WITH MARGARET Thatcher suffering from dementia and Ronald Reagan (God rest his soul) dead after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, I have a hard time watching John McCain without slipping into a Scrubs – meets –Family Guy daydream of McCain pounding Obama’s Greco-Roman columns growling “McCain Smash.” Yeah, the guy is old, but I think that in reality, red state hormones start pumping at the thought of Sarah Palin being not just one heartbeat, but one McCain heartbeat away from the presidency.

I struggled with how to prepare for McCain’s acceptance speech. The McCain Maverick drinking game? Take a shot every time he mentions God or abortion, and bows to the sector of the party that couldn’t elect Huck and have to settle for a politically born again John—who all of a sudden is a staunch supporter of the “culture of life?” Take a shot every time he mentions war or the military? Nah. The risk of not being coherent enough to review the speech was a dizzying prospect that had me reaching for the Alka-Seltzer already. Guess I’ll have to go into this one without anesthesia.

Between Cindy’s concern for children with birth defects to Joe America’s son born with autism, I wonder how long it will be ‘til little Trig gets his own campaign ad: “Vote for Mommy, she didn’t abort me.” When he dropped his “culture of life, personal responsibility” line, I imagined him giving a stern, if grandfatherly glance towards Levi. This means you kid.

Besides the abortion dilly-dally (I doubt it rises to the level of a flip flop), Maverick McCain was on message with his continuing message of “I fight the powers that be.” Obama may be the one to part the seas, but McCain will change Washington. No, really. “But I can’t wait until I introduce her to Washington. And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington crowd: change is coming.”

Nothing will ever be the same again. History books will mark 2009 as the first year in our nation’s history that special interests and big corporations stopped getting what they wanted. With his hot hockey mom by his side, McCain is going to accomplish what no one else ever dreamed. This may be a promise that every reform-branded candidate since Mr. Smith has ever made, but McCain means it. The Vietcong didn’t break him (well maybe they did once, but ha, joke’s on them) and neither will the lobbyists. He’ll make everything better. Because, you know, it’s not like he’s had 26 years in Congress to get that stuff done.

Overall, the speech (following on Palin’s) has framed this as an election much like any high school class president race. Only this time, not about who’s most popular, but who is most populist. McCain, as if to remind us that he remembers our plight better than how many houses he owns, starts name-checking average Americans and their ever worsening list of problems.

He also easily takes the Axis of Evil for mentioning Russia, al-Qaeda, and Iran in the same breath. By my count, McCain used the word “fight” 25 times. He may be over the whole P.O.W. thing. In fact, to hear him tell it, that is what turned him from a selfish, arrogant bastard into a one-man corruption-fighting, special-interest-bucking, aisle-crossing, oil-drilling political machine. I suppose it was a lot cheaper than therapy, but it seems to me that he still has a few unresolved aggression issues.

“They invaded a small… neighbor to gain more control over the world’s oil supply, intimidate other neighbors, and further their ambitions of reassembling… [their] empire…. But we can’t turn a blind eye to aggression and international lawlessness that threatens the peace and stability of the world and the security of the American people.”

More harsh condemnation of Bush/Cheney’s tenure in power. Right on, man! Oh, wait. You were talking about Georgia. My bad.

There was one bit of the speech I did like.

“I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Senator Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. We lost their trust, when we valued our power over our principles.

“We’re going to change that. We’re going to recover the people’s trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.”

McCain got it in one. Yes, you have lost our trust. And it’s reassuring to know you realize that and want to change it. But is that and a promise of reforming past mistakes (in an election year no less, big surprise) really enough to get us to place our trust in four more years of GOP leadership? I tend to think not. Show us you can reform the party in the next four years and I might just be persuaded that your hot running mate can lead the nation.

Jonathan Krull‘s writing has appeared in Relevant and Notes on the Times.

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