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In Any Debate I’d Put My Money on McCain

and Other Observations from the 12 August York, PA Town Hall Meeting

Senator John McCain’s substantive responses and unflappable demeanor at his town hall meeting in York, PA on Tuesday filled me with hope for the fall presidential debates. Based on McCain’s performance, I’d say he could beat the silver-tongued, glass-jawed Senator Barack Obama in a debate on Obama’s terms, moderated by the editorial board of the Village Voice, with no prior knowledge of the questions himself while allowing Obama to have a peek at them a full week beforehand. Three trends in his answers lead me to that conclusion.

First, on international issues (Iraq and Georgia), within his answers McCain was able to cite a visit to the country in question, summarize the history of the situation, and name the leaders with whom he has an established relationship. In a topsy-turvy world, McCain is very reassuring vis-a-vis risky Obama.

Second, in answering domestic policy questions, McCain repeatedly used anecdotes to illustrate how problems were tackled in the past in bipartisan fashion. For example, he discussed how President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill worked together to fix Social Security 25 years ago. This could help sway independents and undecides in his direction.

Third, he used a wily old man sucker-punch when responding to a Clinton voter who wanted to know why McCain considered himself a better choice than Obama. He started off by stroking the young lad’s ego with words to the effect of, “I should have called on the guy behind you,” as though the question was too hard, and then of course went on to answer it effectively. Our candidate is good on his feet.

Crowd Reaction to Georgia Speech
As other posters have noted, McCain used the York appearance to make a statement on Russia’s invasion of Georgia. I would term the crowd’s reaction to the statement as subdued support. This is not surprising, considering that for well over a decade, I have known of the potential for Russia to use the treatment of Russian nationals as an excuse to reassert control in former Soviet republics, and even I wish the problem would just go away on its own. I can’t imagine how someone with no familiarity with the history of the Caucasus feels about more conflict in the world.

Smooth Operations
The operations team for the town hall meeting was SUPERB and deserving of highest praise. Even though my frame of reference is a 1992 President George H. W. Bush event, I was impressed with how smoothly the staff managed crowd control, parking, seating, etc. The line was long and the security checks were thorough, but everything kept moving in a very orderly fashion. I would have swooned from the greatness of it all, but the campaign team hospitably distributed water to the crowd.

Standing Room Only
I had been checking the John McCain campaign website daily in hopes of finding an event nearby, and on Sunday morning, there was nothing listed. I received a robo-call about the appearance mid-afternoon Sunday and saw a notice on the site immediately afterwards. That means in under 45 hours, the McCain team and local Republican organizations easily mustered 4000 supporters. I do not doubt that he could fill his own 76,000 person stadium if he were so inclined and egocentric.

The Retinue
Because I am a staunch pro-lifer, one aspect of the appearance disappointed me. Senator Arlen Specter delivered the warm-up speech before the Straight Talk Express arrived. Former Homeland Security Director and two-term Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge and Senator Joe Lieberman arrived with Senator McCain. Although these gentlemen are prominent and distinguished public servants and it was appropriate for them to take part, couldn’t Senator McCain find any nationally recognized pro-life friends who willing to ride the bus with him?

All in all, I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to see Senator McCain in person. His ability to speak well on any topic and his campaign’s operational efficiency gave me cause for optimism this fall.

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