McCain accepts nomination and vows to change Washington.

McCain accepts nomination and vows to change Washington.

McCain accepts nomination and vows to change Washington.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 5 2008 6:28 AM

Loose Change

John McCain accepted his party's nomination for president yesterday and portrayed himself as a public servant able to rise above his party and reach out across the aisle to bring about the change in Washington that voters so desperately crave. By talking so much about change, McCain "sought to claim [Barack] Obama's campaign theme as his own," notes USA Today. The Republican nominee pretty much ignored the president and directed his anger "at a perennial target of both parties: nameless faceless obstructionists in Washington," says the Los Angeles Times. "Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd," he said. "Change is coming."

McCain, of course, is no stranger to Washington. He "has spent nearly 26 years in Congress and, at 72, would be the oldest president elected to a first term, but he presented himself as an agent of revival for a political system in disarray," the Washington Post summarizes. Those who have been paying attention in the past couple of months were unlikely to be surprised by McCain's words. Although it was "delivered at one of the most prominent moments of a presidential campaign," much of his speech "was little different from the stump speech he has been delivering across the country," notes the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal says that the success Gov. Sarah Palin has enjoyed this week in uniting the party's base "liberated Sen. McCain to reach beyond those voters to Democrats and independents in his own speech." But it came at a price. "Delegates who repeatedly leaped to their feet Wednesday sat stock-still during long periods when McCain spoke," the LAT observes.

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At a convention where many of the speakers had tried to unite the Republican Party's base, McCain saved some of his harshest criticism for his own party. "We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption," McCain said. "We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger." Unlike most of the speakers of the last few days, McCain recognized that many Americans are suffering economically and he offered up tax cuts, free trade, and education as ways to help people get out of the current mess. "My tax cuts will create jobs," McCain said last night. "His tax increases will eliminate them."

Beyond policy, where he didn't offer up anything new, McCain put his character front and center as the reason why voters should pick him instead of a newcomer who offers up lofty ideas but has no record to back them up. "I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again," McCain said. "I have that record and the scars to prove it. Sen. Obama does not." In recounting his life in service, McCain also spoke at length about being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's," he said.

Overall, though, it was as if McCain didn't even try to compete with his Democratic counterpart who spoke before 84,000 supporters at a football stadium last week. "McCain freely acknowledges that oratory is not his greatest talent, and his speech lacked the flourishes and drama of two others delivered during the conventions," says the WP. The NYT agrees and notes that McCain's speech "was often offered in a monotone as he stood before a solid-color backdrop that flicked from green to blue." It was a lackluster finish to a convention as "none of the speakers, including McCain, seemed to catch fire Thursday night," writes the LAT's television critic. ("The speech reeked of extra cooks making too many unintegrated additions," writes Slate's Mickey Kaus. "What does it say about McCain's management ability if he let the process for this crucial effort get out of control?")

Now that the two conventions are over, the NYT looks back and in a front-page analysis says that "it would be easy to be confused about which was really the gathering of the opposition." Throughout the week, McCain and his supporters "sounded the call of insurgents seeking to topple the establishment, even though their party heads the establishment." For the most part, Republicans simply chose to ignore that fact by simply not mentioning the president. Overall, Bush's name was uttered 12 times as often at the Democratic convention.

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In a piece inside, the WP says that reform "became the watchword of the Republican National Convention. … But what it means is unclear." McCain talked about reform as his way of promising to bring change to Washington, but there was "little explanation of what that change would be or how that change would take effect." The WP's TV critic agrees and writes that figuring out exactly what the change promisemeant "was left to the audience's imagination."

If there's one thing that this week cleared up, it is the strategy that McCain hopes will push Americans to vote for him in November. And it's looking like a return to the culture wars of the past that served President Bush so well in 2004 against John Kerry. Even if McCain himself tried to stay away from the issue in his address, this week demonstrated that his campaign "has settled on its final-stretch strategy to defeat Barack Obama: portraying Republicans as in sync with mainstream America and Democrats as the cultural fringe," says the LAT in its own front-page analysis. And while the rhetoric may seem like a blast from the past, not even Bush was this blunt during the conventions. The NYT notes inside that many social conservatives complained in 2000 and 2004 that the Republicans "had hidden them and their issues from the cameras," as Bush preferred to use "gentle euphemisms to avoid turning off moderate voters" when discussing controversial issues like abortion.

The presidential campaign is finally entering the home stretch (only 60 days to go!) so "it's time to ignore much of the country and pay attention to the people in the handful of states that will determine the next president," writes Slate's John Dickerson.

In a front-page piece, the Post's Dan Balz  summarizes the state of the race. The Obama campaign has often talked about expanding the electoral map, but the McCain camp says that with Palin by his side, the Republican nominee will be able to hold on to most of the traditional red states. The four states that Balz says "now loom largest" are Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Obama also hopes to put Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia into play and currently holds an advantage in Iowa and New Mexico. Dickerson also takes a look at where things stand and says that as far as battleground states go, "things look much better for Obama than they do nationally." Current polls show that Obama has 260 of the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the presidency while McCain's tally stands at 186.

In other news, the LAT, WP, and USAT front word that top Pentagon officials have recommended that the United States put a halt to any further troop reductions in Iraq until after President Bush leaves office. The WP and USAT say that the plan calls for around 7,000 of the approximately 146,000 troops currently in Iraq to be withdrawn in late January or early February. The same number of troops would then be deployed to Afghanistan. The LAT hears something slightly different and says that Gen. David Petraeus recommended that about 3,500 troops be removed from Iraq by February. Whatever the exact numbers, the recommendation contrasts with earlier suggestions that a larger draw-down would take place before Bush left office. But Pentagon officials were quick to describe the plan as a compromise between Petraeus, who's worried about removing troops too quickly, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have been pushing for a sharper cutback that would free up resources for Afghanistan.

The WP fronts a look at how Bob Woodward's fourth book on the Bush administration's handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq reveals that the White House has carried out "an extensive spying operation" on Iraq's prime minister and others in the Iraqi government. Woodward also says that "groundbreaking" new covert techniques that allowed U.S. service members to track and kill militant leaders was the main reason behind the reduction of violence in Iraq, and not the increase in the number of American troops in the country. The WP will publish a four-part series based on the book beginning Sunday.

Radio talking heads love to attach the flip-flopper label to politicians they dislike, but now it seems they'll be able to use it to describe one of their own. As the LAT points out, few conservatives seemed as happy with Palin's speech on Wednesday as Rush Limbaugh, who has been famously unenthusiastic about a McCain candidacy but had been pushing for him to pick the Alaska governor as his running mate for some time. "This lady has turned it all around," Limbaugh said yesterday. "From now on, on this program John McCain will be known as John McBrilliant."

The NYT's Paul Krugman writes that while watching the convention Wednesday night he was struck by "how much of the anger on the right" is caused by a perception "that Democrats look down their noses at regular people." By pushing people to vote Republican in order to send a message to people who think they're better than the average joe, the GOP has shown that it's "still the party of Nixon." Can McCain and Palin "really ride Nixonian resentment into an upset election victory in what should be an overwhelmingly Democratic year?" asks Krugman. "The answer is a definite maybe."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.