Once-stalled GOP convention comes out swinging against Obama
Fred Thompson and Sen. Joe Lieberman use the McCain story to draw sharp contrasts with the Democratic presidential nominee.
Mary Knox Merrill/Staff
St. Paul, Minn.
On Day 2, the Republican National Convention returned to offense.
After a convention opening disrupted by hurricane Gustav and put on the defensive by news about the pregnancy of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palinâ€™s daughter, speakers on the second evening of the GOP confab got proceedings moving again in a forward direction.
Tough commercials lampooning Senator Obama as a typical celebrity helped pull Senator McCain even in polls prior to the opening of the late summerâ€™s convention season. The McCain camp now may be hoping that a return to an Obama-centric campaign message can erase the lead the Illinois senator has regained since the Democratsâ€™ national meeting in Denver last week.
Obama is â€śhistorymaking in that heâ€™s the most liberal and inexperienced nominee ever to run for president,â€ť boomed former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee in a speech that repeatedly brought the faithful in St. Paulâ€™s Xcel Energy Center to their feet.
â€śWe need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11 â€“ that to protect America, we must stay on offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again.â€ť
Bush, a sitting GOP president, but also a GOP president with low poll ratings, talked for fewer than 10 minutes. Senator Thompson, whose own presidential run began with promise but flamed out early, got to speak nearly three times as long.
To Thompson fell the job of recounting the story of McCainâ€™s military service and time as a prisoner of war to a large prime-time television audience.
â€śWhen his captors wanted to know the names of the other pilots in his squadron, John McCain gave them the names of the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers.... John McCainâ€™s bones may have been broken but his spirit never was,â€ť said Thompson.
But Thompson deftly contrasted McCainâ€™s biography with charges that Barack Obama is someone who just talks a good game on Sunday television talks shows and the â€śWashington cocktail circuitâ€ť.
He contrasted what he said was McCainâ€™s inherent statesmanship with Obamaâ€™s showmanship.
â€śThe respect [McCain] is given around the world is not because of a teleprompter speech designed to appeal to American critics abroad,â€ť said Thompson.
The former Tennessee Senator also mounted a full-throated defense of McCainâ€™s vice-presidential pick.
â€śWhat a breath of fresh air Gov. Sarah Palin is,â€ť said Thompson. â€śShe is from a small town, with small-town values, but thatâ€™s not good enough for those folks who are attacking her and her family.â€ť
The eveningâ€™s final speaker, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, similarly lauded McCain while criticizing Obama. As a former Democrat, now an Independent, Senator Liebermanâ€™s words were in their own way more unusual.
Obama has not reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant, said Lieberman.
â€śI ask you to contrast that with John McCainâ€™s record of bipartisanship and accomplishment,â€ť said the Connecticut senator.
Lieberman then accomplished the remarkable feat of getting a GOP national convention to applaud for Bill Clinton. He did it by contrasting what he depicted as Obamaâ€™s scant record with that of President Clinton, who had reached across party lines to â€śget some important things done, like free-trade agreements, welfare reform, and a balanced budget.â€ť
The Xcel Energy Center crowd clapped, albeit hesitantly, in response.