John McCain: Not nearly as compelling on TV as his co-star


Friday update: Well, 38.9 million viewers disagreed with me. That’s how many checked out McCain’s speech in the 10 p.m. hour, marking a 500,000 viewer gain over Dem nominee Barack Obama’s speech last week.

I guess it is a generational thing.

Sarah Palin was MTV in her widely viewed veep nomination acceptance speech — fast-paced and full of cuts and jabs, zingers and flash. For tonight’s main event at the Republican National Convention, John McCain was a Hallmark Channel movie — well-produced but utterly predictable, sticking with a formula that plays well the target aud.

For a guy who’s billing himself as a “maverick,” McCain TV didn’t seem to veer far from the traditional GOP campaign themes of recent elections: national security, taming big government, tax cuts, school choice, Washington insiders (bad), love of this great country (good), and protecting the health care system from a bogeyman in the guise of “a bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor.”

In fairness, McCain’s long speech was notably free of culture-vulture saber-rattling and hammering on some other wedge issues. But even the theme of the night, as plastered all over the St. Paul convention hall, “Country First,” served as a constant reminder that watch out — the other guys are putting something other than their Love of Country first in this campaign.

“I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need,” McCain said toward the end of his nearly 50-minute address. “My country saved me.”

McCain has never been accused of being a great public speaker. His delivery is a halting and he’s got a habit of pausing a little too long before flashing a toothy smile to punctuate his applause lines. He used a bunch of them during the overly long Candidate’s Cut of his speech.

By the time he got to his “stand up and fight with me” closing, he frankly sounded more winded than fiery. (My husband gave up long before, and went into another room to catch Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” special on Fox.)

But I can’t help it — I have long had a soft spot for John McCain. It was much softer during the 2000 campaign, when it felt like he was actually trying to challenge his party’s orthodoxy, than it is today. Still, there’s no denying that his story as a war hero and Hanoi Hilton survivor is admirable and inspirational. He is a Great American, imbued with the honor, courage, dignity and patriotism that the other convention speakers lauded him for.

But does he still qualify as a maverick? By his demeanor and delivery, it felt like he was sticking to the script for the most part on Thursday.