Sen. John McCain of Arizona accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night with a dual message: Sen. Barack Obama does not have the judgment to govern the nation, whereas he himself can reach across party divisions to “get this country moving again.”
In an address at the party’s national convention in St. Paul, Minn. — briefly interrupted when three yelling anti-war protesters were hustled out of the hall as delegates chanted “U.S.A., U.S.A.” — McCain promised to “reach out my hand to anyone to help me.”
“Americans want us to stop yelling at each other,” McCain ad-libbed as he called for delegates to ignore the disruption.
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It was the perfect segue for his main message of the evening.
“Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed,” McCain said in a call to end “the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems.”
“I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not,” he said.
At the same time, McCain offered his “respect and admiration” to Obama, the first African-American ever nominated for president by a major political party.
“I wouldn’t be an American worthy of the name if I didn’t honor Senator Obama and his supporters for their achievement,” he said.
Their sarcastic digs — Palin in her well-received introductory speech Wednesday night and Graham in an Iraq-heavy denunciation Thursday night — freed McCain to get off a few well-chosen shots at his Democratic opponent while devoting most of his time to establishing himself in voters’ minds as a proven, trustworthy steward of American security and prosperity.
McCain embraced the label that has been applied to him throughout his political career as a cantankerous, relatively moderate Republican willing to buck his own party.
“You know, I’ve been called a maverick — someone who marches to the beat of his own drum,” McCain said to cheers. “Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment, and sometimes it’s not.
“What it really means is I understand who I work for,” he said: “I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.”
In a passage that surely will be replayed in Republican campaign ads at all levels for the next two months, McCain neatly encapsulated what he — and, by extension, the party he will lead into battle — stands for:
“We believe in low taxes, spending discipline and open markets. We believe in rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor.
“We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law and judges who dispense justice impartially and don’t legislate from the bench. We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities.”
Turning to foreign affairs, an arena in which Republicans say he is vastly more qualified than Obama, McCain called Iran “the chief state sponsor of terrorism” and accused Moscow of harboring ambitions of “reassembling the Russian empire.”
“We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I’m not afraid of them,” McCain said. “I’m prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better and what it should not do.”
He promised to establish good relations with Russia “so we need not fear a return of the Cold War,” but he did not say what he would do about Iran.
McCain closed by recounting the story of his 5½ years as captive of North Vietnamese forces during the war in Southeast Asia, although in less graphic detail than former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had the night before.
“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s,” he said. “... I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my country’s.”
The lesson he learned was always to “fight for what’s right for our country,” he said, bringing the crowd to its feet for a sustained ovation with a determined call for action:
“Fight for the ideals and character of a free people! Fight for our children’s future! Fight for justice and opportunity for all! Stand up to defend our country from its enemies! Stand up for each other — for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America!
“Fight with me! Fight with me! Fight with me! Fight for what’s right for our country!”
As he spoke, police on horseback thwarted plans by anti-war demonstrators to march on the convention hall.
Scattered protesters inside interrupted his speech briefly near the start. He dismissed them, telling the crowd not to be diverted by "ground noise and static." The crowd chanted “U.S.A., U.S.A.” to drown them out.