Sarah Gassen: Green Valley town hall featured John McCain vs. John McCain

2013-02-21T00:00:00Z 2013-02-21T09:37:32Z Sarah Gassen: Green Valley town hall featured John McCain vs. John McCainSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

John McCain can't run away from John McCain, though he tries.

McCain's life would be easier if everyone would forget what he's said or done before and simply accept what he says today. And, of course, don't point out when the past and present don't jibe.

McCain held a town hall in Green Valley on Tuesday morning. He insulted his staff with a smile on his face (the jerky boss routine is comedy gold), tossed off a couple of one-liners and talked about sequestration, border security and gun laws.

McCain mentioned how "down here in Yuma" farmers grow most of the winter lettuce crop. Green Valley's biggest crop is golf courses, but let's not get all geographical about it.

The warm Green Valley audience didn't object when he lobbed this fantasy, in response to a question about Obama filling jobs that usually need Senate approval while Congress was on break. "I have never heard of any president appointing people" while Congress was in recess, McCain said Tuesday.

That seems hard to believe since many presidents have made recess appointments, including George W. Bush when he appointed John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations in 2005.

McCain's reputation for contradicting himself is well-established, but there's nothing quite like experiencing him trying to wave that magic wand in your face.

In 2005 McCain worked with Sen. Ted Kennedy on comprehensive immigration reform that would have, among other things, created a way to legal status for the millions of people in the country illegally. It had some problems, but it was overall a good bill. It died in the Senate.

In the 2008 race, McCain said in a televised debate that he would not vote for his immigration legislation. By 2010 he was talking tough about building the "danged fence."

Given that he's now part of a Senate group working on new immigration reform legislation, it made sense to ask Tuesday if he's changed his mind - again.

He pounced. He'd never changed his opinion. Never. Never did that. Never. I was wrong. Never changed his mind.

So, I said, is what's going on now closer to 2005 or 2008? It's the same as the original, he said, no different.

For the next foray down memory lane we have to rewind a bit.

In April 2010 McCain visited the Star and met with the editorial board. "Don't ask, don't tell" was in the news because top military officials were saying it was time to repeal the ban against gay and lesbian Americans serving openly in the military.

McCain was vociferously against the repeal, and his opposition is well documented. I asked that day how he came to his opinion on it.

McCain said he wanted a study on possible effects before any repeal. We asked follow-up questions, then the conversation moved to other issues.

But McCain came back to it at least twice, according to the interview transcript. "Now, I would like to return to 'don't ask, don't tell' with you and talk some more. Go ahead." I said no.

"Go ahead. I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm ready to continue our conversation on it. OK. Seriously. Go ahead."

So I did. I asked if he thought about "don't ask, don't tell" as a civil-rights issue or a generational one. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that lawmakers should discuss public policy issues in a way that goes beyond talking points.

That exchange was "spirited," as McCain likes to call it, and left an impression on me. I figured McCain gets combative so regularly that April 1, 2010, wasn't going to stand out for him.

I should have had more faith in the memory of Arizona's senior senator.

You probably don't remember this, I began Tuesday, but several years ago at the Star …

"Oh, I remember you," McCain said, mentioning how rudely I'd treated him. (As far as I'm concerned, asking follow-up questions is thorough, not rude.)

Then I asked his thoughts on the repeal, now more than a year old and with no widespread negative effect, according to a recent UCLA study.

He didn't answer that question, except to say there should have been a study. Instead, he went on about rudeness and how I wouldn't let "don't ask, don't tell" drop at that meeting.

No, sir, you kept coming back to it. The topic had been over and done with, but you wouldn't let it go, I said.

"No! You're over and done!" McCain said. And he walked away.

McCain's brand of bullying plays well with his fans. They relish his combativeness. They see a leader where others see a man who has become a highly skilled political surfer. Say what you need to say when you need to say it.

And if people don't buy that, resort to picking fights - especially with the press - because that's always a winning gambit for a politician who won't, or can't, stick to the facts and explain his record.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Contact her at sgassen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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