This time, McCain shows up for "Letterman"

The last time he was booked on the late-night show, John McCain (sort of) suspended his campaign instead; Thursday, he tried to make amends.

By Alex Koppelman
Published October 17, 2008 6:00AM (EDT)

Thursday night, John McCain finally made it to "The Late Show With David Letterman." But not without a little awkwardness and quite a bit of ribbing.

The last time McCain was supposed to appear on the show, things were different. That was the day the Republican nominee announced he was "suspending" his campaign. In what became an infamous incident, McCain called Letterman to cancel and apologize, saying he had to rush back to Washington to help solve the country's economic problems. Instead, he stayed right in midtown Manhattan -- near where the show tapes -- and did an interview with Katie Couric, who shares a network with Letterman. Needless to say at this point, the late-night host was decidedly unhappy about what had transpired.

So naturally, even before McCain hit the stage Thursday, he was the butt of more than a few of Letterman's jokes. The host even brought back MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who had filled in as guest last time around, to be, essentially, a prop in his routine. (What, you thought Olbermann would pass up a chance to help get in a dig at McCain?)

Once McCain was in the chair, finally being interviewed by Letterman, though, things got friendlier. There was, obviously, some discussion of the previous unpleasantness, though. "I screwed up," McCain kept saying, and he got in some humor of his own. "I haven't had so much fun since my last interrogation," he said of the show he missed and what was broadcast that night.

McCain even took a shot at his own campaign's strategy. Prompted by Letterman, who said, "You probably had a meeting and everyone said, 'It's just Dave. We don't care,'" McCain responded, "Yeah, 'It's only Dave. There's only a few million who'll be watching. What the hell? Who cares?'"

But there was still a hard edge to the conversation between the two men. Letterman proved to be a tough interviewer, tougher, in fact, than some journalists McCain has faced during this campaign.

Letterman pressed his guest repeatedly on Sarah Palin and her qualifications -- or lack thereof -- for the vice presidency. And his challenge of Palin's allegation that Barack Obama is "palling around with terrorists" was successful enough that McCain was finally forced to sputter, "There's millions of words said in the campaign. Come on!"

Nor did Letterman let McCain slide for his campaign having repeatedly made reference recently to Obama's association with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers. Instead, he brought up one of the Arizona senator's own connections -- G. Gordon Liddy, the mastermind behind the Watergate burglary.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.