From the re-branded green background to the silly attempt to capitalize on Democratic divisions to the Clintonian cooptation of an Obama meme - "a leader we can believe in" - McCain's opening gambit in the general election was, in my judgment, underwhelming. It wasn't the content as such. McCain will rightly brag of his support for the surge (if not the war) and will have some reason to claim he is not running for George W. Bush's third term. It was the delivery and the response that threw me off. To be blunt, McCain can be a pretty bad public speaker. He has a mild, relatively high-pitched voice and an uncomfortable way of smiling broadly and speaking softly as he makes tough attacks on his opponent. Those attacks were greeted by louder boos against Obama than cheers for McCain. It was a strange mix of aggression and calm, of cheeriness and anger. A little weird.

The attempt to describe Obama as too big a risk is probably McCain's best bet; and his endeavor to rebrand himself as the candidate of real change is necessary. But he will fail if he tries to describe Obama as a leftist who can't be trusted - because the next generation doesn't get these categories and the older generation is exhausted by them. And it is simply difficult stylistically for a man of McCain's age and experience to describe himself as a more credible change agent than this young insurgent. McCain has to try this change meme; but it doesn't thrill his base and it doesn't immediately connect to the middle. This was, in my judgment, an inauspicious start.

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