It was the best speech I've ever heard John McCain give. No Obama or even a Palin, he was himself--more relaxed and yet more focused and more genuine than even his maverick image would suggest. Certainly there was less of that awkward grimacing tonight that he is often known for. The continued presence of his mother in the hall and on the introductory video helped make McCain seem younger than all the recent jokes would allow.
Those looking for lots of social issues culture war-mongering won't be satisfied. There were a few references such as the swipe at judges who "legislate from the bench." His claim that "education is the civil rights issue" of our time was well framed, though naive. It nevertheless allowed him to speak at some length about school choice. I don't think that issue will get him far with most Americans, but it played well to the convention crowd and the activists who will work the phones for him in the coming weeks.
There were themes that softened even that foray into the culture war such as his discussion of the "Latina daughter of migrant workers" punctuated with the line-- We're all God's children and we're all Americans."
And that brings me to religion. As in Palin's speech, the references would have come across as largely non-sectarian. It's possible that the repetition of "stand up" at the end was coded to appeal to Evangelicals who know the militant hymn Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, but it also took on its own meaning. But with the line "Comfort the afflicted" he recalls the words of a much loved blessing from his Episcopal roots, which is based on a passage from St. Paul's correspondence to the Thessalonians.
In the end, McCain's faith is classic American civil religion best summed up in his phrase: "I wasn't my own man any more. I was my country's." The policy specifics still have to be spelled out in the debates, especially with respect to the economy, but McCain showed all the signs of new life tonight, life renewed from a deep love of country.