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The McCain Campaign theme throughought this election has been “Country First” – something Barack Obama tried to mock at the Democratic National Convention, probably to usurp his rival’s obvious use of the phrase.
What Obama didn’t count on, though, was that John McCain doesn’t just run on words – as Rudy Giuliani said, “change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.” John McCain MEANT what he said when he said “Country First”- not as a campaign slogan, but as a way of life. It’s something Americans saw in his acceptance speech, and something the convention speakers led up to in the nights before John McCain spoke.
First, the Democrat-Turned-Independent
It’s ironic that the man who might have ran on a ticket against John McCain eight years ago gave a rousing speech for him instead this week at the opening of the Republican National Convention – and by doing so will likely be punished by the party that once loved him.
But Joe Lieberman, the first of many speakers at the RNC to echo the theme of “Country First,” didn’t seem to care. Despite the risk to his career – and make no mistake that it was huge – he stood up for John McCain in front of an initially tepid audience. Why? In his words:
“I don’t have to tell you that we were blessed in this country to have a great generation of founders, and they foresaw the danger of this kind of senseless partisanship. In fact, our first president, George Washington, in his farewell address, warned that the spirit of party could be the worst enemy of our democracy and enfeeble our government’s ability to do its job.
My friends, I think tonight we could say that President Washington was absolutely right. The truth is, today we are living through his worst nightmare in the capital city that bears his name. And that brings me directly to why I’m here tonight. What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this? Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m here to support John McCain because country matters more than party.
I am here tonight for a simple reason. John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead America forward.” [1]
Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 and the man who would have run against John McCain had McCain beaten George Bush in the primary that year, seems to have seen the light in the past eight years. He, like McCain, has put aside partisan politics. He has even become an Independent. While Democrats thus far haven’t punished him for it, after his speech at the RNC they have threatened to do so. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to take away Lieberman’s chairs on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees. [2]
Lieberman knew this going in, yet he attacked Barack Obama and urged Americans to vote for John McCain and put country before party anyway. He said:
“Now, let me share something with you that I’m in a unique position to do as a Democrat. My Democratic friends know all about John’s record of independence and accomplishment. And you see, that’s why I think some of them are spending so much time and so much money trying to convince the American people that John McCain is someone else. I am here to tell you what I think you know, but I want to speak to the people out there. Don’t be fooled by some of these political statements and advertisements. Trust me. God only made one John McCain and he is his own man.
Let me, as John would say, give you some straight talk here. If John McCain was just another go-along partisan politician, he never would have taken on corrupt Republican lobbyists or big corporations that were cheating the American people or powerful colleagues in Congress who were wasting taxpayer money, but he did. If John McCain was another go-along partisan politician, he never would have led the fight to fix our broken immigration system or actually do something about global warming, but he did.” [3] 
But Lieberman wasn’t done yet. He reached out to Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and undecided voters. He did his best to convince Americans, as an Independent (and Independents, clearly, will be a huge factor in this election), to vote for John McCain:
“You may be thinking of voting for John McCain, but you’re not sure yet. Some of you may never have voted for a Republican before and, frankly, in an ordinary election, you probably never would. But I want you to believe with me that this is no ordinary election – (cheers, applause) – because – and it’s no ordinary election because these are not ordinary times. And, trust me, John McCain is no ordinary candidate. You may not agree with John McCain on every issue, but you can always count on him to be straight with you about where he stands, and to stand for what he thinks is right for our country regardless of the politics. I can tell you with a certain faith that, as president, you can count on John McCain to be what he is naturally – a restless reformer who will clean up Washington and get our government working again for all of the American people. So tonight, I want to ask you whether you are an independent, a Reagan Democrat, a Clinton Democrat or just a plain old Democrat, this year, when you vote for president, vote for the person you believe is best for the country, not for the party you happen to belong to.
I ask those of you who are watching or listening: Vote for the leader who since the age of 17, when he first raised his hand and took an oath to defend and protect our Constitution, has always put America first. My friends, I appeal to independents, Democrats and Republicans. Let’s come together this November to make a great American patriot, John McCain, our next great president.” [4]
Huckabee: With Wit and Wisdom
Long after most other Republican candidates (unless you actually count Ron Paul) had thrown in the towel, Mike Huckabee stubbornly held on in the primaries. The former governor of Arkansas holds no public office now, but he was a regular on late-night talk shows and was surprisingly engaging and funny for a man with such conservative beliefs. He obviously wanted to be the nominee and joked about it in his speech.
“I really was originally hoping for the slot on Thursday called the acceptance speech. But I am delighted to speak on behalf of my 2nd choice for the Republican nomination for President, John McCain – a man with the character and stubborn kind of integrity that I want in a President.” [5]
Then Huckabee got serious. The Democrats might have talked a lot about unity, but the Republicans didn’t focus on that. They didn’t have to – they had a Democrat/Independent at their convention, and their true message was not about party unity, it was, basically, about Country Before Party. Signs that read “Country First” were in abundance – something Barack Obama had tried to mitigate in his acceptance speech the prior week when he said he puts country first too (but he voted with Democrats 97 percent of the time and falsely accused John McCain of voting with George Bush 90 percent of the time).
In his speech, Huckabee staunchly supported John McCain, even while praising Barack Obama for his own achievements – the fact that he has become his party’s nominee “not because of his color, but with indifference to it.” (Though many could argue this point, as Obama himself has pointed out numerous times that he is, in fact, black – then decried people for being racist for saying he is black).
Huckabee also touched on John McCain’s economic plan and foreign policy experience – something Barack Obama clearly lacks.
“If you’re a young couple losing your house, your credit rating, and your American dream, you want something to change. John McCain offers specific ideas to respond to this need for change. But there are some things we never want to change – freedom, security, and the opportunity to prosper.
Barack Obama’s excellent adventure to Europe took his campaign for change to hundreds of thousands of people who don’t even vote or pay taxes here. It’s not what he took there that concerns me. It’s what he brought back. Lots of ideas from Europe he’d like to see imported here.” [6]
Finally, Huckabee reminded Americans what John McCain stands for, has been through, and went after Obama on his willingness to negotiate with rogue nations – or his just plain naiveté.
Maybe the most dangerous threat of an Obama presidency is that he would continue to give madmen the benefit of the doubt. If he’s wrong just once, we will pay a heavy price. John McCain will follow the fanatics to their caves in Pakistan or to the gates of hell.
What Obama wants to do is give them a place setting at the table.
John McCain is by far the most prepared, experienced, and tested Presidential candidate. Thoroughly tested. When John McCain received his country’s call to service, he didn’t hesitate, and he didn’t choose the easy path. He sat alone in the cockpit, taking off from an aircraft carrier to fly in unfriendly skies, knowing he might not make it back. And one day, he didn’t make it back. He was shot down and captured. He was brutally tortured.
He could have eased his own pain and even cut short his imprisonment by uttering a few simple words renouncing his country. But he loved his country and knew that to return with honor later was better than to return without it now. “[7]
Romney: Rival, Rich Man, Economist?
Many wonder why former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney left the race for the Republican nomination so early – he was clearly well funded and beloved by many in the conservative community. Romney and John McCain, reportedly, have never been exactly close. That didn’t stop many in the media from speculating that Romney (along with many other names tossed about) would be McCain’s running mate. It also didn’t stop Romney from gamely campaigning for John McCain these last months or endorsing him again at the convention – talking about what is perhaps one of Romney’s strongest points: the economy.
“I spent 25 years in the private sector. I’ve done business in many foreign countries. I know why jobs come and why they go away. And I know that liberals don’t have a clue. They think that we have the biggest and strongest economy in the world because of our government. They’re wrong. America is strong because of the ingenuity, and entrepreneurship, and hard work of the American people. The American people have always been the source of our nation’s strength, and they always will be. We strengthen our people and our economy when we preserve and promote opportunity. Opportunity is what lets hope become reality.” [8]
Romney also talked about the threats of terrorism echoed in other speeches.
Fred Thompson: The Speech of His Life?
Thompson, McCain’s friend, primary rival, a former actor and Tennessee senator, made several blunders early in the primary and dropped out. He made up for those blunders with a rousing speech – coming out swinging in full support of the McCain/Palin ticket. First he defended Gov. Sarah Palin against the smears Joe Biden has already launched at her:
“Speaking of the vice presidential nominee, what a breath of fresh air Governor Sarah Palin is. She is from a small town, with small town values, but that’s not good enough for those folks who are attacking her and her family. Some Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit. Well, give me a tough Alaskan Governor who has taken on the political establishment in the largest state in the Union – and won – over the beltway business-as-usual crowd any day of the week. Let’s be clear…the selection of Governor Palin has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic. She is a courageous, successful, reformer, who is not afraid to take on the establishment. Sound like anyone else we know?
 She has run a municipality and she has run a state.” [9]
Thompson then went on to describe the story – known in sketchy outline to many but in detail to few – of John McCain’s early life.
“John McCain’s character has been tested like no other presidential candidate in the history of this nation. He comes from a military family whose service to our country goes back to the Revolutionary War. The tradition continues. As I speak, John and Cindy McCain have one son who’s just finished his first tour in Iraq. Another son is putting ‘Country First’ and is attending the Naval Academy. We have a number of McCains in the audience tonight. Also here tonight is John’s 96-year-old mother, Roberta.
All I’ve got to say is that if Roberta McCain had been the McCain captured by the North Vietnamese, they would have surrendered.
Now, John’s father was a bit of a rebel, too. In his first two semesters at the Naval Academy, he managed to earn 333 demerits.
Unfortunately, John later saw that as a record to be beaten. A rebellious mother and a rebellious father – I guess you can see where this is going. In high school and the Naval Academy, he earned a reputation as a troublemaker. But as John points out, he wasn’t just a troublemaker. He was the leader of the troublemakers. Although loaded with demerits like his father, John was principled even in rebellion.
He never violated the honor code.
However, in flight school in Pensacola, he did drive a Corvette and date a girl who worked in a bar as an exotic dancer under the name of Marie, the Flame of Florida. And the reason I’m telling you these things, is that, apparently, this mixture of rebellion and honor helped John McCain survive the next chapter of his life: John McCain was preparing to take off from the USS Forrestal for his sixth mission over Vietnam, when a missile from another plane accidentally fired and hit his plane.
The flight deck burst into a fireball of jet fuel. John’s flight suit caught fire. He was hit by shrapnel. It was a scene of horrible human devastation. Men sacrificed their lives to save others that day. One kid, who John couldn’t identify because he was burned beyond recognition, called out to John to ask if a certain pilot was OK. John replied that, yes, he was. The young sailor said, ‘Thank God’…and then he died.
These are the kind of men John McCain served with. These are the men and women John McCain knows and understands and loves. If you want to know who John McCain is, if you want to know what John McCain values, look to the men and women who wear America’s uniform today. The fire on the Forrestal burned for two days. Twenty planes were destroyed; 134 sailors died. John himself barely dodged death in the inferno and could’ve returned to the States with his ship. Instead, he volunteered for combat on another carrier that was undermanned from losing so many pilots.
Stepping up. Putting his ‘Country First.’ Three months later John McCain was a Prisoner of War. On October 26, 1967, on his 23rd mission over North Vietnam, a surface-to-air missile slammed into John’s A-4 Skyhawk jet, blowing it out of the sky.  When John ejected, part of the plane hit him – breaking his right knee, his left arm, his right arm in three places.
An angry mob got to him. A rifle butt broke his shoulder. A bayonet pierced his ankle and his groin. They took him to the Hanoi Hilton, where he lapsed in and out of consciousness for days. He was offered medical care for his injuries if he would give up military information in return. John McCain said ‘No.’
After days of neglect, covered in grime, lying in his own waste in a filthy room, a doctor attempted to set John’s right arm without success…and without anesthesia. His other broken bones and injuries were not treated. John developed a high fever, dysentery. He weighed barely a hundred pounds.
Expecting him to die, his captors placed him in a cell with two other POWs who also expected him to die. But with their help, John McCain fought on. He persevered. So then they put him in solitary confinement…for over two years. Isolation…incredible heat beating on a tin roof. A light bulb in his cell burning 24 hours a day. Boarded-up cell windows blocking any breath of fresh air.
The oppressive heat causing boils the size of baseballs under his arms. The outside world limited to what he could see through a crack in a door.
We hear a lot of talk about hope.
John McCain knows about hope. That’s all he had to survive on. For propaganda purposes, his captors offered to let him go home. John McCain refused. He refused to leave ahead of men who’d been there longer. He refused to abandon his conscience and his honor, even for his freedom. He refused, even though his captors warned him, ‘It will be very bad for you.’ They were right. It was.
The guards cracked ribs, broke teeth off at the gums. They cinched a rope around his arms and painfully drew his shoulders back. Over four days, every two to three hours, the beatings resumed. During one especially fierce beating, he fell, again breaking his arm. John was beaten for communicating with other prisoners. He was beaten for NOT communicating with so-called ‘peace delegations.’ He was beaten for not giving information during interrogations. When his captors wanted the names of other pilots in his squadron, John gave them the names of the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers.
Whenever John was returned to his cell – walking if he could, dragged if he couldn’t – as he passed his fellow POWs, he would call out to them. He’d smile…and give them a thumbs-up. For five-and-a-half years this went on. John McCain’s bones may have been broken but his spirit never was.
Now, being a POW certainly doesn’t qualify anyone to be President. But it does reveal character.
This is the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of history have sought in their leaders.
Strength. Courage. Humility. Wisdom. Duty. Honor.
It’s pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves, ‘Who is this man?’ and ‘Can we trust this man with the Presidency?’
He has been to Iraq eight times since 2003. He went seeking truth, not publicity.
When he travels abroad, he prefers quietly speaking to the troops amidst the heat and hardship of their daily lives.
And the same character that marked John McCain’s military career has also marked his political career. This man, John McCain is not intimidated by what the polls say or by what is politically safe or popular… John McCain cannot raise his arms above his shoulders. He cannot salute the flag of the country for which he sacrificed so much. Tonight, as we begin this convention week, yes, we stand with him.
And we salute him. We salute his character and his courage.
His spirit of independence, and his drive for reform. His vision to bring security and peace in our time, and continued prosperity for America and all her citizens. For our own good and our children’s, let us celebrate that vision, that belief, that faith so we can keep America the greatest country the world has ever seen.” [10]
Keynote Rudy: Former Mayor of a Big Town

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, yet another of John McCain’s rivals early in the primary season, delivered the keynote address, and it was, judging by the crowd’s reaction, a knockout.

Seriously, Giuliani needs to run for office again – this time perhaps with a different strategy, but no true American can truly say he didn’t do a wonderful job after the 9/11 attacks. As NYC mayor, he ran a city larger than many states. He clearly has the experience to run for any political office. And he graciously gave his wholehearted support to John McCain. The text of the whole speech is worth reprinting, but some highlights are here:
“To those Americans who still feel torn in this election, I’d like to suggest one way to think about this to help make a choice in 2008. Think about it this way. You’re hiring someone to do a job, an important job, a job that relates to the safety of yourself and your family. Imagine that you have two job applications in your hand with the name and the party affiliation blocked out. They’re both good and patriotic men, with very different life experiences that have led them to this moment of shared history. You’ve got to make this decision, and you’ve got to make it right, and you have to decide – who am I going to hire.
On the one hand, you’ve got a man who’s dedicated his life to the service of the United States. He’s been tested time and again by crisis. He has passed every test.
Even his adversaries acknowledge, Democrats, Republicans, everyone acknowledges that John McCain is a true American hero. He loves America, as we all do, but he has sacrificed for it as few do. As a young man, he joined the military. And being a ‘Top Gun’ kind of guy, he became a fighter pilot. He was on a mission over Hanoi when his plane was shot down. He was tortured in a POW camp. But he refused his captors’ offer of early release, because this is a man who believes in serving a cause greater than self-interest, and that cause is the United States of America. America comes first!
He has proved his commitment with his blood. He came home a national hero. He had earned a life of peace and quiet. But he was called to public service again, running for Congress and then the United States Senate, as a proud foot soldier in the Reagan revolution. His principle independence never wavered. He stood up to special interests. He fought for fiscal discipline and ethics reform and a strong national defense. That’s the one choice. That’s the one man.
On the other hand, you have a resume from a gifted man with an Ivy League education. He worked as a community organizer. (Laughter.) What? (Laughs.) He worked – I said –AUDIENCE: (Chanting.) Zero! Zero! Zero! Zero! Zero! I said – okay, okay. Maybe this is the first problem on the resume. (Laughter.) He worked as a community organizer. He immersed himself in Chicago machine politics. (Boos.) Then he ran – then he ran for the state legislature, and he got elected. And nearly 130 times, he couldn’t make a decision. He couldn’t figure out whether to vote yes or no. It was too tough. He voted – he voted ‘present.’ Sheesh! I didn’t know about this vote ‘present’ when I was mayor of New York City. Sarah Palin didn’t have this vote ‘present’ when she was mayor or governor. You don’t get ‘present’ – it doesn’t work in an executive job. For president of the United States, it’s not good enough to be present. You have to make a decision.
A few years later, he ran for the U.S. Senate. He spent most of his time as a celebrity senator – no leadership, no legislation to really speak of. His rise is remarkable in its own right. It’s the kind of thing that can happen only in America. (Laughter, applause.)
But he’s never run a city, he’s never run a state, he’s never run a business, he’s never run a military unit, he’s never had to lead people in crisis. He is the least experienced candidate for president of the United States in at least the last 100 years. Not a personal attack, a statement of fact. Barack Obama has never led anything, nothing! Nada!
Nada! Nothing!
Well, the choice in this election comes down to substance over style. John McCain has been tested; Barack Obama has not.
Tough times require strong leadership, and this is no time for on-the-job training.
We agree – we agree with Joe Biden -one time – one time, when he said that – until he flip-flopped and changed his position. And yes, being president means being able to answer that call at 3:00 in the morning.
And that’s the one time we agree with Hillary. I bet you never thought Hillary would get applause at this convention. She can be right. Well, no one can look at John McCain and say that he’s not ready to be commander in chief. He is. He’s ready. And we can trust him to deal with anything, anything that nature throws our way, anything the terrorists do to us. This man has been tested over and over again, and we will be safe in his hands and our children will be safe in his hands and our country will be safe in the hands of John McCain. No doubt!
I learned as a trial lawyer a long time ago, if you don’t have the facts, you got to change them. So our opponents want to reframe the debate. They would have you believe that this election is about change versus more of the same. But that’s really a false choice, because there’s good change and bad change. Because change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.” [11]
The New VEEP: Gov. Sarah Palin:
For those who thought Gov. Sarah Palin was an untested, inexperienced, pretty addition to the ticket, they were in for a surprise with her spirited speech at the RNC convention. She was also not a last-minute pick, or someone who was not vetted by the campaign – check the blogs and you’ll even find a petition from more than six months ago to “draft Sarah Palin” for VP. In any case, she played her role well – she introduced herself and her family to the American public, showing that she is an average American citizen, and, moreover, a Washington outsider. She talked about the reforms she has made in Alaskan politics. She talked about the jet she put up for sale on e-bay – a luxury she didn’t need as governor and money that could go back to the taxpayers. But she also wasn’t afraid to go on the attack – gracefully – against both Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Rather than go into the details of her speech here, the next Vice President will get her own story.
But some of her speech deserves a quick review:
On public service: “The right reason is to challenge the status quo, to serve the common good, and to leave this nation better than we found it. No one expects us to agree on everything. But we are expected to govern with integrity, good will, clear convictions, and…a servant’s heart.” [12]
On Obama:
“But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state Senate. This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word ‘victory’ except when he’s talking about his own campaign. But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed…when the roar of the crowd fades away…when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot – what exactly is our opponent’s plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet? The answer is to make government bigger…take more of your money…give you more orders from Washington…and to reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world. [13]
The Original Maverick: John McCain
John McCain’s speech, like Sarah Palin’s, deserves its own story. Both will be out soon.
But even during John McCain’s acceptance speech, Barack Obama’s fans from Code Pink were rioting on the convention floor and Obama himself was sending out fundraising e-mails about his time as a “community organizer” – something even the people he supposedly organized in Chicago claim he failed at miserably. One of his flunkies wrote: “But worst of all – and this deserves to be noted – they insulted the very idea that ordinary people have a role to play in our political process.” [14]
Of course, ordinary people are most certainly a part of John McCain’s campaign (not paid bloggers, certainly, as Obama employs; volunteers, rather, like the people who run this site). Because the stakes are too high to do anything less.
The stakes are so high that, for free, thousands of grassroots organizations have joined John McCain, usually without his knowledge, such as this site – to defeat the threat Barack Obama poses.
Ironic that the DNC was supposed to be all about “Unity” – but John McCain and Sarah Palin are not about unifying a party – though they were both thoroughly (and sincerely) endorsed by McCain’s former rivals.
This is not a usual election. And this is not a usual candidate – or ticket. And this is not just a slogan – the actions clearly back up the words: Country Before Party, America First. And the only ticket for these troubled times is McCain/Palin.
[14] E-mail: The attacks Barack Obama 8/4/08