On the Phone with John (McCain)

I have mixed feelings about “blogger calls” – those conference calls political candidates and corporate types arrange with supposed representatives of the new media. There’s a self-serving, preaching to the choir quality about them (Dems almost always set them up with the left blogosphere and vice-versa), but it’s hard to resist when the man on the other end is The Man Who or the Man Who Has a Strong Possibility of Being Who.

So I quickly put my qualms to rest, dialed the 800 number I had been sent and gave the secret word to the receptionist (it wasn’t “swordfish”). What’s interesting about blogger calls these days, on this level at least, is that the aura of amateurism is gone. Many of the bloggers on the call now represented serious media organizations: Hugh Hewitt (Town Hall), Michael Goldfarb (Weekly Standard), Jennifer Rubin (Contentions of Commentary Magazine), and yours reasonably truly (Pajamas Media). This was my second time interviewing McCain, although on this occasion I wasn’t able to get in a question, not that I had a particularly good one.

For the most part, the bloggers on the call were “in the tank” for the candidate, but I’m not sure that was an entirely bad thing because McCain got to discourse at length and, as many have written, the man is forthcoming with his opinions in a refreshingly direct manner for a politician. Despite the mythos about his temper, I think one of the most laudable things about McCain is that people who disagree with him do not seem to threaten him. He relishes the rough and tumble of political discussion—not that this call featured a whole lot of that.

He is also more sophisticated than some of his supporters. The one bone of contention on the call was the North Carolina Republican Party campaign ad, using Wright and Ayers to bash Obama. McCain, as most know, asked for that to be taken down. He is taking the high road, as well he should, since he is running for President of the United States. If he wins, he’s going to have to be president of all Americans. Not only that, as everyone knows, national elections are won in the center. The wise candidate keeps his eye on that.

Nevertheless, there were a couple of people on the call who sounded as if they would rather be “right” than win. I’m not going to name names simply because I can’t. (Hey, I’m not that polite.) I couldn’t hear very well. I was on this call while going through security for a flight from Burbank to Seattle. I left the cellphone on as it passed along the conveyor belt through the x-ray device and, remarkably, was able to pick up on the conversation without redialing on the other end. (What does this say about our security? That iPhone, it keeps on ticking.)

In any case, my reportage on the call is therefore a bit slipshod. I did hear the following: McCain eloquently defended his proposal to lower the gas tax temporarily this summer—something about which I was skeptical—by pointing out that it is the poorer Americans who are paying far more than their share of this. They are driving the aging gas guzzlers (not Laurie David). He also reiterated his stand on keeping capital gains taxes low, contrasting his position with Clinton and Obama (who fumbled badly on that issue the other day).

On the foreign policy front, we all know where he stands. He called himself Hamas’ worst nightmare—“It’s very clear who Hamas wants to be President, as well as Danny Ortega…”—and pointed out that Iran was up to yet more mischief today.

What most impressed me though is that McCain seems to genuinely enjoy talking to bloggers—and not entirely because we may be “in the tank” for him. (Who wouldn’t like that?) Like Fred Thompson before him, he appears to be genuinely down with New Media. It must be that maverick thing.

Hey… Glenn Reynolds for Press Secretary?

Roger L. Simon is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, novelist and blogger, and the CEO of Pajamas Media.