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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Fearless Philosophy Flashback: Town Hall Meeting with Senator John McCain

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Fearless Philosophy Flashback: Town Hall Meeting with Senator John McCain

In light of John McCain’s securing of the Republican nomination yesterday, the following is a post I had written in December of 2005 after attending a town hall meeting with John McCain back when I was living in Arizona. As I have written many times before, I have serious misgivings about the idea of a McCain Administration as he would drag the Republican Party even further to the left than President Bush has. In certain areas, however, McCain would be an improvement over Bush on issues such as spending and government waste and voted against Bush’s expansion of Medicare. Even so, McCain’s disdain for the First Amendment is a very difficult pill for me to swallow. Count me in the “undecided” column for right now; I will probably change my mind 15 times before the general election.


Last Thursday, I received an email from a group that bills themselves “Friends of John McCain” announcing that Senator McCain had a town hall meeting scheduled at the Performing Arts Center at Sandra Day O’Connor High School that evening. I took a look at the address and realized that the town hall meeting was taking place only 4 miles to the North of my home. After thinking it over for a couple of minutes, I decided I would go. I did not support John McCain in the last election but he is one of my senators so I felt like I should go to listen and hopefully question him on the issues I care about.

Armed with a notebook, a pencil, and a tape recorder, I arrived a little over an hour early. Surprisingly there were not many people in the auditorium by that time. This gave me a chance to sit pretty much wherever I wanted. I chose a seat in the fourth row, stage right. I figured this position would give me the best shot at being called on for a comment. With roughly an hour remaining until the scheduled start of the meeting, I took my notebook and pencil and dutifully scrawled out four questions. My questions concerned government size & waste, the Kelo ruling, McCain’s apparent opposition to the Fair Tax, and the impact on bloggers from the McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act.

In the course of the two-hour town hall meeting two of the four questions were asked and answered. Unfortunately, although several people around me made comments, I was not called on. Though I was a little disappointed about that, there were a lot of great questions from the crowd. Unlike many of these types of events, this event was not scripted and completely unfiltered. Senator McCain had no knowledge of exactly what questions he would be asked. I have to give him his props for that; could you imagine Hillary Clinton (or President Bush for that matter) taking unprepared questions from the unwashed masses? I can’t!

Government Spending & Growth
Perhaps the greatest concern for many of us, particularly those of us in the Life, Liberty, and Property community is the out-of-control government spending (waste) and government growth that has occurred under a Republican administration with a Republican-controlled congress. Senator McCain addressed this issue right out of the box in his opening monologue:

In the last five years there’s been a larger expansion of government and a larger increase in spending than in any time since the Great Societies. That is not something that I am proud of. I am embarrassed that we are laying debt of trillions and trillions on future generations of Americans. We have got to get spending under control and we have to make some tough decisions in order to do so. Let me just give you a few suggestions and I’ll move on.

One, take the $24 billion that was in pork in the highway bill and send it to Hurricane Katrina...

Second thing, why don’t we take the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill which was, which was supposed to be when we it $400 billion over ten years and its now gone up to over $800 billion over the next ten years and $2 trillion over the final ten, ten years and no senior that I know understands it. Why don’t we delay the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill for a couple of years; that will save another $60 billion.

The third thing I would do is I would take 5% across the board cut from the non-defense, non-Homeland Security spending and cut 5% and take 1% and give it to the president as a contingency fund... A 4% which would be [inaudible] across the board cut would be another $80 billion.

So my friends, we can if we want to eliminate wasteful and unnecessary spending and get this under control. Now, everybody says ‘what about taxes?’ How can we go to the American people with clean hands and say ‘we’re going to increase your taxes’ when we haven’t taken every step possible to reduce wasteful spending? That’s a cop out! It’s a cop out. So we need to uh, I believe come to make some tough decisions and I hope the President of the United States will take some of these big appropriations bills that are laden with pork and veto.
McCain made some additional comments in response to a question about pork-barrel spending:

I’ve never gotten a pork barrel project for my State of Arizona. I’ve never requested for it, I’ve never requested earmarks nor have I ever gotten one. And I guarantee if I ever do request one, it would be one of the most famous earmarks in history.

But what I have done, I’ve run out and have said when I brought out the director of NASA to U of A and ASU and I said: ‘Look at what these people have; look what the U of A has. They lead the country in astronomy and lenses and all of this, uh, telescopes…I would like you to have a look.’ He came, he looked at it. Guess what? U of A got the biggest grant ever given to a university in history and they competed for it. They didn’t earmark it. They didn’t say ‘we’re going to give’ I think it was $350 million to U of A. They didn’t say ‘I’m going to give it because McCain wrote it into a piece of legislation.’ They did it because they looked at every possible university…in the country and they picked U of A. The same thing happened at ASU with NASA…We compete and we succeed.

I wanted to be sure Senator McCain’s votes in the Senate matched with his commentary so I went to the Citizens Against Government Waste website to see his report card. CAGW gives McCain a rating of 88% making him a ‘taxpayer hero’ voting against the Highway Bill and in favor of the Highway Bill Cut (among other wasteful bills). As far as government spending is concerned, Senator John McCain is one of the good guys.

Kelo (Eminent Domain)

Before attending this town hall meeting, I had no idea where Senator McCain stood on the Kelo ruling. A concerned citizen asked the senator if he or any others in congress were doing anything to undo the damage of Kelo.


[T]he United States Supreme Court made the incredible decision that basically allows local governments to take property for purposes of development. I was astonished. I treat the United States Supreme Court with great reverence and respect but on this one, I don’t get it. And I and some others are talking now about some kind of legislation that we can enact to cure this.

Now there’s such a thing as…a local government to be able to take over some property for a public purpose of some compelling reason that you can argue that it’s for the good for the safety and security of the entire community. How you can justify taking over a piece of property for development of a hotel or resort just because its gonna bring in greater tax revenue is something I don’t get…

I happen to think its [Kelo] is one of the worst decisions that I have ever seen in the United States Supreme Court.
Score 2 points for Senator McCain. On the remaining two questions I had prepared, the Fair Tax and the effects of McCain/Feingold on free speech, no one asked but I’m not confident that he would do anything to effect change on either of these issues. Someone did bring up the issue of the federal tax code; McCain agreed it is too confusing and needed some kind of reform. McCain did not mention the Fair Tax at all but was critical of the Value Added Tax and the Flat Tax. I was a little puzzled why he did not mention the Fair Tax because the Fair Tax better addresses the weaknesses he mentioned of the other two competing plans.

Whether or not John McCain supports the Fair Tax is not my biggest bone of contention with him, however. My biggest problem with Senator McCain is his campaign finance bill which effectively censors political speech at election time. I wrote a post on what this means for bloggers way back in March of this year and I am still very concerned about this blatant violation of the First Amendment.

Overall, the town hall meeting was a very positive experience. I would encourage everyone to go to an event like this if you ever have a chance – whether you support the person or not. One thing became very clear to me; at least one senator is aware of our disgust with the current direction of the party in power [the Republicans].

Additional Comments
I had a couple of additional comments following the post responding to reader comments and criticisms which I thought I should re-post here.

When I say that McCain is ‘one of the good guys,’ I mean as far as spending goes and relative to the senate. CAGW’s average rating for the U.S. Senate for 2004 was 40%. Senate Democrats average rating was 16% while Senate Republicans average rating was 63%. These ratings are based solely on how each senator voted on various issues regarding wasteful spending (in the opinion of CAGW that is). Relative to these averages, Senator McCain is ‘one of the good guys’ with a rating of 88% for the 108th Congress and a lifetime rating of 87%. Certainly, there are other senators with an even higher rating (our other senator, Jon Kyle has the highest rating in the senate with 94%).

Having said all that, we could argue that McCain’s comment that he had never brought in any pork to Arizona is just spin. He had the director of NASA ‘take a look’ at what U of A and ASU was doing? His influence as a high profile senator had ‘nothing’ to do with it? Is it reasonable to say that the U of A was the best university for NASA to invest its resources in? I have no idea.

We could also ask whether or not NASA granting U of A all this money is wasteful. An even more fundamental question would be: should the government be involved in space exploration at all or should this be the domain of the private sector? Persuasive arguments can be made on either side of this issue (but maybe we’ll delve into that some other time).

Overall, I still haven’t made up my mind about McCain. There are certain things I like about him and certain things I don’t. The McCain/Feingold bill is a real sore spot with me. I think you and others have made good points here about how we should judge a politician more by his or her actions than by his or her words. I completely agree. We should go by Reagan’s philosophy he used when dealing with the Soviet Union: “Trust but Verify.” Then again, in the realm of politics, maybe we should just ‘verify.’


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