John McCain on the campaign trail in Michigan
HH: Senator McCain, welcome back to the program, it’s Hugh.
JM: I’m glad to be back, Hugh. Thank you. I’ve been watching you on TV. You’re doing a great job.
HH: Well, thank you, Senator. I’ll be playing your speech today a little bit later in the program, but I wanted to start with some politics. Does it look to you like Obama’s got a lock on being your opponent in the fall?
JM: Well you know, they say that, Hugh. But you know, I’ve just never counted a candidate named Clinton out of a race. But that’s what pundits are saying, but I don’t have any expertise whatsoever on the inner workings of the Democratic Party.
HH: All right, young people rolled up big margins for Senator Obama last night, like he’s been doing. How are you going to chip away at that, address the 25 year old and under crowd, Senator McCain?
JM: Well, I’ve got to do, Hugh, what Ronald Reagan did. We’ve got to inspire young Americans, in fact, all Americans, but especially young Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest. I think we have a story to tell. I think I have the knowledge and background and judgment, but I also believe I have the vision to portray that, and a plan of action to give them a better country than the one that I inherited. And it’s really going to be about experience and knowledge and judgment, but it’s also going to be about the need to be able to convince them to serve a cause greater than their self-interest, and that I have a plan of action to fix this economy and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and keep the country secure. And I think that’s what this campaign is going to be about. And I do not, in any way, understate…In no way to I exaggerate that this is going to be a very tough campaign, one I know I can win, but I’m going to have to outwork, work hard every single day.
HH: Senator McCain, last time you were on, some in my audience criticized me for failing to alert you to the fact that I have been a severe critic of yours in the past, and a Romney guy in the primary, and I assured them that I thought you’d been briefed, that you were in the business of…
JM: (laughing) Not only been briefed, not only been briefed, I’d listened to you and watched you, Hugh.
JM: Look, look, our party’s coming together. We’re united, and I’m sure, Hugh, you have seen Governor Romney on television. He has been an articulate and passionate spokesperson for the values and principles that he and I and you share. Primaries are tough, and primaries are tough and we have spirited debate and discussion. But the fact is at the end of the day, we share common values, common principles and common vision for the future of this country.
JM: And Mitt Romney has been just superb in his going way out of his way, and campaigning with me and for me, and I’m very grateful. And by the way, I think he, the way I’ve seen him performing on TV, I don’t know how I beat him.
HH: Well now, let’s get to the issues.
HH: On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Hezbollah has amassed a new arsenal of 27,000 rockets, including many that can reach Tel Aviv. How would Hezbollah view the U.S. differently with you in the Oval Office, Senator, versus Senator Obama?
JM: Well, I think they would fully understand that I will not allow Israel to be destroyed. And I will do everything possible to protect the state of Israel from being, “wiped off the map,” as you know the president of Iran has repeatedly stated as his nation’s fundamental belief and policy. And I will not sit down and talk to this Iranian president, who restates that commitment, whose country is exporting into Iraq most lethal devices, apparently, according to General Petraeus, training, even, terrorists in Iran to go back into Iraq, jihadists. And so this is a nation that must be restrained. And they have to understand…I’m not talking about obliteration, I am talking about, Hugh, that the consequences of unprovoked attack on a free and democratic nation are very severe, and that the price they would pay would be far greater than any success that they might enjoy. And I will not specify exactly how we would react, because then, I think we’d be telegraphing our punches. But have no doubt of our dedication to the independence and freedom of the state of Israel. I’m sure you know that down in the southern part of Israel, on the border with Gaza, they are launching rockets quite frequently into Israel, into a town in southern Israel, where the children have a fifteen second warning time.
HH: Right, right. Now Senator, when we go back in history…
JM: But that’s Hamas, as you know.
HH: Right. Senator, when we go back in history, Kruschev decided he would test Kennedy early, because he thought he was a little wet behind the ears.
HH: Do you think that Senator Obama would present the same sort of testing opportunity for our enemies?
JM: I don’t know, but I do now that he does not, has not displayed the judgment which comes from experience and knowledge and background, whether it be saying that he would sit down with Ahmadinejad and talk face to face with him, or Raul Castro and talk directly to him, to saying that he would set an immediate withdrawal, he changes around a little bit on that, depending on the audience, but set a date for withdrawal from Iraq, which would mean chaos, genocide and American troops would have to be back with greater sacrifice, or whether it be on any other major national security issue. He lacks the experience and knowledge, and therefore the judgment. So I’m not saying that he would be tested. I’m not, I can’t predict world events. But I do not believe that he has the preparation that I have, which is the knowledge and experience and judgment over many years.
HH: Let me play for you a clip from Meet the Press. Senator Obama is talking about his decision to get us out of Iraq if he’s elected president. Here’s what he said to Tim Russert:
BO: At that point, we will have been in Iraq seven years. If we cannot get the Iraqis to stand up in seven years, we’re not going to get them to stand up in fourteen or 28 or 56 years. And the danger we’ve got is that with our military overstretched, with acknowledgment by our Army officials that we don’t have a strategic reserve right now to deal with other problems, we can’t get more troops into Afghanistan, we’re having trouble leveraging NATO to send in more troops into Afghanistan to deal with a growing Taliban and al Qaeda threat, that unless we change postures in a deliberate fashion, our overall strategic posture it the region is going to be weaker.
HH: Senator McCain, your reaction?
JM: Well, it just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of the conflict in Iraq. Osama bin Laden has talked about how important the struggle in Iraq is. Take his word for it, not mine. General Petraeus has told about, talked about it, as well as Ambassador Crocker, and people that are knowledgeable in the region. The other fact that Senator Obama ignores is that we are succeeding in Iraq. The Maliki government is functioning more effectively. The Sunnis just decided to rejoin the government. Basra is now under government control. Iraqi troops are fighting in Sadr City as well as Mosul. It’s long and it’s hard and it’s tough, we’re frustrated by the mishandling of the war by Rumsfeld for many years, but to set a date for withdrawal such as…an by the way, he uses a little bit different rhetoric as you know…
JM: …before his partisan, Democrat audiences, you know, get them out immediately, et cetera, et cetera. But the point is that it’s a fundamental misunderstand of our national security, misunderstanding, a failure to understand the importance of the conflict in Iraq, and its effect on the entire region. And if we tell the people in the neighborhood that we’re leaving, my friend, it will affect Afghanistan, it will affect Israel, it will affect all of our national security interests in the region in a most devastating fashion, and we would be back, unfortunately, with further sacrifice. That’ll be one of the issues of debate, and obviously, he has a lacking of experience and knowledge. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be making these kinds of judgments.
HH: Now Senator, I want to play one more clip for you. This is Michelle Obama talking biography on Friday night last. Let’s play the clip for the Senator.
MO: Well, what did Barack do? He became a community organizer, working in some of the toughest neighborhoods on the South side of Chicago, worked for years in neighborhoods where people had a reason to give up hope, because their jobs had been lost, steel mills shut down, living in brown fields left by those closed steel plants, unsafe streets, schools deteriorating, grandparents raising grandkids. Barack spent years working with Churches, busing single mothers down to City Hall to help them find their voice, building the kind of operations on the ground just like he’s doing in this race, block by block, person by person. And you tell me whether there’s anybody in this race who can claim to have made the same choice with their lives. You tell me, but I think that Barack Obama is the only person that can claim that kind of choice. So trust me, we’ve seen it all. Barack has seen it all.
HH: Senator McCain?
JM: Well, I respect anyone’s service to their community and their country. And obviously, I admire and respect that. But the fact is that a number of people in this country, including those who sought the presidency, and in my own record, will speak for itself. And people will judge me by my experience and service and knowledge and background, and they will judge Senator Obama, if he’s the nominee of his party. I think they will judge Senator Clinton. But I would match my record with anyone’s, obviously, but I don’t claim that my record of service is superior to anyone’s. I’m just proud of my own service, and there are many ways of serving, and I’ll continue to seek the opportunity to serve a little while longer. So all I can say is I respect anyone’s service to their community and their nation, and I will let my credentials and my knowledge and background and judgment, but most importantly, Hugh, my plan of action to bring about meaningful change, and not just talk about it, and my record of working across the aisle in order to get things done, which Senator Obama claims, but actually, to my view, is a very, very thin record.
HH: Three quick questions to exit, Senator McCain.
HH: Would you veto the Fairness Doctrine if it’s attached to any legislation, even legislation that you wanted, if presented to you as president?
JM: Would I veto…
HH: The Fairness Doctrine if it was attached…
JM: Oh, sure. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Hugh, if we enact the Fairness Doctrine, you’re going to destroy political discourse in America, whether it be liberal, conservative, or anything else. You require that on your show that every time you voice an opinion that you have to have somebody with an opposite opinion on it, it will destroy the flow of information to the American people. And it is testimony, frankly, to the influence of people like yourself that they’re trying to cripple it. I’ll never let that happen.
HH: Given how badly you’ve been handled by some of us, that’s a remarkable statement, but I appreciate it, Senator.
JM: Well, my friend, we have, you know, we have great sources, and if you destroy…well, I just…I don’t want to be repetitious. Please go ahead with your next question.
HH: Do you have a date by when you are certain you will have made known your preference for the vice presidential running mate?
JM: I don’t, and we’re just in the beginning of the process. I do not, Hugh, but I’d like to get it done as early as possible. But you always…you know, one of the things I’ve found in life is that unless we have a deadline, we have a tendency to delay, particularly in a decision of that impact, because it’s tough. We have so many qualified people who would be under consideration. So I hope to get it done sooner rather than later.
HH: And last question, Senator, you’re in Michigan today. That’s where I went to law school. You’ve been in Ohio where I grew up, and you’ve been in Pennsylvania, seven miles from my hometown. Can you win the big three? How are you going to win the big three?
JM: We’ve got to give people a plan of action for change, and fix the economic problems they have, give them the education and job training they need, centering around the community colleges. We’ve got to promise them that we will have less government intervention, that they will pay less taxes, they won’t have 100 million people invested in investments that would be effected by doubling the capital gains tax, which Senator Obama wants to do, that we will give them an opportunity to hand off to another generation of Americans a better America than the one that we inherited. And I believe I can portray that vision and plan of action, and I’ve got to do it, and I know I can do it, but I also know it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be uphill. There’s going to be a lot of media that is out there, and I appreciate the fact that you’ve given me the opportunity to come on your show, and I hope you do it often so that I can convince people that I am the right person for the job at the right time. And by the way, in all those neighborhoods, they remember you. Some not always positively, but they remember you, Hugh.
HH: Senator McCain, thanks for spending extra time with us. We’ll talk to you early and often between now and November.
JM: Thank you my friend.
End of interview.