If you were watching the RNC on television like millions of other Americans you probably noticed the crowd break out into a "drill baby, drill" chant during speeches by both Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin. What you didn't see is the origination of this chant during a speech earlier that night by Michael Steele, a speech that was not televised on network television, and a speech that was probably the single best of the night.
Unlike the headlining speeches from Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin, Michael Steele's was far more positive. His message echoed the theme of the night,
Country First, and he built up John McCain, not by tearing down Barack Obama, but by showing that John McCain would do just that, put country first.
It was actually quite a challenge to be one of these opening speakers. They were not given a captive audience. The delegates, media and other guests were more than happy to go about their own conversations rather than listen to some of these relative unknowns. This makes Michael Steele's performance all the more impressive as he was able to captivate every single member of the audience. It did help that Steele was not so quite an unknown, as the crowd recognized him right away and even started chanting "Michael Steele" before he began his speech.
Steele's speech was not the only impressive moment of the evening. I was quite taken by California State Senator Abel Maldonado who used common sense life lessons he learned from his share-cropping immigrant father to promote free trade over high taxation. Maldonado first captured the attention of the crowd by refusing to continue until they recognized his buenos noches and return it in kind. At one point he invited Barack Obama to come work on his farm,
Come get your hands dirty with real work. And on your break, sitting in the shade of my father's pickup truck, he'll teach you a little about economics. I think you'll be a quick learner. Maldonado's enthusiasm and genuineness was refreshing in a sea of speakers the crowd easily ignored.
Another notable speaker was Christy Swanson, a Democrat voting for McCain thanks to his small business-friendly tax policy. Swanson's small business filters vegetable oil for restaurants while using the leftovers to produce B100 bio-diesel for use as fuel. She later remarked,
Quite frankly higher taxes scare the bio-diesel out of me.
Back to "drill baby, drill," A running theme throughout the night was energy independence. Practically every single speaker touched on the topic at least once. Despite its popularity, drilling was not the only option offered. Nuclear power was quite popular, as was so called "clean" coal. A few of the scenic backdrops on the stage included pictures of electric-generating windmills, not to mention a McCain advertisement or two. Alternative energy, renewables and conservation surfaced in a few speeches, particularly from Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuno who briefly broke down John McCain's Lexington Project, a proposal for America to be completely energy independent by 2025.
Thanks to YouTube, you can now view all of these speeches yourself. However, it should be noted that they do not fully capture the atmosphere or the crowd reactions. But you can at least judge each speaker and their message for yourself:
- Michael Steele: Country First
- Carly Fiorina: President McCain's First Term
- Meg Whitman: President McCain's First 100 Days
- Luis Fortuno: Environment
- Michael Williams: Energy Security
- Christy Swanson: Prosperity over Partisanship
- Ruth Novodor: Small Business
- Elena Rios: Healthcare
- Carolyn Dunn: Rural America
- State Sen. Abel Maldonado: Growth via Trade
- Renee Amoore: Overcoming Challenges
- U.S. Senator Norm Coleman: Values
- Anne Beiler: Prosperity of Spirit
Conversations with Delegates
I was able to talk to a few delegates prior to the events at night. John McCain was not necessarily the first choice for all of them, but every single delegate I spoke to fully support McCain right now, which is not all surprising considering they were selected as delegates to nominate McCain. I was unable to interview a Ron Paul delegate.
The delegates I spoke to are all very excited and happy with McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The crowd confirmed this excitement with their reaction to her entrance on stage before she even started her speech. There were various calls of "We love Sarah Palin" from the crowd throughout her speech. The delegates see her as someone who will clean up Washington and be the future of the party. From their body language and other subtle nuances, I actually think that many of the delegates are more excited with Palin than with McCain, though I have no spoken evidence of this.
The delegates did not view Sarah Palin's family problems as a negative, or at least as a political negative and thought these problems connected her with the average family, which is not perfect.
I brought up Ron Paul to a few of the delegates, and while some of them liked his constitutional views on some domestic issues, they rejected his foreign policy completely. They were also not so happy about his competing convention, the Rally for the Republic that occurred earlier in the week in Minneapolis. A Texan delegate I talked to thought that Ron Paul's alternative views were needed in Congress, but he couldn't support him as a leader or President.