John McCain Pledges 'Change' In RNC Speech The Republican National Convention came to a close last night with Sen. John McCain accepting the party's nomination for the presidency. NPR's Tony Cox gets an update from Farai Chideya, who watched the speech from inside the convention center.
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John McCain Pledges 'Change' In RNC Speech

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John McCain Pledges 'Change' In RNC Speech

John McCain Pledges 'Change' In RNC Speech

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TONY COX, host:

From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Tony Cox. The Republican National Convention came to a close last night with presidential candidate John McCain accepting the party nomination.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican Presidential Candidate, Arizona): With hard work, strong faith, and a little courage, great things are always within our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight for what's right for our country.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Senator MCCAIN: Fight for the ideas...

COX: I spoke with Farai Chideya, our regular host, who was in St. Paul, Minnesota, who described the reaction to John McCain's speech.


There are different reactions. One of them is relief, because a lot of Republicans don't see Senator John McCain as a great speech maker. He's someone who notably has a hard time with teleprompters.

But in some ways, it worked to his advantage, because over the course of the night or the day before, the Republican Party completely changed the setup in the hall, built a long catwalk for him to come out on, and he was standing at a lectern, as if he were at a pulpit in a church with actual pieces of paper. Nobody uses paper anymore, everybody uses teleprompter. And he spoke about his military experience, as well as giving a large section of the speech on policy issues, like energy.

COX: Now, one of the things that we played at the beginning of our segment to introduce you, was a clip from his speech last night. At - near the end of the speech where he really began to get the crowd aroused, and asked them to stand up and fight with him, the crowd really seemed to be into it.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, the crowd in the hall was into it all week, even at times when the speakers where not very dynamic, and it took - it ran the gamut from, you know, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani who gave the real wind them up speech to Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, who caused a lot of people to go out and get sodas during her speech.

But this was a moment where Senator John McCain, again not known as the best speech giver, took complete control of the crowd, and wound people up into a frenzy. People were crying. People were clapping, and then you had confetti and balloons, and all sorts of kids and grandkids coming out on the stage. So, from the point of view of getting the base fired up, he certainly did that.

COX: We have another clip of him where he talked about his Vietnam war record as a prisoner of war, as did everyone else who was on the program all week, it seemed. Here's that clip.

Senator MCCAIN: On an October morning in the Gulf of Tonkin, I prepared for my 23rd mission over North Vietnam. I hadn't any worry I wouldn't come back safe and sound. I thought I was tougher than anyone. I was pretty independent then, too. I liked to bend a few rules, and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for my own pleasure, my own pride. I didn't think there was a cause that was more important than me.

COX: So Farai, that seemed to be effective as well, wasn't it? Did it resonate with the audience, and put him in a perhaps different light?

CHIDEYA: Well, the people who are going to vote for Senator McCain are very proud of his service, and I think even most people who aren't going to vote for Senator McCain are very proud of his service. The question was, was he going to reference it at all, because every speaker from Sarah Palin to Senator, you know, Fred Thompson, had already referenced his story.

And yet, you saw people still - people couldn't get enough of this at a time when America is in a - engaged in a war. There was a lot of talk also of the surge, and how Senator McCain favored the surge and Obama didn't. But one of the things I found interesting, and, you know, both political parties obviously have their things that they gloss over, is that Osama bin Laden was originally traced to the Taliban and Afghanistan.

The war in Iraq as we have learned over the past few years, really has nothing to do with the original hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the hunt for al-Qaeda. So, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq was the word of choice to talk about, but Afghanistan, a war where we're having a quite bit of difficulty on the ground, was rarely if ever mentioned.

And so that's something that I would bring up when you talk about this refrain of military service and success. That was a glaring example of something that didn't exist, and what also didn't exist was President Bush. He was never given a moment in the sun in the speeches, because in a certain way, Senator John McCain was running against the Bush legacy. But since they're members of the same party, it's rather embarrassing.

COX: Let me ask you about another element of the speech last night that seemed to be different to me at least, and to others that I've read. In terms of Barack Obama, and in contrast to Sarah Palin the night before, Senator McCain seemed to be much softer in his references to Obama than she was.

CHIDEYA: Yes. He was absolutely softer, and in some ways, it's - the president and vice president thing is always a, you know, I'm-the-rapper-you're-the-DJ situation. You want the vice president to not take too much of the spotlight, but they're also your attack dog. They can say things that you can't.

And certainly, from a political-strategy point of view, it's a good idea for the vice president to frame the debate in sharper terms, and some people say that, you know, we have a whole bunch of debates coming up now, vice presidential debates and presidential debates, and one analyst of debates says that the only way that a vice president can win a debate is by battling the president, or the presidential nominee.

Therefore, Sarah Palin could win debates by attacking Barack Obama, because attacking Joe Biden is not really the point, and vice versa, Biden attacking McCain. So, you know, Sarah Palin's job is to go in, take her son's hockey stick, and smack people around.

COX: How would you compare in contrast, Farai, what you heard and saw in Minneapolis, versus what you heard and saw in Denver a week ago with the Democrats?

CHIDEYA: Well, this is not quite what you were leading to, but I want to tell a quick story and it's all up on our blogs, News & Views. I went to a party that was an Africa relief organization's party, and the only black people there were me, a black man who was serving food, and a black woman who was serving food.

And I talked to the black man, who was walking around with trays of food, and he had this pink ear protectors, you know, earplugs in his ear. And we struck up a nice conversation, and he said, well, you really witnessed history in Denver. Then he pulled out the earplugs, he said, the only reason I have these in, is because I don't want to talk to anybody, and if they try to talk to me, I'll just say I can't hear you.

And there's this real disconnect that happened in Minneapolis, St. Paul, between a somewhat diverse city in a convention that was over 90 percent white. I think that there was some bad blood that developed, and some questions about how the Republican Party is preceding with what it says as admission to produce some more generous and open relationship with African Americans and Latinos.

You heard very little discussion of immigration, because it cuts both ways in the Republican Party, even among Latinos. So there were a lot of sore spots here.

COX: Was there a a sense of the historic nature of the ticket, including Sarah Palin on the Republican side? We know that there was on the Democratic side with Barack Obama, as the African-American nominee. Was there that same sense with the GOP?

CHIDEYA: Absolutely! People were absolutely proud to be part of a party that was making history on this level, and I think for a lot of Republicans, it was a real surprise, whether they liked it or not initially. I think everyone came around to really liking Sarah Palin.

It was quite a surprise to have a woman on the ticket, and quite a pleasant surprise, I think, for most of the women and most of the men who came to the convention.

COX: Thanks, Farai. You and Roy Hurst, our producer, did great work. Get some rest.

CHIDEYA: Thanks, Tony.

COX: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking to us from St. Paul, Minnesota.

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