Once-stalled GOP convention comes out swinging against Obama

Fred Thompson and Sen. Joe Lieberman use the McCain story to draw sharp contrasts with the Democratic presidential nominee.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff
At the GOP convention Tuesday, former Sen. Fred Thompson called Obama the most liberal and inexperienced nominee ever to run for president.

On Day 2, the Republican National Convention returned to offense.

After a convention opening disrupted by hurricane Gustav and put on the defensive by news about the pregnancy of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s daughter, speakers on the second evening of the GOP confab got proceedings moving again in a forward direction.

That meant two things: a reintroduction of John McCain to the nation, and some hard jabs at Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Tough commercials lampooning Senator Obama as a typical celebrity helped pull Senator McCain even in polls prior to the opening of the late summer’s convention season. The McCain camp now may be hoping that a return to an Obama-centric campaign message can erase the lead the Illinois senator has regained since the Democrats’ national meeting in Denver last week.

Obama is “historymaking in that he’s the most liberal and inexperienced nominee ever to run for president,” boomed former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee in a speech that repeatedly brought the faithful in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center to their feet.

Monday's framing of McCain began with the most prominent speaker of the evening – President Bush, who addressed the convention via video from the White House.

“We need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11 – that to protect America, we must stay on offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again.”

Bush, a sitting GOP president, but also a GOP president with low poll ratings, talked for fewer than 10 minutes. Senator Thompson, whose own presidential run began with promise but flamed out early, got to speak nearly three times as long.

To Thompson fell the job of recounting the story of McCain’s military service and time as a prisoner of war to a large prime-time television audience.

“When his captors wanted to know the names of the other pilots in his squadron, John McCain gave them the names of the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers.... John McCain’s bones may have been broken but his spirit never was,” said Thompson.

But Thompson deftly contrasted McCain’s biography with charges that Barack Obama is someone who just talks a good game on Sunday television talks shows and the “Washington cocktail circuit”.

He contrasted what he said was McCain’s inherent statesmanship with Obama’s showmanship.

“The respect [McCain] is given around the world is not because of a teleprompter speech designed to appeal to American critics abroad,” said Thompson.

The former Tennessee Senator also mounted a full-throated defense of McCain’s vice-presidential pick.

“What a breath of fresh air Gov. Sarah Palin is,” said Thompson. “She is from a small town, with small-town values, but that’s not good enough for those folks who are attacking her and her family.”

The evening’s final speaker, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, similarly lauded McCain while criticizing Obama. As a former Democrat, now an Independent, Senator Lieberman’s words were in their own way more unusual.

Obama has not reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant, said Lieberman.

“I ask you to contrast that with John McCain’s record of bipartisanship and accomplishment,” said the Connecticut senator.

Lieberman then accomplished the remarkable feat of getting a GOP national convention to applaud for Bill Clinton. He did it by contrasting what he depicted as Obama’s scant record with that of President Clinton, who had reached across party lines to “get some important things done, like free-trade agreements, welfare reform, and a balanced budget.”

The Xcel Energy Center crowd clapped, albeit hesitantly, in response.

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