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Commentary: Fighting words from McCain and Palin

  • Story Highlights
  • Ruben Navarrette: Some predicted McCain's speech would be weak
  • Palin hit a home run in her national debut at the convention, he says
  • Navarrette: McCain hit poetic notes in his strong call to arms
  • If Palin could be compared to Thatcher, McCain is the American Churchill, he says
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By Ruben Navarrette
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. says John McCain's speech lived up to the high standard set by Sarah Palin Wednesday night.

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Republicans are a gloomy lot. You show them a silver lining. They'll find a cloud.

After Sarah Palin brought down the house with a take-no-prisoners speech at the Republican National Convention, conservatives worried that John McCain would be a letdown.

In fact, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott predicted that his longtime colleague wouldn't measure up to Palin, who he said gave a magnificent speech.

"John is not a great orator," Lott told a reporter. "Even in the Senate, when he used to heckle us for doing stupid things, which we usually were, it was not with Shakespearian flair."

Lott was wrong.

Not about Palin delivering a fantastic speech. She did that -- and after putting up with a week's worth of insults, sexism and condescension from liberals who talk a good game about expanding opportunity as long as they get the credit.

Democrats in the media --- oops, I mean, some in the Democratic Party and in the media -- even went after Palin's family. There are vicious street gangs that won't even cross that line. Appropriately, the hockey mom threw off her gloves and gave her tormenters the rhetorical beating they deserved.

Such as when Palin said that, while Democrats say they're fighting for you, "There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you...in places where winning means survival and defeat means death. And that man is John McCain."

And when McCain took the microphone, he too delivered a glorious speech -- even though, as with Obama's speech last week, it came with contradictions. For instance, once Palin joined the ticket, the theme of the GOP convention went from experience to reform. Video Watch McCain's speech »

That forced McCain to play up his reputation as a maverick. But that narrative may be a little dated. It's true that McCain built a career on going against the grain, and good for him.

Yet, as of late, Mr. Straight Talk has finessed or flip-flopped his positions on immigration, offshore drilling, tax cuts and other issues to win his party's nomination. Now he has picked a running mate who seems to disagree with him as much as she agrees.

None of which dims the brilliance of McCain's speech. His recollection of his years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam was poignant and heartfelt, as was his explanation of how he was "never the same again" because he stopped being his own man and became his country's man.

Shakespeare or not, as political speeches go, you don't get much nearer to poetry than how McCain opened and closed his remarks.

First, McCain offered his respect and admiration to Obama and his supporters.

"Despite our differences," he said, "much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, and that's an association that means more to me than any other."

Then McCain explained why that is. "We're dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights," he said.

"No country -- no country ever had a greater cause than that. And I wouldn't be an American worthy of the name if I didn't honor Sen. Obama and his supporters for their achievement."

With that, McCain showed infinitely more class than the protesters from the radical group, Code Pink, who kept trying to interrupt his remarks.

There was another flash of poetry at the end of the speech.

"Fight with me," McCain implored. "Fight for what's right for our country. 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, stand up, stand up, and fight! Nothing is inevitable. We're Americans, and we never give up! We never quit! We never hide from history! We make history!"

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Sarah Palin's fans are already comparing her to Margaret Thatcher. After John McCain finished speaking, I had a similar thought. Like him or not, agree with him or not, this self-described "imperfect servant" may just be the closest thing Americans have to our own Winston Churchill.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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