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Impressions of John McCain

I was on a blogger conference call with Senator John McCain this afternoon. Much of the conversation was about foreign policy, and McCain was stalwart as usual. I want to comment on two other aspects of the call.
First, McCain takes generally solid positions on domestic issues, but for the most part, he doesn’t seem to want to distinguish himself on those issues. He was asked whether he would favor replacing the income tax with a consumption tax. His answer was that we need to reform the income tax, and he is open to the Fair (consumption) Tax, a flat tax, or some other solution. He said that he would support whichever such proposal a consensus could coalesce around.
Similarly, I was struck by the strong language about Social Security and Medicare in the speech in which McCain announced his candidacy, and asked him how he proposes to reform those programs. Again, McCain preferred not to offer anything specific, but said that he would appoint a high-level commission to make recommendations.
The problem with these approaches, of course, is that nothing is going to happen on these issues without Presidential leadership; as President Bush found, even with such leadership, nothing may happen. A majority is not going to spontaneously form around a flat tax, or a particular program of entitlement reform, etc. I infer from this that McCain will rest his case for the Presidency on foreign policy. On domestic issues, it seems that he will take a consistently conservative line (with the notable exception of campaign finance and maybe one or two other issues), but he won’t make a serious effort to distinguish himself from the other candidates on those points.
My second observation is that in the conversations we’ve had with him, I find McCain to be an engaging and sympathetic personality. A lot of politics is about likability–just ask Hillary–and, for what it’s worth, in the contacts I’ve had with him, I like McCain.
ONE MORE THING: McCain was asked about Mitt Romney’s statement that he didn’t think we should expend energy going after bin Laden (I’m paraphrasing). McCain responded that he doesn’t normally comment on his rivals for the nomination, but would make an exception in this case because it is a national security matter. He said that he thought Romney’s statement betrayed “naivete” because bin Laden is an important symbol in the psychological war against the terrorists. McCain cited approvingly the Israeli model, where, when someone harms their people, they will follow him to the ends of the earth to obtain redress. Or they used to, anyway.
On this one, I’m with McCain.
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