TAMPA — John McCain made what is surely just the first of many pre-election stops in the Tampa Bay Area Tuesday when he gave a pep talk to more than 4,000 of his closest friends at the Tampa Bay Convention Center.
Sarah Palin was not with McCain yesterday, but the enthusiasm she’s helped generate was clearly there, and he seemed to recognize this when he opened his remarks by saying, “If Governor Palin and I are elected in 49 days, we’re not going to waste a moment in changing the way Washington does business.”
Sounding populist notes, McCain spent two-thirds of his 15-minute presentation on the “reckless conduct and unbridled greed” that has led to the current problems on Wall Street, and said the alphabet soup of federal agencies that failed to head off the current mess would perform better under a McCain administration. He vowed to make the financial services sector, including Wall Street, “more worthy of America’s trust.” He chided Wall Street for “dreaming up investment schemes so complicated they don’t even understand them.”
McCain didn’t say how he was going to make Wall Street fly right, or how promised regulation in this area would have fewer negative and unintended consequences than past attempts Washington has made to set corporate America straight (see Sarbanes-Oxley). But the congregation was cheering too hard to notice.
McCain bragged a bit on the American worker, one of the economic fundamentals McCain says is sound, and then moved on briefly to the themes he always hits in his talks: a promise to put an end to earmarks and pork-barrel spending in Washington, as well as a promise to push for energy independence by pursuing alternative energy sources as well as ramping up traditional sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear.
“We can store spent nuclear fuel,” McCain said. “The Japanese do it. The Germans do it. The French do it. We can do it.” He ridiculed the prospects of Obama’s anti-fossil fuel, anti-nuclear energy policies solving the nation’s energy problems. “You can’t get there from here,” he said.
When McCain got to the “drill, baby, drill,” part of the speech, the audience took up the chant enthusiastically, giving clear evidence to any politician paying the slightest attention how much regular voters want to expand our domestic oil supply.
MORE INSTRUCTIVE THAN anything McCain said during his short address, which was mostly stuff he had said many times before, was the style and texture of the whole affair. The audience, which began filing in when doors opened at 0930 for McCain’s high-noon presentation, was overwhelmingly middle-class and middle-America. Normal patriotic people. Lots of kids, from toddlers to high school age, and plenty of red, white, and blue. There were lots of cowboy hats, not to mention baseball caps (worn with the bill forward) emblazoned with the name of the ship, the military unit, or the war the old geezer wearing it served in.
Dress ran heavily to shorts (Florida heat is NOT a dry heat — and mid-September is mid-summer in Tampa). Plenty of Hawaiian shirts, as well a sprinkling of business types in coats and ties.
Thanks to the Florida heat and the relatively early morning hour, there were few protesters out front. Two grim-looking college-aged women held two ends of a sign that said, “War pig welcoming party.” Charming. A large guy who mumbled a lot carried a sign that said “not a hero — not a war.” Two other women held a sign saying, “McCain voted against equal pay for women,” which would have been a surprise to McCain if he he’d seen the sign.
Inside the signs were less confrontational, and the patriotism was palpable. Chants of “USA, USA, USA,” broke out frequently. A group of young people, including soloist Mary Olive Gauthier, who appears to be about 12, sang the national anthem powerfully and straight, and got a thunderous ovation for their trouble. About a dozen adolescent girls combined on a medley of songs, including “Sweet Home, Alabama,” “Lean on Me,” “America,” and “Born in the USA” (and they seemed happier about this fact than what’s-his-name from New Jersey).
Warm-up speakers hit the patriotic theme, and made it clear how much they respect and appreciate Americans who serve in the military. Former naval aviator Richard Tangeman, who spent time in the Hanoi Hilton with McCain, spoke of how McCain inspired his fellow prisoners and how he more than once saved other prisoners from being brutalized by calling attention to himself.
THESE AFFAIRS WOULDN’T be complete without a large press contingent. You can always spot this lot. They’re the bored looking bunch wearing dog-tags and either key-stroking away on their lap tops or staring at their BlackBerries while ignoring everything and everyone around them. I took one look at this crew and decided to hang out with the civilians.
Attendees had to go through metal detectors, which resulted in a long wait in line for everyone before they could get into the event room. There was hardly any griping about this, and I was fortunate to wind up in line next to a retired engineer, one Umberto Capela, who made it to Tampa by way of Spain and Cuba. He served two terms in Vietnam as an NCO in the Seabees, where his unit built fire bases for the Marines and many times came under enemy fire.
Capela told me he appreciates McCain for his service to country and because what motivates him “seems to come from inside,” rather than coming from political consultants and focus groups. Capela, who escaped from Cuba in 1960, said he’s unimpressed with Obama’s campaign theme of unspecified change. He pointed out that Fidel brought a lot of change to Cuba.
As the faithful filed out, there were a lot more rat-bags in front of the convention center. Some of the new signs, mostly carried by college-age females, included such as: “John McCain is a fossil fool,” “Same s–t, different Republican,” “McWar coming to a town near you,” and “Flush the John.” Must be nice to have a lot of time on your hands.
One hostile male carrying a peace sign tried to bait McCain supporters into arguing with him. But those who had just gotten the message were in too good a mood to rise to the bait and mostly just laughed at him. What’s a burnt-out case to do? These McCain people are just no fun.