relations campaign against the news media, seeking to deflect further attention from Palin’s family and the ethics investigations she faces back home.
“When you’re a real reformer like Sarah Palin, who isn’t afraid to take on entrenched political interests, scurrilous attacks and empty allegations come with the territory,” said Taylor Griffiths, a spokesman for McCain.
The Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, agreed that some news coverage of his Republican counterpart had been sexist, saying in an interview with Fox News Channel that criticism of Palin’s family had been fueled “by you guys in the media.”
“It is off-limits to talk about her family,” Biden said. “Every family has difficulty as they’re raising their children. I think the way she’s handled it has been absolutely exemplary.”
Later, campaigning in Virginia, Biden said he would challenge Palin on issues “as strongly as I can,” but he reiterated that he would refrain from personal attacks.
“I thought the vice presidential nominee did an incredible job” in her speech Wednesday night, he said at a military forum in Virginia Beach. “I tell you, she is good.
“But the thing that I was most impressed by, beyond her standing and how confident she was, was what she didn’t say,” Biden added. “She didn’t mention the word ‘health care.’ She didn’t mention the word ‘education.’ She didn’t mention college education. Not one time did I hear the phrase ‘middle class’ part [Republicans’] lips.”
Biden was wrong on at least one of those points. Palin said Wednesday night that the express reason she got into politics was to work for better education.
Obama answers Palin jibes
In what has emerged as a favorite talking point of Republicans this week, Palin on Wednesday night sarcastically dismissed Obama as a “community organizer,” contrasting her experience with his three years advocating for poverty-stricken residents with a church-based group on the South Side of Chicago during the 1980s.
Speaking Thursday in York, Pa., Obama objected to what he characterized as Republican attempts to demean social work.
“Why would that kind of work be ridiculous?” Obama asked. “Who are they fighting for? What are they advocating for? They think that the lives of those folks who are struggling each and every day — that working with them to try to improve their lives is somehow not relevant to the presidency?
“I think maybe that’s the problem — that’s part of why they’re out of touch and they don’t get it, because they haven’t spent much time working on behalf of those folks.”
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