A Slick Politician Trapped in a Politician's Body

I came to the Aspen Institute to hear McCain talk about how he might handle this Russian Crisis -- and found a lot has changed since Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.
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ASPEN, Colo. -- It was a Sunshiny day indeed at the Aspen Institute with Senator John McCain supporters crawling out of their hummers and Range Rovers to hear his speech and fundraising quotes. I live in Woody Creek, so I've been coming to Institute speeches for years.

I've said that my late husband Hunter S. Thompson, was a teenage girl trapped in the body of an elderly dope fiend, and His Holiness is a teenage girl trapped in the body of a Dalai Lama. What I saw Thursday is that John McCain is not a "creepy old white-haired guy" at all. He's simply a slick politician trapped in the body of a politician.

I came to hear this Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services (and yes, he's also the presumptive Republican Nominee) talk about how he might handle this Russian Crisis. My little sister and father live in Kiev, and my mother's side living throughout Poland, so I'm more than a little stressed.

But the agreement signed between Poland and the U.S, which has been in the works for 18 months (a clue that the CIA HAS been paying attention) with Poland that American soldiers will staff air defense sites in Poland oriented toward Russia, and that the United States would be obliged to defend Poland in case of an attack with greater speed than what is required under NATO, of which Poland is a member. This is more than simply a missile purchasing deal (that Joe Circincione really dislikes).

McCain was quick to say that yes, Russia's invasion is the "greatest military tragedy since the Cold War" and said it with a little less accusatory tone than his last gaffe inadvertently accusing the U.S. of doing what Russia did to Georgia: "Invade an innocent country."

He was far more slick and laid back than normal, according to some of his press core that I was sitting with. This is the first time I've seen him in person. The reason for his mcSuavo attitude is simple. Aspen is one of the richest tiny communities on the planet, and if you have 160 "bundlers" in your audience (supporters who have solicited donations for McCain's campaign directly (up to $2,300 apiece) and to the Republican Party and friendly political action committees (up to $28,500 apiece), you tend to show your relaxed inner self (yep, the slick politician trapped in the body of a politician.)

When Walter Isaacson pressed him on what should be done about this crisis, such as expelling Russia from the G8 or speed up the process of making Georgia a member of NATO, the senator gushed about Georgia being a "brave little country ... the first to convert to Christianity ... " Gee Wiz. That's what a suave politician says when he's just accidentally likened ourselves to Russia re: invading other countries. We certainly can't say that Iraq or Afghanistan were the first to convert to Christianity!

Isaacson pressed him on some other important questions such as McCain's comments that the recent Supreme Court declaring a provision of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that denied federal courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions from the detainees seeking to challenge their status. McCain went into Suave-mode again, going on about talking to a high ranking Al Qaeda member who said it was Abu Ghraib that made Al Queda able to recruit 20,000+ men.

Isaacson interrupted him with "You said this Supreme Court decision was the worst in history!" McCain responded with "Na, na, na," put his head down an laughed and said something like, I sometimes get roused up ..." applause and huge laughter.

He continued, Oh ya, I know the "Supreme Court Justices are supposed to be up in the clouds, unaffected by political situations" more laughter, then he continued, "Hey, the Court voiced frustration that we haven't moved forward" (on these torture issues).

They went back and forth about some more campaign talk. Because Thursday was the 73rd birthday of Social Security, Isaacson did ask him why not treat Social Security Investment like Energy investment, by putting everything on the table to consider.

McCain said yes. But when the topic of tax increases for Social Security comes up, No Way. Isaacson comes back with a "but that's not putting everything on the table." McSlick replies with "I can't be for tax increases." Silence.

So, what's a rookie pseudo-journalist like me to do? Yesterday was different for me from other Institute speeches because I had a press badge instead of a ticket. I'm crammed in the back with my people, the press, whom I've grown to love in the years working with Hunter. I was sitting with David Frey, Andrew Travers of the Daily News, and managing editor of my Woody Creeker Magazine, Kit Seelye from The New York Times, CBS News' Ryan Corsaro, Stone from The Aspen Free Press, and Charles Babington from the AP. I know there will be no way in hell I'll be able to ask McCain a question (more on Poland and Ukraine), as we are roped off way in the back corner.

Before the bizarre music for McCain's entrance began, a lovely young girl with a badge walked up to us, and I thought, how sweet, she's going to ask if we have everything we need. No she said we must leave our chairs immediately and move to the back. Wow. A lot has changed since Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail' 72. Or has it? I wish I could just make one call to Hunter. I got the sense that most of the press also miss his voice and courage to walk past the out-of-bound lines.

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