McCain’s speech: Change you can’t believe in

Why this speechwriter thinks John McCain’s acceptance speech missed the mark.

“McCain was tough on his own party,” Larry King said to his panel of Democrats after it was all over. “Did it hurt him?”

If he’d only reversed two words! The correct question? “Was McCain tough on his own party?” McCain wasn’t, and it’s a failure that outweighed the not-trivial ways his acceptance speech did what he needed.

There hadn’t been much debate about those needs last week. Most people picked out three.

Show vigor. McCain’s clearly inexperienced vice-presidential pick exasperated his supporters, as we heard from Peggy Noonan and Michael Murphy when a live mic picked up what they thought was a private conversation. Undecided voters needed to see this 72-year old with a history of cancer was healthy, that he didn’t lose his place, have trouble following a script or fade out at the end.

Move and inspire. Obama’s speech texts have weaknesses but those pale beside the flaccid, cliché-ridden, passive voice-laden sentences of McCain’s day-to-day drafts. Undecideds, who generally split for the party out of power, needed to hear the concrete detail, memorable language and story that could excite them.

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.