Straight Talk

A few questions for John McCain

As we near the major party conventions, here are a few questions for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain:

—In your book Worth the Fighting For, you write, "Our greatness depends upon our patriotism, and our patriotism is hardly encouraged when we cannot take pride in the highest public institutions." You've also said that "national pride will not survive the people's contempt for government." Do you really believe that the government is the root of American greatness? Would we better off as a nation if people refrained from criticizing the government? Does patriotism require us to support our country, "right or wrong?"

U.S. News reported last December that part of your economic plan includes a new entitlement program for the unemployed. You've said that the federal government should make up part of the salary of workers who are forced to take lower-paying jobs. Economists estimate your plan will cost $4-5 billion per year, but as a longtime legislator, you should know that new entitlements tend to become more generous and more comprehensive over time. Should your plan eventually emulate the Danish worker security plan it's modeled after, it will likely cost $400 billion or more each year. Given that the federal government currently faces some $59 trillion in unfunded Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security liabilities, do we really need another federal entitlement?

—In your January primary debate, you referred to "greedy" Wall Street stockbrokers, and in contrasting your career to the business career of Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, you said, "I led the largest squadron in the United States Navy. And I did it out of patriotism, not for profit." Do you think a career in public service is inherently more noble and virtuous than a career in the private sector? Are people who spend their lives on the taxpayer dole as politicians and government employees simply better people than those who create wealth and jobs through private enterprise?

—Public choice theory posits that government workers are just as self-interested and no less altruistic than private sector workers, and that we should acknowledge as much when making public policy. Do you believe in public choice theory?

—You're highly critical of businesses and corporations that benefit from government handouts and pork projects. And rightly so. But you and your wife's fortune comes from her inheritance of Hensley & Company, a Phoenix-based beer wholesaler and distributor. Beer wholesalers benefit from what's called the "three-tiered" alcohol distribution system, an anachronistic Prohibition-era law that requires beer, wine and liquor producers to first sell alcohol products to wholesalers, who then sell to retailers. The law essentially mandates a "middle man" in alcohol sales. It inflates the cost of alcohol for consumers by adding an extra mark-up—the bulk of which goes to huge companies like Hensley. In other words, alcohol wholesaling is a government-created and government-subsidized industry. How, then, does your family fortune jibe with your criticism of corporate welfare and corporate handouts?

—Is it the government's job to make us better people? If so, by whose definition of "better?"

—After the Supreme Court's decision in the Heller gun rights case, you admirably commented, "This ruling does not mark the end of our struggle against those who seek to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens. We must always remain vigilant in defense of our freedoms." I couldn't agree more. But on the subject of campaign finance reform, you said in 2006 that, "I would rather have a clean government than one where, quote, First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government." How do you reconcile these two positions? Is a "clean" government (whatever that means) really more important than the rights and freedoms of its citizens?

—America was founded on the idea of inalienable, individual rights—our Declaration of Independence outlined three of the most important rights as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But your speeches and public statements seem to show a kind of contempt for individualism, or at least a preference for a kind of patriotic national collectivism. You've said, for example, that "each and every one of us has a duty to serve a cause greater than our own self-interest." You've also said that patriotism should be about "putting the country first, before party or personal ambition, before anything." Do you really believe this? Should we put love of country ahead of family? Faith? Our morality, or sense of justice?

—In 1989, your wife Cindy became addicted to the prescription drugs Percocet and Vicodin. Eventually, she began stealing medication from the non-profit medical charity she ran to assist the victims of war and disaster areas. You and your wife were able to negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department that let her off with restitution and admission to a rehabilitation center, but no fines, jail time or even public disclosure. Certainly no one could fault you for trying to save your spouse from criminal sanction. But you're consistently one of the most strident drug warriors in Congress. You've voted to strengthen penalties against those who use and traffic in both illicit drugs and who divert prescription drugs. You've supported mandatory minimums and harsher penalties for first-time offenders. Why shouldn't average people without powerful connections who make the same mistakes your wife made be shown the same leniency and mercy the criminal justice system showed her?

My next column will pose questions to presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Radley Balko is a senior editor of reason. A version of this article originally appeared on FoxNews.com.

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  • Episiarch||

    Great questions. McCain's people wouldn't let you within 100 feet of him with those. Begone to your "free speech zone"!

  • Elemenope||

    And fer goshssakes, don't let the Lonewacko see that!

  • hamilton||

    Um, it's a nice article and all but I'm through the first three questions and already irritated (and I'm hardly a McCain rumpswab). Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha - three for three. In each one you take a statement, blow it out to a different proportion based on your own assumptions, and then ask (somewhat rhetorically) if he really really means this thing you just thought up. Why is that fair or even interesting?

    Example: You equate his quote "national pride will not survive the people's contempt for government." to mean "government is the root of American greatness". I, for one, do not read the quote that way (perhaps he did say it that way in the original context, but I cannot make that interpretation from your article alone).

    Example 2: Your second point. You take a project of his, and then bascially say "well the experts say it will cost this, but MAYBE it COULD cost this, maybe maybe, so what's up with that?"

    Example 3: In your third point you presume that his extolling the virtue of military service similarly extolls any form of government employment. (Again, perhaps in original context this was the case, but you are not clear about that here). I mean, honestly Radley, this is bordering on trolling.

    I'm a self-confessed Radley Balko fan (and no fan of either McCain or Obama) but this reads like a Matt Welch ghostwritten smackdown. I am not particularly more enlightened by this or by the likely answers from the candidate to these questions.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Is it just me or does the "Straight Talk Express" always sound crazy and Marxist?

  • ed||

    Silly rabbit. He won't answer questions like that from a nobody like you. And none of the "somebodys" of the fourth estate have the balls to ask. Nice try, though. It's what Russert would have asked. In bizarro world.

  • ||

    Why shouldn't average people without powerful connections who make the same mistakes your wife made be shown the same leniency and mercy the criminal justice system showed her?

    I'd pay real money to hear him actually respond to that question. No dodging, there Senator, why shouldn't your wife have done time?

    My next column will pose questions to presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

    I'm on pins and needles.

    WSJ, NYT, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX News, CNN et al, read Reason magazine and start doing your jobs. Sycophantic fawning over power brokers is a dereliction of duty.

  • Episiarch||

    Is it just me or does the "Straight Talk Express" always sound crazy and Marxist?

    Silly Sadow, John McCain is a war hero. How dare you question him?

  • Nigel Watt||

    If somebody could spring the "why shouldn't your wife have gone to jail" question on McCain on TV, I might be dancing in the streets.

  • hamilton||

    BTW I should note I'm cool with questions 4,5,6,7 and mostly cool with 8 although it's getting a little personal. Just so I don't come across as a GOP-planted asswipe.

  • Elemenope||

    I'd pay real money to hear him actually respond to that question. No dodging, there Senator, why shouldn't your wife have done time?

    You're not the only one. Sometimes I think many people can maintain a schizophrenic stupidity about policies like the Drug War only because they have never been inescapably confronted with the contradictions they engender. Once you pin someone down and cut through all the cognitive dissonance crap and other defense mechanisms and force them to answer, they must confront it for what it is.

    Of course, doing that without kidnapping and torture is hard, and remember kids, torture == bad!!!

  • gmatts||

    Balko forgot to start every question for McCain with "My friend,..."

    And I'd imagine that Joe Lieberman would have to be near McCain to whisper sweet-nothings into McCains ear when he's unsure of an answer

  • Sam Grove||

    McCain has a genetically predisposition towards tribal hierarchy. The desire to serve a "greater cause" is rooted in the selfish survival urge: to obtain greater value others (hence greater assurance of survival) through obesience to the tribal hierarchy.

    John McCain's self worth is dependent upon nation state tribalism. Otherwise he has no value.

  • No Name Guy||

    I'm surprised no one has asked him at one of his "Town Halls" the question about whey his wife should get off scot-free while if any of us stole opiates from a pharmacy we'd get the book thrown at us.

  • ||

    The problem is politicians can always spin it. I think I can take a crack at how McCain would respond if he ever had to.

    1) Our commitment to our greatness is the root of our greatness. Every American should show his or her patriotism by supporting our national greatness.

    2) We need to compensate those hard working Americans who, through of fault of their own, have found themselves out of work because their jobs have been shipped oversees for the sake of greed and self interested. This needs to be done in a fiscally responsible manner by the Congress.

    3) Yes they are. Because we serve a cause greater than ourselves.

    4) You calling me a liar Sonny?

    5) I was a POW in North Vietnam for over fiver years. I was beaten and tortured. I endured some of the cruelest, harshest conditions imaginable for our freedom.

    6) We all know what better is.

    7) I don't think "rights and freedom" include subverting our system of government by allowing special interests to corrupt the process with money

    8) Love of country is not mutually exclusive with love of family, faith and justice. Service to your country is also service to your family, the manifestation or your faith, and necessary to the administration of justice.

    9) DRUGS ARE BAD

  • Episiarch||

    DRUGS ARE BAD

    You forgot the "Mm'kay".

  • ||

    You forgot the "Mm'kay".

    That's the difference between Mackey and McCain, Straight Talk.

  • ||

    LMNOP said:

    they must confront it for what it is


    No, they don't. They invoke the classic "well, I know my wife, and she's a good person, and it was tragic, and it won't happen again. Scout's honor." But Senator, what about everyone else? "They're drug using criminals. It's not the same. And they go after the CHILDREN."

  • Elemenope||

    MP --

    You clearly didn't read the rest of the comment.

    I said they'd have to confront it if you broke down their intellectual and emotional defenses by kidnapping and torturing them. Which is kinda right out. You know, unless they're Arab and stuff. Then it's alright!

    The More You Know. *

    *Paid for by the Committee to Re-Elect GWB

  • ||

    this is why I love reason sometimes, good questions.

  • Dagny T.||

    Elemenope,

    The More You Know. *

    You should write ALL PSAs from now on.


    Off topic: there are some random/hilarious faux-PSAs on the special features of one of The Office DVDs.

  • Elemenope||

    You should write ALL PSAs from now on.

    That would be fun, but I do have a day job. ;)

  • Naga Sadow||

    Thanks Warren. I LOVE NewSpeak!

  • Dagny T.||

    ...they'd have to confront it if you broke down their intellectual and emotional defenses by kidnapping and torturing them.

    Sad thing is, that's no exaggeration.

    At my uni, I took a class on the history of the drug war with a smart, anti-WOD prof. He had speaker after speaker come in and describe why the WOD was wrong, ineffective, expensive, etc. People in my class would initially appear to understand, only to revert back to some half-baked (pun intended) rhetoric about "teh children."

  • ||

    Where the hell is the "Brown Bag Special" today telling us what to REALLY ask McCain?

    I'd say these are certainly hard-pressing questions for the smooth-, I mean, straight-talker himself.

  • Elemenope||

    At my uni, I took a class on the history of the drug war with a smart, anti-WOD prof. He had speaker after speaker come in and describe why the WOD was wrong, ineffective, expensive, etc. People in my class would initially appear to understand, only to revert back to some half-baked (pun intended) rhetoric about "teh children."

    Weird, I had the opposite experience. I was taking a seminar on Corruption & Public Policy, and the professor had the irritating but instructive idea to segregate the class according to the standard conservative/liberal split. (I asked him "I'm a Libertarian, where do I sit?" "I dunno. On the ceiling? Down the hall? It's up to you." I ended up alternating sides each class time.)

    Of course, the lion's share of the class was about the effect of the Drug War on public policy and corruption of law enforcement. We had a really solid chunk of fire-breathing GOPers and an about equal segment of blood-red socialists, as was readily apparent from the class seating arrangement as well as regular discussion in class.

    What was heartening was there was NOT ONE among them who would endorse the policy of keeping Marijuana illegal. No kidding.

    I just wish my generation fucking voted once in a while.

  • ||

    I don't typically comment, so forgive me if I discuss old-news, but I do wish people would hold both of the wishy-washies to task. They claim to believe in all sorts of trendy things (I'll vomit if I hear one more slime tell me how I need to be GREENER), but none of it translates to policies they support or condemn. It just means taking more of my money and more of telling me what to do.

    I guess I'm too naive, but the only politician I would vote in for president would be the person who doesn't want the job. Me and Machiavelli.

    Completely agree with all the drug stuff -- and this is coming from a girl who's never smoked even TOBACCO, let alone taken anything harder than an Advil.

  • ||

    "Completely agree with all the drug stuff -- and this is coming from a girl who's never smoked even TOBACCO, let alone taken anything harder than an Advil."

    Same here. In fact, I've never even SEEN drugs, so I couldn't have even gotten the "contact" high.

  • P1t||

    I am looking forward to the questions for Obama. One question I probably wouldn't expect is "Are you a muslim or not?" (That one got pretty much covered by CNN, Fox News, and Co. Respectable media by the way...what is the word...NOT!). One question I would have for both candidates would be to ask whether the US Armed Forces should be used to spread democracy around the world. For that matter, how would they spread democracy around the world. Just a thought.

  • ||

    I asked him "I'm a Libertarian, where do I sit?" "I dunno. On the ceiling? Down the hall? It's up to you."

    You should have taken his chair. After all, you're paying for it.

  • P1t||

    "Completely agree with all the drug stuff -- and this is coming from a girl who's never smoked even TOBACCO, let alone taken anything harder than an Advil."

    "Same here. In fact, I've never even SEEN drugs, so I couldn't have even gotten the "contact" high."

    I had a puff of tobacco twice (Too weak for being addicted). Non smoker of course. But that is besides the point. My point is that if the drug warriors have their way, the definition of drug would be enlarged. Sex would definitely considered as a drug (I mean, you are getting high at every orgasm, right. Then again, you could get away by saying you faked it, so I suppose it won't be. Besides, it is for the children!). Hmm, chocolate could get you high too, right? So that could be on the list. I admit I am exaggerating, but remember, alcohol got prohibited in the US for a short period of time.

  • ||

    R C Dean | July 16, 2008, 4:20pm | #

    I asked him "I'm a Libertarian, where do I sit?" "I dunno. On the ceiling? Down the hall? It's up to you."



    You should have taken his chair. After all, you're paying for it.



    *claps*

    Bravo!

  • Un otro abogado del diablo||

    Not being familiar with AZ liquor laws, I can't say if Mrs McCain's family beer distributorship has (or has not) benefited from the way the industry is regulated, (ok they've probably benefited, but by how much is not an easy call)

    However, as is the case most other industries where deregulation has occurred, it is possible for them to get even bigger and richer as industry consolidation occurs and marginal players are squeezed out*. or they may go bankrupt.** it's not always easy (in fact it's nigh impossible most times) to tell which will occur in advance.

    *this is not a bad thing
    **neither is this.

  • SIV||

    I can't say if Mrs McCain's family beer distributorship has (or has not) benefited from the way the industry is regulated, (ok they've probably benefited, but by how much is not an easy call)

    Bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa !!!

    You might want to look into what a "distributorship" is.
    Imagine a whole State gave your family the exclusive right to wholesale food. All the farmers,packers and processors could only sell to you, and all the grocery stores and restaurants had to buy exclusively from you.
    Do you think you might benefit from the way the "food wholesale industry" is regulated in your imaginary State?

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