The economy of cred is not beyond a clever schoolkid. Nonetheless, most politicians seem to lack the basic skills, a fact which speaks less to the savvy of elected officials (and the nearly elect as well) than to heavy bureaucracy’s gift of flattening out the least nuance.
John McCain’s charm, aside from his arid and serpentine persistence, is that though he is a nerd and a warrior, he still seems to recall some basic lessons of cool. Foremost among them is that, if you are parsimonious with your yeses, each one counts more. Again, this is not particularly subtle; it works anyway. And so it is that the Republican party’s favorite nay-sayer can play his opening-night duties as a principled return to the fold. He’s earned his free thinker’s badge; he even cut eyes at the Democrats, as if there was some legitimate risk he might rollerskate over to the other rink—as if he somehow might not show up at the RNC, benediction in his pocket and happy to see us.
A cynical way of looking at would be: he’s spent a little while doing what it takes to make a night of hypesmanship matter.
As if to make it clear, he begins by quoting FDR; from there, he turns to the task of recalibrating Barack Obama’s punchlines for a different audience. If there are two Americas, they are a peace America and a war America, of which the latter is infintely preferable just now (our military superiority matched only by our love for our ideals; he actually says this).
His own hype man, Lindsay Graham, warmed up the crowd by proclaiming “There will be no class warfare in this hallway tonight,” and that’s true enough; looking around, one notices all cowboys, no injuns. Except maybe for Michael Moore, who managed earlier to parlay his press pass into a press conference [click4pic] and be the official bad guy. McCain’s biggest applause line is when he mentions “a certain disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe…”—at which point he is drowned out by applause, and then by chants of “four more years!”
“Please, please,” he begs, recapturing the crowd with “that line was so good I’ll use it again: …and certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam’s Iraq was an oasis of peace.” I must have missed that movie, but the anxious energy surrounding a bit of cinema, in comparison to McCain’s plain elocutions, leave little doubt about the power of the image.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 30, 2004