McCain is praised for his independence and experience on the first full day of the convention.

McCain is praised for his independence and experience on the first full day of the convention.

McCain is praised for his independence and experience on the first full day of the convention.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 3 2008 6:26 AM

The GOP Strikes Back

The papers lead with the first full day of the Republican National Convention, where President Bush, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and Fred Thompson praised John McCain as an independent thinker with the necessary experience to lead the country in a time of war. The Los Angeles Timesnotes that the GOP had two main goals for last night: "to reintroduce McCain to the country after a rocky few days and to denigrate Democratic nominee Barack Obama." The Washington Postpoints out that the speakers yesterday tried "to turn what Democrats have hoped would be a major liability for McCain—his vocal support for the Iraq war—into an asset by stressing his perseverance in the face of popular opinion." Bush delivered his brief remarks via satellite from Washington in a move that let him avoid "a convention appearance that political operatives predicted could have been uncomfortable" for McCain, who has been trying to distance himself from the unpopular president, notes the Wall Street Journal, which focuses the lead spot of its worldwide news box on a look at how Republican operatives are working to prepare Palin for her convention debut.

The New York Timessays that if the "subplot of the Democratic convention in Denver was the lingering resentment between Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the undercurrent here is the longstanding tension" between Bush and McCain. Yesterday, Bush became the first sitting president not to attend his party's convention since 1968. And while the president avoided mentioning Obama by name, Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, had no such qualms. USA Todaygives top billing to Lieberman's speech, which the paper calls "remarkable," and notes that the man who was Al Gore's running mate described Obama as simply not ready for the job of commander in chief. "Eloquence is no substitute for record," Lieberman said.

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In his eight nonprime-time minutes, Bush was a team player and did his part to distance McCain from his presidency. McCain is "not afraid to tell you when he disagrees," Bush said. "Believe me, I know." The delegates also heard from actor and former senator Fred Thompson, who praised McCain's independence and was quick to mock the Democratic Party's "history-making nominee for president—history-making in that he's the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president." Even the first lady got into the game of changing Democratic talking points into attacks. After listing some of her husband's accomplishments, Laura Bush quipped: "You might call that change you can really believe in."

Without a doubt, the real star of the evening was Lieberman, who, as the LAT puts it, "used his cross-party reach to make an aggressive appeal to Democrats and independents." Lieberman belittled Obama as "a gifted and eloquent young man" and proceeded to say that in his few years in the Senate, the Democratic nominee "has not reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant." The senator from Connecticut described McCain as "the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward." ("The Republicans roared for the Democrat, capping the night of contradiction," writes Slate's John Dickerson.)

Despite all the talk about McCain at the convention yesterday, in many ways his vice-presidential pick continued to dominate the conversation, and all the papers front stories about the Alaska governor. Sarah Palin will give her big speech tonight, which will be "her first, and perhaps most important, chance to define herself to the American public," notes the WSJ. Although lots has been said about her, the world hasn't actually seen much of Palin since she was selected as McCain's running mate. Republican operatives have been canceling her few scheduled public appearances as they vigorously work on preparing her for prime time.

The WP notes that while McCain aides have been briefing her on policy issues, most of the time has been devoted to figuring out what she should say in her speech tonight. Aides had already prepared a speech, but since they weren't expecting McCain to pick a woman, they had to "start from scratch" because the remarks were "very masculine." While the initial draft of the speech contained lots of attacks against Obama, it seems that now Palin will focus more on policy, with a special focus on energy and political reform. The WSJ gets word that Palin will pay special attention to her accomplishments in Alaska and will make a direct appeal to supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton.

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In a front-page story, the LAT says that McCain's campaign is also vigorously working on "an all-fronts defense" of Palin. Some of this strategy was already in evidence yesterday, as Republican operatives accused Democrats of sexism and criticized the media for paying so much attention to Palin's pregnant teenage daughter. The LAT got hold of some internal documents that urge Republicans to make a comparison between Obama and Palin to counter the argument that she's too inexperienced to be president. "Obama's 'experience' is running for president," the talking points say. "Gov. Palin's experience is bringing people together to get things done."

In another look at whether the McCain camp did enough vetting of Palin before offering her the spot on the ticket, the WP says she was only subjected to a deep, in-person interview with campaign staff on Wednesday of last week. It was at this meeting that she apparently revealed her daughter's pregnancy. She was a finalist along with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and an official says the campaign was still trying to find out some information about her the day McCain offered her the job.

In recent days, several pieces of information have come out that dispute McCain's description of Palin as a government reformer who has "stopped government from wasting taxpayers' money." But perhaps none of it is as damaging as a story in today's LAT because it turns out that McCain himself criticized some earmarks that Palin's small Alaska town received while she was mayor. In "pork lists" that the senator has published to call attention to wasteful government spending, McCain has included earmarks for Wasilla, Alaska, as "objectionable" three times in recent years. Palin was far from embarrassed about these earmarks, as she defended the practice in a newspaper column. And although McCain's campaign is trying to say that Palin had no choice but to work within a broken system, the LAT couldn't be clearer: "Wasilla had received few if any earmarks before Palin became mayor."

It turns out Palin brought more than just earmarks to her town of less than 7,000 people when she became mayor. In a profile that describes Palin's rise in small-town politics, the NYT says political campaigns used to be a low-key affair before Palin got involved and began talking about wedge issues such as abortion and gun rights. Once she did become mayor, she raised the idea of possibly banning some books from the library, an idea that never got anywhere. Also, when she took office, she cleaned house and asked many who had supported her opponent to resign, a practice that was "virtually unheard of in Wasilla in past elections," says the NYT.

By now, it's hardly a secret that at least part of the reason behind Palin's selection was a desire to appeal to the party's traditional conservative base. By all accounts, religious conservatives are happy with the choice, but this is hardly the first thing McCain has done to woo these voters, details the NYT. McCain has scrapped the idea of changing the Republican platform on abortion and has said that a fetus gains human rights "at the moment of conception." In his attempts to appeal to these voters, McCain "has in some ways gone further than Bush," says the NYT, and some have characterized this year's platform as the most conservative in the party's history.

The WP's Harold Meyerson looked through the Republican Convention schedule and couldn't find "a single forum, workshop or kaffeklatsch" devoted to dealing with current economic problems. After the diversity of delegates that was on display in Denver, the GOP convention "is almost shockingly—un-Americanly—white." This will certainly signify long-term challenges for the future of the party. "This year, however, whiteness is the only way Republicans cling to power," writes Meyerson. "If the election is about the economy, they're cooked—and their silence this week on nearly all things economic means that they know it."

Remember that U.S. passport that Russian authorities said they found in a building used by Georgian special forces last month? Russian officials said that it proved that Americans were helping Georgia in the conflict. Today, the WSJ tracks down the person behind the passport, and it seems Michael Lee White is an English teacher in China who is shocked at all the attention he has been receiving. White says the passport that was displayed by Russian authorities was probably one he accidentally left in the seat pocket of a flight. A former CIA operative described Russian claims as "slapstick" because if they're going to hold up a passport as evidence, "[I]t shouldn't belong to some guy teaching English in China."

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