McCain town halls like a rock star

On MTV, John McCain proves he can hang with voters a quarter his age.

Topics: 2008 Elections, John McCain, R-Ariz.,

For at least Monday night, John McCain was the hippest old guy in presidential politics. He bucked the traditional Republican aversion to that basic cable network that invented reality television, lionized the crotch grab and created the first major bisexual dating show. He became the only Republican candidate this cycle to accept an invitation for a town hall meeting with young voters on MTV.

“My friends, I’m not the youngest candidate in this race. You know that. But I am the most experienced,” the 72-year-old said upon taking the stage, which was surrounded by red, white and blue lights, like the inside of a patriotic microwave oven.

Then he tried to make a funny. “I’m older than Frankenstein and I’ve got a few scars,” he said, before realizing that didn’t make any sense. “I’m older than dirt and I’ve got more scars than Frankenstein,” he tried again. “Screwed up that line.” The audience of students of Southern New Hampshire University laughed. The old guy was trying to please. They appreciated it.

Over the next hour, he spoke on a number of issues, passionately making the case for the current military policy in Iraq, speaking about the dangers of global warming and pledging to fix Medicare and Social Security for the younger generation. He said he supported federal stem cell research, despite his pro-life beliefs, wanted to increase government aide for college, and said he would have made the genocide in Darfur “a higher priority” than President Bush.

At another point, when asked how he would have governed differently than President Bush, McCain said that he would have called the nation to public service after the attacks of Sept. 11. “I would not have asked Americans to go shopping or take a trip,” he said.

He said he would not accept Sen. Hillary Clinton as his vice president, and confessed to a rather historic taste in music. “My musical progress stopped with the Beatles and Abba.” When asked about immigration, he joked, “Uh. This meeting is adjourned.”

By the end of the night, the MTV computers showed that people watching the debate online had a far more positive view of him than they had when he began. And he did that despite some blistering words for the Internet golden boy, Texas Rep. Ron Paul. “Frankly, Ron Paul is wrong,” he said, after he was asked about Paul’s view on the Iraq war. “They aren’t fighting over there for oil. They aren’t fighting over there for empire. And they aren’t fighting over there illegally.”

It was the sort of night that made you wonder why he was only the third candidate to accept MTV’s invitation. (On the Democratic side, both John Edwards and Barack Obama have participated in similar forums.) What do Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have to fear?

CLARIFICATION: The debate was co-sponsored by MTV and MySpace. The computers that calculated viewer response to McCain were using a MySpace survey technology.

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>