McCain may lack the oratorical skills of Obama (with all its finesse), but he can speak from the fullness of his heart–from the overflow of a life in public service. Voters generally pick the candidate who seems most genuine, not necessarily the one who is more articulate. (How else did our current President get elected?)
For example, McCain outdid Obama at Saddleback not just because it was a friendly audience (after all, the TV audience dwarfed those in live attendance) but because he dug deeper. The answer he gave as to his greatest moral failure left the crowd momentarily speechless. He displayed gravitas, clarity, and simplicity, whereas Obama appeared scholarly and evasive.
Peter Robinson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explains:
If he sometimes treated his 2000 campaign as a mere attempt to move up the ladder, Mr. McCain treats this campaign as a duty. And this, I think, represents the underlying reason Mr. McCain has been able to defy the odds, keeping the presidential race wide open. Whereas Mr. Obama remains a complicated, enigmatic figure — in the profile it published the day he delivered his acceptance speech, the New York Times called him “elusive” — Mr. McCain has come into focus, becoming a candidate voters can understand.
For conservatives (like myself) who sometimes disagree with McCain, Robinson notes:
The man is a patriot. Grasp that and you have grasped John McCain. Refusing 40 years ago to accept early release from his imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton and running for president today — both are of a piece. Seen in this light, even Mr. McCain’s shortcomings make a certain kind of sense. McCain-Feingold? Bad legislation. But you can almost understand why he backed it.
Mr. McCain sees the money sloshing around Washington as an insult to America — and he takes such insults personally. Patriot though he is, Mr. McCain is too imbued with the military ethic (which of course eschews ostentatious displays) to trumpet his patriotism.
I think this also explains why McCain doesn’t quote a lot of Bible or talk very much about his religious faith. For one, he’s of a generation that is not given to effusive expression on personal or spiritual matters. And secondly, it would probably be disingenuous. When I was at the Saddleback Civil Forum, several associates close to McCain helped me understand why McCain launched into the story of the cross in the sand when asked by Warren what it means to be a Christian. I had been hoping McCain would tell us how his faith sustains him today, not forty years ago. But it seems that McCain’s faith is largely structural, rather than pervasive and overt (as in Governor Huckabee, for example). But McCain’s reticence to talk about faith matters, then, is also evidence of integrity. Robinson’s conclusion is spot-on:
Mr. Obama may be able to offer voters all the attractions of high rhetoric, but Mr. McCain can offer something else: an uncomplicated love of country.
Read the whole thing.