Wednesday, April 05, 2006

John McCain on The Daily Show

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had a live interview with Senator John McCain (R–AZ) on Tuesday's program.

Stewart: You're not freaking out on us? Are you freaking out on us? Because if you're freaking out and you're going into the crazy base world — are you going into crazy base world?

McCain: I'm afraid so.
Jon Stewart: People who watch this show know, we love John McCain. He's one of our most frequent guests, one of our favorite figures in Washington, and I'm gonna tell you why: campaign finance, environmental law, budgetary overspending, Abu Ghraib scandal — issue after issue, Arizona's senior Senator has staked out his position, even at the expense of alienating conservatives. He's a maverick! He put it best himself in 2000 during his run for the White House: "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right." [John McCain, 2000-01-28] Yeah, boyeee! Agreed, and now McCain can tell Falwell that in person. He has agreed to give this year's commencement speech at Falwell's Liberty University. Plus, after criticizing what he said were the dirty tactics of the Bush campaign, he then turned around and hired two top Bush advisers to help with his own Presidential bid, plus he's been praising the President every chance he gets. [clips from various McCain speeches] "We should all of us keep our personal ambitions a distant second to standing with the President of the United States ... Stay behind the President on this ... The President of the United States did exactly the right thing ... He's our President, and the only one who needs our support today." I think somebody's angling for a nickname: [imitating Bush] I'm gonna call you Señor Likes-me-a-lot.

Has John McCain's Straight Talk Express been re-routed through Bullshittown? You know who we could ask — Senator John McCain! Senator, what's going on? I heard this crazy story that Senator John McCain is giving the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's university.

John McCain: Well, before I bring on my two attorneys, I'd like to, uh....

Stewart: Don't — don't make me love you.

McCain: I'd like to bring up a subject you should investigate. Actually, the reason I did it is because of the fact my kids said, "Why haven't you been on the Jon Stewart show lately?" and I figured that was the best way to do that.

Stewart: Senator! Are you really going down to Liberty and delivering the commencement?

McCain: I'm going to try to give these young people the same message I give to colleges and universities across the country, Jon, and that is, Serve a cause greater than your self-interest, Public service is good, Character is necessary. It'll be the same message I give across the country, and I'm going to invite you down because I want you sitting there next to Reverend Falwell when I give it. Might do you some good.

Stewart: Now, is that so if the Rapture happens during the speech, somebody could be there to clean up all the clothes?

McCain: Exactly, and not only that, I'm sure you have a lot of fans there at Liberty University.

Stewart: You're killin' me here. I feel like it's a condoning of Falwell's kind of crazymaking to some extent to have you go down there, and it strikes me as something you wouldn't normally do. Am I wrong about that?

McCain: Jon, I've spoken at a lot of schools, I've spoken to schools whose specific policies I may disagree with — Ivy League schools don't allow military recruiters, I don't agree with that. I'm going there to speak to the students at his invitation, and I can assure you that the message will be the same that I give everywhere.

Stewart: You don't think that it helps to sort of reassert Falwell as the voice for a certain group of people, say evangelicals or the Christian Right? Isn't it the kind of thing that maybe if you don't go there, it helps to keep marginalizing guys like that, or do I misunderstand politics? No? Maybe I misunderstand things.

McCain: Jon, I try to, as I said —

Stewart: Why do I feel like I'm about to get grounded?

McCain: Listen, I love coming on your show. Young people all over America watch it. I love to travel around the country and speak at colleges and universities. Look — they're all parts of the Republican Party. I respect them; I may disagree, and I'm sure that I've had disagreements with them. I'm not going to change —

Stewart: You're not freaking out on us? Are you freaking out on us? Because if you're freaking out and you're going into the crazy base world — are you going into crazy base world?

McCain: I'm afraid so.

Stewart: All right, sir. You know we have great regard for you here, and I hope you know what you're doing there, I trust that you do. When you see Falwell, do you feel nervous, do you have vomit in the back of your throat — what does it feel like?

McCain: No, but I'll give him your love.
Of course, it is crucial to understand the context in which the interview took place. Bear in mind that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is above all else a comedy show, although most of its source material is current events, especially politics. It is also important to understand that Jon Stewart and John McCain have known each other since the 2000 Presidential campaign. Still and all, I think Jon Stewart did a fine job of holding John McCain's feet to the fire for his overtures to a man he himself has described — quite accurately — as an agent of intolerance.

Anything Falwell says is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Falwell's not quite as batshit insane as Pat Robertson, but that's about like saying that Girls Gone Wild is not quite as tacky as Debbie Does Dallas. Falwell described Muhammad as a terrorist and "a man of war," even though Falwell himself has said, "What we need to do is take the battle to the Muslim heathens and do unto them before they do unto us." It's not quite calling for the assassination of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, but it's nowhere close to Jesus' message of loving thy neighbor. Falwell also made entirely unsubstantiated claims that President Clinton received millions of dollars from drug trafficking and laundered money, even though Falwell issued millions of dollars of bonds backed by nothing but faith in the Lord, and then reneged on the payments when Liberty University declared bankruptcy.

If John McCain went to speak at Liberty University at almost any other time of the year, I would not have a problem with it, but giving the commencement address is inescapably an endorsement of the university and its policies, including forbidding students to attend R-rated movies, dance, kiss, hug, or sign petitions not approved by the university. It isn't a matter of having a small disagreement with one or two policies; Liberty University's very foundation lies in stark contradiction to the principles for which John McCain stands. By agreeing to give this speech, McCain is putting at risk any possibility he has of drawing support from the political center, or especially from Democrats.

I visited Liberty University way back in 1985, and, as my personal protest, I played rock and roll music on the car radio as I drove through the campus. I'm sure Jesus will be waiting to personally condemn me to hell just for that.

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  1. McCain's comment about bringing on his two attorneys was a reference to a clip of Rep. Cynthia McKinney from a segment earlier in the program.

  2. The Daily Show is taped several hours before it airs. What I mean by a "live interview" is that the interview was conducted in real time before the live studio audience, and appeared to be unedited for broadcast.

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