The Republican National Convention will come to a close tonight with the acceptance speech of Senator McCain. His address, while not as breathlessly anticipated as Sarah Palin’s (a vindicating home run, by the way), will be closely scrutinized as setting the tone for the ensuing two-month foot race to the White House between himself and Senator Obama. Thusfar the campaign has used the convention in large part to play an aggressive defensive game against the sustained public tarring of Governor Palin, and has done so with measured success. However, Americans will look to John McCain tonight to articulate policy rather than continue the narrative of the past two nights, just as they did for Barack Obama in Denver. And McCain must deliver.

Americans are keenly aware of McCain’s stance on foreign policy, energy and social issues, and indeed it is in these areas where he is by far the stronger candidate. His weakness heretofore has been the economy, a weakness that Democrats have been enthusiastically exploiting without any significant challenge from McCain’s campaign. The Republican nominee needs to get smart and articulate on this issue and fast, and tonight is his best opportunity, especially as Obama campaigns in the critical battleground state of Ohio. If he fumbles, his hard won gains may be lost.

Among the key points McCain needs to drive home is first and foremost a reiteration of his commitment not to raise taxes as president. He must promise that the federal government, under his watch, will not pile on further financial burdens to the American citizen in the interest of creating more bloated and ineffective social programs. He must caution the nation against the snake-oil salesmen in the opposing party who peddle ideas and programs like an increased minimum wage, universal healthcare and windfall profits taxes on oil companies with the false promise that they come to the American citizenry free of charge and will put money back in their pockets; these initiatives do not represent change or a new direction for America, they are as old as the hills and come right out of the Democrats’ decades-old gimmick bag, and worst of all they will pick the pocket of tax payers and cripple free enterprise when they are the most vulnerable.

McCain must reaffirm that Americans, though troubled by our economy, are not looking for a hand-out from government, but rather are clamoring for an obese, do-gooder nanny state to get out of their way and allow them to keep more of their hard-earned money and remove burdensome demands on their employers that result in lay-offs and increased prices for consumers. He must extol the pioneering, independent spirit of American ingenuity, and promise that he will nurture that spirit by removing road-blocks and offering incentives, not regulations. Just as Governor Palin did last night, he needs to lay out how his energy policy will create more American jobs.

Finally, he needs to drive home the fact that his crusade to eliminate government waste and largesse through aggressive reform and budget control is the surest way to give Americans the financial relief they need. In this area he can point clearly to his experience and credentials and further bolster them with Palin’s record. This will create a stark contrast between McCain and Obama, who places a high premium on social programs due to his much-discussed experience as a community organizer.

If McCain can do all of these things and punctuate the speech with enough humor to get America comfortable with him, he’ll catapult himself into the final stretch of this campaign in strong fashion and poised to wreak havoc on Senator Obama in the upcoming debates.

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