ST. PAUL, Minnesota — In a rarity at such a massive, carefully planned political event, Republicans got a do-over on Tuesday (September 2) at the Republican National Convention when President Bush beamed in via satellite to sing the praises of presumptive presidential nominee Senator John McCain.
One night after his address to the faithful was canceled due to Hurricane Gustav, Bush gave a brief speech from the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., in which he honored McCain's courage and maverick streak and proclaimed him ready to lead.
"John McCain's life has prepared him to make those choices," Bush said of the hard decisions that often face the president. "He is ready to lead this nation. ... We live in a dangerous world. And we need a president who understands the lessons of September 11, 2001: that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain."
As with speakers later in the night, which included former Senator Fred Thompson and ex-Democrat, now-independent Senator Joseph Lieberman — one of McCain's closest confidants and, according to reports, the man who was very close to being named as McCain's running mate — Bush stressed McCain's independent streak and commitment to sometimes making the unpopular choice. In keeping with the night's theme, "Who Is John McCain," all three men stressed McCain's service to his country in an attempt to reintroduce him to voters.
"John is an independent man who thinks for himself," Bush said of the senator he beat in the 2000 presidential primaries in a sometimes-nasty campaign. "He's not afraid to tell you when he disagrees. ... No matter what the issue, this man is honest and speaks straight from the heart." Bush, who got a loud but not overwhelming greeting from the crowd, told the audience, "If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve to do what's best for his country, you can be sure that the angry left never will."
Bush went on to assure the crowd of McCain's pro-life stance, his support of permanent tax relief and for lifting the ban on offshore drilling. Former actor Thompson gave what amounted to a stentorian voice-over to a biography of McCain's life, weaving the heroic story of the former Vietnam prison camp detainee as a montage of black-and-white photos of the candidate scrolled behind him. Thompson also had high praise for McCain's VP choice, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who he called a "breath of fresh air," which inspired a portion of the crowd to shout, "Sarah! Sarah!" When Thompson lashed out at the media for focusing on Palin's personal life, one delegate shouted, "Shame!" And when Thompson speculated that the hunting enthusiast might be the first member of any party who knows how to "field-dress a moose," someone in the audience yelled, "Challenge Obama to that!"
After meeting solely to conduct official business for a few hours on Monday, the floor of the Xcel Center was alive with activity on Tuesday, as delegates congregated in anticipation of Bush's speech. Young convention pages handed out signs drawn by local children that had messages such as "We love McCain" in red, white and blue, while the floor swelled into a mass of glistening elephant brooches, Dixie hats, lanyards festooned with "McCain/Palin" buttons and row upon row of American-flag ties, jackets, socks and vests.
In a seeming testament to a preference of the conventioneers, the area around the Fox News platform on the main floor of the convention hall was a gathering spot for gawking and picture taking, while the area in front of the CNN platform a short distance away was traffic-free for most of the day.
Curiously, while there were plenty of red baseball hats perched atop the heads of campaign workers that read "McCain," there were far fewer ones that had the full-ticket billing, perhaps another indication that the addition of Palin to the ticket was a very recent development. Speaking of Palin, which most media outlets have been doing since the Alaska governor became McCain's surprise number-two pick, despite the intense scramble by reporters to find out more about the possible first female vice president, some of the young delegates on the floor Tuesday seemed unconcerned about the stories swirling around Palin, especially those about her pregnant 17-year-old daughter.
Asked about whether the revelation weakens Palin's credibility given her support of abstinence education in public schools, Denver native Ashley Ahlquist, 22, a former employee of the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life organization that has endorsed Palin, said absolutely not. "If that's the best that they can do to find something wrong with her, then they need to work a little bit harder," she said. "If anything, we should applaud her. ... 'Wow, Sarah Palin is practicing what she preaches.' ... I'm sure she's supportive of her daughter keeping the baby and she's not a hypocrite at all, and they're trying to turn that into a bad thing. If anything, we should say, 'That's awesome.' "
Rather than hurting McCain's chances, Ahlquist said she thought that bringing Palin on to the ticket has put the focus back on "the important issues," which, for Ahlquist, is pro-life causes. "Conservatives out there are going to have no doubts about this ticket. I think this strengthened his ticket. I think this was one of the most brilliant moves McCain could have done."
Following the arrest of nearly 300 protesters Monday, the scene outside the Xcel Center was somewhat quieter on Tuesday, as only three protesters — from the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign — were taken into custody after a confrontation with riot-gear-wearing police.
Wednesday's meeting is scheduled to feature an address from Palin.
Don't miss out on the action: MTV News and our Street Team '08 will be on the ground at the Republican National Convention to sort through all the speeches, streamers and ceremony and find the information you need to choose our next president. Head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election.