Last week,I watched McCain, who's seeking the Republican presidential nomination, worka reporters' lunch that two weeks earlier had hosted Sen. Dianne Feinstein,the California Democrat. An hour with McCain is actually entertaining. As soonas he sat down before these journalists-most of whom represent media based inCalifornia-McCain declared his "intense dislike" of California. Thestate, he said jocularly, steals Arizona's water, and-to make matters worse-eachsummer he is forced to trek to San Diego to visit his constituents, all thoseArizonans who flee to Southern California to escape the oppressive heat of theGrand Canyon State. Reporters eat up such frank talk. The usual script wouldcall for a pol to begin by saying how much he loves the Golden State, whichis all-important in both the primary and general elections. Instead, McCaindumps on it before getting around to the obvious tribute. Granted, it's a sadstatement on Washington that such behavior so distinguishes McCain from thepack. He does have that Dole-like (Bob, not Liddy) acerbic sense of humor-forwhich scribblers are suckers-but without that Dole dourness. Asked why he isnot participating in the upcoming presidential straw poll in Ames, IA, McCainhuffed it is "a meaningless exercise," adding, "it's a wonderful,laudable, money-raising scheme for the Republican Party of Iowa...I commendthem." Of course, McCain is ducking a fight he most likely would not win.But he is right to whack this event, a big con, where campaigns will be busingin supporters in order to try to orchestrate a bump.
There'shardly a profiler of McCain who doesn't reach for the word "maverick."McCain blasts away at the corruptions of the political system, pitching campaignreform as the foremost reason he's chasing after the top job. "I'm runningto reform government, the campaign finance system," he said, "andonly through reform can we gain greater freedom for the American people."That's talk straight out of Common Cause or Ralph Nader. The modest reform legislationhe has sponsored for the past several years (the McCain-Feingold bill) triggersapoplexy among his Republican colleagues, who keep scheming successfully againstit. His latest finger-in-the-eye-of-the-GOP is a measure that would eliminategovernment subsidies for the ethanol, sugar, oil and gas industries and apply$5.4 billion of those savings to a school voucher program. Vouchers or favorsfor contributors-that choice the issue in a way that cannot make the Republicanleadership happy. But, as McCain conceded, he has as much chance of successwith this bill as he has of being on the next NASA launch (the legislation wasdefeated on Friday). He blamed the "Republican-controlled Congress" for spending billions of dollars on big-ticket weapons that are not needed,while many military families are so underpaid they have to apply for food stamps.He's out of synch with the gay-bashers of the GOP, maintaining he would have"no problem" with openly homosexual and lesbian Americans servingin his administration. But it is on the money-and-politics front that McCainstands out most. Before the reporters, he jabbed at George W. Bush for sendinghundreds of lobbyists, "wearing bib overalls over their suits," toIowa. He lashed out at Haley Barbour, the former Republican Party chairman,for pocketing $1 million as a lobbyist for Big Tobacco.