John McCain spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention yesterday. It was no worse than a speech than George Bush would have given, but by the same token, no better. First, a bit of emotional fakery --
I'm proud to count many of you in this room as personal friends, including my good friend retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major Paul Chevalier of New Hampshire. And there's another gentleman here I know you'll want to welcome. He's as fine a friend as a man could have in a tough spot, Lieutenant Colonel Orson Swindle of the United States Marine Corps.
McCain didn't feel strongly enough about these friends to name them as one of the three wisest people he knows in his chat with Rick Warren -- since he had reserved two of those slots for General David Petraeus and one of his advisers, Meg Whitman. The selection of Petraeus was especially strange: does one tactical success make someone "wise"?
Then on to the classic Bush speech code --
I'm sure many of you will also recall from your experiences in war, as I do from mine, that when you're somewhere on the other side of the world in the service of America you pay attention to the news from back home. It affects morale. And even during this election season, with sharp differences on the wisdom and success of the surge in Iraq, Americans need to speak as one in praise of the men and women who fight our battles.
Thus he sets up the Bush trick of any criticism of the conduct of the war being criticism of the troops -- precisely how Bush deflected the downward spiral of the war in 2005-06.
Finally, McCain again pursued his attack, disavowed by even sympathetic pundits when he previously used it, that Barack Obama would put his electoral prospects before his country --
This [beginning the surge] was back when supporting America's efforts in Iraq entailed serious political risk. It was a clarifying moment. It was a moment when political self-interest and the national interest parted ways. For my part, with so much in the balance, it was an easy call. As I said at the time, I would rather lose an election than lose a war.
Note the Bush phrase "clarifying moment", usually used for whatever is the most recent geopolitical crisis. More seriously, there was nothing about Obama's opposition to the surge that put him outside the range of respectable opinion. For instance, the Baker-Hamilton commission (on which defence secretary Robert Gates served) never advocated a surge.
On a lighter note, McCain seems to be adopting George Bush's verbal tics as well. Several times during the speech he referred to his VFW audience as the VF Dubya, a faux-southern accent that McCain, with a lifetime in the military and government, has no reason to have (e.g. watch for a minute from the 5 minute mark on the C-span video). Soon the transition will be complete.
UPDATE: From a different perspective, National Review's Byron York also suspects some over-engineering in McCain's "wisest persons" answer.