Monday, August 01, 2005

Sticking my nose in it

This has never been nor will it ever become a political blog. However, I have to defend one of my favorite politicians, John McCain. The grumpy senator from Arizona is taking a beating over on La Shawn Barber's Corner, making every conservative's list of "most hated conservatives."

I won't kid you. I don't know John McCain, although I've met him on different occasions. The first time was when I was an eighth grader at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa, Ariz. It was 1982 and McCain was a young New Yorker who had just married the daughter of a Phoenix, Ariz., Budweiser distributorship. OK, that's not so impressive, but you should've seen the man work the crowds.

It was, like, 108 outside, typical September weather, McCain pulls me aside after I walk out from getting a hair cut. He says something about how I look like a sharp young man and gives me a t-shirt that said, "McCain's Navy." Then he gives me a bottle of Pepsi and asks me if I want to join his crew to go around malls and to help promote his first ever run for the U.S. House. Well, he happened to be running for the spot previously vacated by John Jay Rhodes, whom my school was named after, so I felt obligated. Besides, free Pepsi. I was sold. It was a plus that McCain happened to be a very congenial man who did not seem at all uncomfortable with the 30 or so kids on his RV.

So I became a Very Young Republican. My father, who had moved from his Union Democrat position to Reagan Republicanism in 1980, was so proud.

Nearly 20 years later I met McCain again. I was an editor for, the online arm of the Arizona Republic. I ran into him on the way to the 10th floor. Literally, ran into him. He said something grumpy and then said something about my hat. I learned that my friend, Rob, got the same comment. We were big into hats at the time, not very professional, but we were online slackers so the dress code Nazis left us alone (they all figured we'd be shut down after the first year, anyway). Whatever. I didn't hold it against him. I knew he was where he didn't want to be, which was in the heart of the Arizona Republic. Long-standing feud dating back to the Keating Scandal, etc. etc.

In 2000, I donated money to his campaign online. It was the first time I'd donated money to a campaign since I was an idealistic college kid heaping high hopes on an idealistic candidate -- Jack Kemp. That was a waste of money, and so was my donation to McCain, who simply cannot garner respect from Republicans who want zealots, not people who publicly promote bi-partisanship.

And that's really the rub with McCain. He's the kind of independent politician people say they crave, but he can't get a platform because he does not represent the sole interest of either party. He can't even run as an independent, because even those group of people have their partisan interests. He's not conservative enough, not liberal enough, not green enough, not libertarian enough, not you name it. What is he? He's rational, forthright, and for the most part, honest. He can see the benefit of sponsoring legislation like the American with Disabilities Act, which at the time was GOP heresy (was supposed to cause the real estate market to crash and burn).

McCain is just like any other maverick politician from Arizona. Barry Goldwater is hailed as a hero, yet he lived by the same set of libertarian principles. I guess Barry just had the benefit of operating in a different era, when you could represent the GOP without buying into every plank in the platform, and without settling on pre-arranged polemics.

However, few people can stump for the GOP like McCain. You want graciousness? You want loyalty?

A little while after the presidential election I was leaving a downtown Phoenix building when I ran into McCain again (this time not so literally). I shook his hand, told him I donated money to his campaign, and wished he'd been given a fair shake by his own party rather than the behind the scenes stuff to keep him off the ballot. I expected some kind of missile aimed right at the eyes of G.W., Haley Barber, or someone. Instead, he just said that was over, and it was important to support the president and the GOP. He was earnest, too. At least, it didn't come off like some political baby-kissing stuff. He could've said anything and no one would've been the wiser.

So bash McCain all you want. He's still got your president's back.

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