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Jewish World Review March 11, 2004 / 18 Adar, 5764

Roger Simon

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Vice President McCain? | Sometimes our vast power surprises even us.

Just two days after we printed an item that John McCain was a longshot possibility to become John Kerry's running mate, McCain went on television Wednesday and said: "John Kerry is a very close friend of mine and we've been friends for years so obviously I would entertain it.... But I foresee no scenario where that would happen."

In the world of politics, "foreseeing no scenario" is the equivalent of saying, "Let's make this happen!"

The appeal of the ticket is obvious: Both are Vietnam vets, one from the Northeast and one from the Southwest. The more staid Kerry would be complimented by the more free-wheeling McCain, who is popular among independent voters.

The problem is that Kerry is a Democrat and McCain is a Republican. So that makes this ticket impossible, right?

Wrong. As Slate magazine has pointed out, in 1864 incumbent Republican Abraham Lincoln selected Democrat Andrew Johnson as his vice president and the ticket won. (Of course, Lincoln got shot and Johnson got impeached, but, hey, you can't have everything.)

As I wrote earlier: "The two are good friends and worked together to restore U.S. relations with Vietnam. In fact, in 2000, McCain pushed Kerry for the vice presidency under Al Gore. 'I think it would be very helpful to Vice President Gore. I think that Sen. Kerry has proved his service to our nation and his ability as an accomplished debater and a person who knows the issues,' McCain said at the time.

"Kerry didn't get selected, but isn't it time for him to return the favor to McCain?.I asked Kerry about this and his answer was typical Kerry. " 'Maybe I should support McCain to replace Cheney on the Republican tick

et,' he said. 'That was a joke.' "

But today, who is laughing? Not the reporters who would line up to get on the McCain bus to relive those rollicking days from McCain's presidential campaign four years ago!

Just grab your copy of "Divided We Stand", the definitive account of the 2000 race, and turn to the chapter titled "Kick the Tires and Light the Fires!" to experience again those golden moments:

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"On a five-day tour of New Hampshire in late August 1999, already his 15th Granite State trip since he began running for president, McCain unexpectedly began the day by volunteering some of the terrible things he has said in the past.

"First there was the time he referred to the "Leisure World" senior citizens home as "Seizure World," and then there was the time he said "the nice thing about Alzheimer's is you get to hide your own Easter eggs" and then there was the national eruption he caused with an egregious joke that went something like, 'Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Janet Reno is her father and Hillary is her mother.' (McCain will later apologize to the Clintons, but never to Reno. He doesn't like Reno.)

"And as he goes on and on, a reporter pipes up and just begs McCain to shut up and protect himself. Later, at dinner, I ask why she interrupted McCain. 'But he was hurting himself,' she says, as if to say why should we hurt him when he is the one candidate who gives us everything we want? Why would we print negative stuff about McCain, even if it comes out of his own mouth, considering how nice he is to us?

"Clearly she is not of the old school of journalism, which taught that the only way for a reporter to look upon a politician is down. She was not even of that school of journalism that says a reporter should report 'without fear or favor.' It is difficult, spending so much time with McCain every day, basking in his glow, being a recipient of the largesse of time and words he bestows upon us, not to get caught up in his mystique and charm.

"John McCain is funny, irreverent, a great story teller. He easily wins the Presidential-Candidate-I-Would-Most-Want-to-Be-Trapped-in-an-Elevator-With contest. And some reporters resolve the problem of how much distance to keep from him by deciding to keep none whatsoever. One reporter admits in a profile of McCain she does for Vogue magazine that she actually wet and combed his hair for him one morning because his wartime injuries keep him from doing it himself. A more common example is the many reporters who protect McCain from his own words, something McCain never asked them to do.

"I was not the first journalist to hear McCain use the word 'gooks,' but I was the first to print it in a piece that appeared in U.S.News & World Report on September 27, 1999. My rule was fairly simple: If the candidate says it, I report it. There is no journalistic justification for protecting a presidential candidate from himself. (And even though McCain's use of the word would go on to create a huge stink for him, he never refused me any access or any request for an interview, during or after the campaign. Nor did he ever mention it. McCain's attitude was fairly simple: Whatever he said, he was responsible for. This attitude is not universal among politicians, many of whom believe that the media should report 'what I mean' rather than 'what I say.' McCain's staff, whose power and authority are vastly diminished by McCain dealing directly with the media, often warns him that he is following a dangerous path. 'I get a notification from the staff and they are usually correct,' McCain says. 'But life is too short, and you got to enjoy it. And I enjoy the exchanges, I enjoy the company, and it's a lot of fun.')

"In any case, McCain often couldn't help what he said. He was what he was, and he was not a guarded man. He was a Navy jet jockey, and while regulations (to say nothing of good sense) required him during his flying days to follow a careful checklist before each takeoff, McCain would dispense with it. 'Kick the tires and light the fires!' McCain says, recalling his motto back then. 'To h-ll with the checklist. Anybody can be slow.' Which is exactly the way he runs his campaign."

Now, I ask you: Couldn't the Kerry campaign use a little of this?

Kick the tires! Light the fires! Choose McCain!

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