Jimmy P. at the RNC— Can John McCain give a good speech? Indeed, he can. His 2000 and 2004 speeches to the Republican National Convention were pretty compelling. (The former, though, may rank as the most melancholy ever given at a political convention. The closing line was less than rousing, "And I am haunted by the vision of what will be.") Both played to his strong suits. One focused on government reform, the other foreign policy. And those two subjects will surely be important themes in what he says tonight.
But McCain will have to do something else: Persuasively outline an agenda to restore America to prosperity. That was one thing Sarah Palin did not fully accomplish last night. He needs to go beyond showing empathy to middle class folks. He needs to demonstrate how his economic plan will make their lives better and give them the tools to make their lives better. And the key to that, I think, is energy. High oil and gas prices have been a pernicious tax on the economy, slowing growth and reducing real incomes. As McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin told me here in St. Paul, "Americans have elevated energy to their number one issue."
It's an issue that Team McCain thinks will be key to winning the White House. And polls show that Americans seem to like McCain's "all of the above" approach to increasing our energy supplies and lowering gas prices. Except it's really a "most of the above" plan. While McCain wants to drill offshore and build more nuke plants and advance clean coal technology as we shift to the post-hydrocarbon era of alternative energy, he doesn't want to drill in ANWR. (Don't expect Palin to be able to change his mind on that, folks. No way, no how). And he's iffy about exploiting our oil shale reserves in the West. He's also sticking with his cap-and-trade plan to limit carbon emission, but vows not to implement it unless China and India agree to do the same. Still, it will be tough for Obama to get to the right of McCain on energy given that he's already spoken favorably of higher energy prices (he just wishes they had not risen so quickly) and he can't be as pro-nuke as McCain without alienating the greenies in his base.
You know, it was 30 years ago this summer that the American tax revolt began with the enactment of Proposition 13 in California that capped and lowered property taxes. That same year, Congress passed a landmark capital gains tax cut. Perhaps cutting the "energy tax" of high oil prices will be the 21st century version of that revolt in 2008. Perhaps a new revolution will begin here tonight in St. Paul. Doing so could be the key to victory in November.