Several weeks ago, I was clicking through John McCain's presidential campaign website. In the "Events" section I found a listing for a June 13 Townhall Meeting in Pemberton, New Jersey; I decided to attend.
McCain did not pick me out of the crowd to ask a question on live TV, but I was able to speak with him as the event wound down.
Right after the speech, I knew McCain would work the rope line. Since I was in the front row, it only took me about three steps to get there.
I spoke loudly:
"Senator McCain - I noticed you aren't wearing your flag lapel-pin. May I give you mine?"
McCain: "Yes, sir, you can" (what else was he going to say? - he really wasn't wearing a flag pin.)
now I had him front and center...
"Senator, I spent four years in the Marines"
McCain: "Thank you for your service."
"Oh, no sir, thank you for yours. I have a feeling this is as close as I will ever come to pinning a medal on you." (said as I'm fastening the lapel pin) "Senator - you know our motto is Semper Fidelis - always faithful?"
McCain: "Oh yes, I do"
"Well have you always been faithful to Cindy McCain?"
McCain: "Oh no... that's not what I'm going to talk about."
"Have you been faithful to your wife? You won't answer? C'mon - how 'bout a little of that straight talk?"
(crowd beginning to get angry - hissing)
McCain: "Young man, I will tell you that I have a son serving in Iraq in the Marines."
"Yes - I know. I know a lot about you. Have you cheated on Cindy McCain? Why won't you answer?"
McCain turned away.
(All of the aforementioned was caught on film and microphone by the networks. As far as I know, it has not been released and probably won't be. [When I asked Senator Allen - after the macaca incident - if he ever used the word "nigger" and why he kept a Confederate Flag and noose in his office, the NBC camera guy caught the whole exchange. It, to this day, has never aired in its entirety. The only reason I know it exists is that the video (without the sound) was shown to provide context to the later incident in which Allen's goons threw me to the ground.])
Of course, I could have asked any number of other questions. I had thought of a few:
"Senator: there's been a lot of media chatter about Barack Obama having difficulty wooing women voters that formerly supported Hillary Clinton. The unspoken assumption is that they will cross over and vote for you. Do believe this assumption holds water considering the fact that you left your first wife - a former swimsuit model - after she was disfigured in a car accident and put on a few pounds?"
"Senator: You've pushed back against the assertion that you want to stay in Iraq for the next hundred years. You've said that as long as we aren't taking casualties, a presence like that in Korea or Germany is fine with you. You've said the surge is working, that casualties are down, that we are winning the war in Iraq...
In the end, it sounds to me like you are saying that if we win the war in Iraq, if we aren't taking casualties... we stay... (after all, according to you, bringing the troops home isn't important...)
If we get our asses handed to us in Iraq - if we suffer a lot of casualties - we must win the war, so... we stay...
You haven't shared with the American people what conditions must prevail for American troops to come home. Can you set forth the conditions you would require to pull all combat and combat support troops out of Iraq?"
I chose to forgo these questions in favor of the one I asked because once I decided to attend the event, I reached out to contacts in Washington for advice. After several conversations, a pattern emerged.
Not long ago, the New York Times reported the story of McCain's relationship with the sultry lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. McCain surrogates furiously denounced the story, but oddly, John McCain never brought it up.
As I made the rounds in Washington, several people mentioned the story. A theme developed. None would go on the record, but more than one suggested that fidelity in the McCain marriage was not a priority for either partner. I was told that reporters know a lot more than they let on, but they are reticent about bringing it up.
After chewing on the situation for a while, I decided to ask McCain a question about fidelity for two reasons.
The first has to do with raw politics. I don't believe for a second that John McCain will beat Barack Obama in November. Obama draws tens of thousands to his rallies; McCain is lucky if a thousand people show up for his. Barack has a cash machine that shames anything that came before it. McCain's campaign can barely afford the gas for his Straight Talk Express. Barack is inspiring, McCain is tiring...
Down-ticket races need to be considered as well. Again, almost nobody doubts that Democrats will pick up a substantial number of seats in both houses of Congress. The pressing question is how many seats will flip. Will Democrats get to 60 seats in the Senate?
Every election has its close races. In Virginia, Webb beat Allen by fewer than 10,000 votes. Many, many House seats were determined by fewer than 5,000 votes. Every single vote counts.
I've seen analysis that the evangelical Christian community constitutes 30% of the Republican base. These fundamentalist voters drove the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Republicans are more than capable of reading polls; they knew that the majority of Americans just wanted to MoveOn... Republicans found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The impeachment route made them look partisan and petty to the majority of Americans, but their base wanted it more than anything else...
They decided to dance with who brung 'em. Evangelicals elected them so evangelicals would get their scalp. And Clinton was impeached. (McCain voted in favor of impeachment).
McCain is already on thin-ice with evangelicals. James Dobson won't take his calls. John Hagee's followers still smart over McCain's condemnations. He famously disparaged Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the 2000 campaign and he renounced mega-church Pastor Rob Parsely this cycle. McCain's support of embryonic stem-cell research, limited environmental protections and campaign finance reform have each generated withering criticism from the religious right.
The last thing the Republican paryy needs is a John McCain adultery problem.
The second to last thing Republican party needs is a John McCain adultery problem. The last thing they need is a John McCain cuckold problem.
And the buzz in Washington is that he's got one.
The second reason I decided to ask McCain about adultery has to do with the way the press has treated the issue. That's the topic of another post, coming soon.