I went to a John McCain rally this morning. I heard about it a few days ago, when a fellow Republican left an automated message on my answering machine. He mentioned the time and place of the rally, and I recognized the place as within walking distance. As a conservative, I’m not totally crazy about John McCain, but I decided to go. After all, who knows? He may very well be our next President.
My mom said that this was the second Presidential candidate I have personally seen, for I saw Reagan pass by me in a car during the 1980 election. Indeed I did, but I was too young to remember it. Still, I have seen the picture. I informed my mom that McCain is actually the third Presidential candidate I have seen live. I went to a Pat Buchanan rally in 1996, and Pat looked straight at me. He was asking the reporters if they had any questions when he did that, so he must have thought I was a journalist.
The rally was at 11:30. I got up at 9:30 and left my apartment at 10:00. It’s usually an hour walk to that part of town, so I was expecting to get there in time to claim a seat. Well, it was a little farther than I thought, so I actually was walking to the building at 11:30. I didn’t get a seat, but I did eventually get to go inside and listen to the speech. And he seemed to look straight at me on one occasion. Unlike with Buchanan, however, I could be wrong on this, since there was quite a distance between McCain and myself.
When I got to the building, McCain himself had not yet arrived. There were some liberal protesters who were chanting “Save our homes!” and “Save our jobs! Fair trade now!” I was angry. I just get mad whenever I see left-wing protesters. But the McCain supporters were pretty laid back. “This is our entertainment while we are waiting,” an older gentleman beside me said.
Overall, the McCain supporters seemed somewhat lukewarm. The lefties were shouting and chanting, whereas we McCain supporters just stood there and watched. At one point, some high school students infiltrated the leftist march carrying McCain signs, but they didn’t do that for long. The protesters just ignored them.
Then, when the McCain people did try to come up with chants of their own, they ended up being pretty lame. One group shouted “John McCain,” and another group responded “Is okay.” Well, I’m glad that we Republicans feel so passionately about our candidate, seeing that the best we can call him is “okay.”
At the same time, the McCain supporters were pretty entertaining, to say the least. I talked with a Vietnam veteran who hated John Kerry. “John McCain was in the heat of battle in Vietnam,” he said. “John Kerry, on the other hand, was on a boat. Wow! Swoon!” He told me stories of how he lived in Massachusetts and successfully intimidated Kerry into getting him his veteran’s benefits. I liked him from the start because he said, “Those lefties don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Then there were some elderly people beside me chanting “Hail Mary’s.” So apparently McCain has the support of some conservative Catholics. Maybe these people go to my church, even though its newspaper claims that McCain is weak on the abortion issue.
There were three middle-aged women in front of me. When one of them saw the protesters, she said, “Well, have pity on them. They’re young. Wait until they get jobs. Then they’ll become Republicans.” True, about half of the protesters were young, but the other half consisted of middle-aged African-Americans, middle-aged whites, and old men dressed like professors.
This woman had some other gems. When the protesters chanted “Justice for Iraq!”, she replied, “Well, we’ve occupied Japan all these years, and they’re happy.” When one held up a sign that said “John McCain has a home. Why can’t we?”, she responded, “Well, why don’t you save for a home rather than looking to the government?”
Interestingly, these McCain supporters have experienced some of the very problems that the Democrats claim they want to solve. The Vietnam veteran said he had a job without health insurance. The vocal woman, who works at Kroger’s, talked about a friend who had no health coverage. But her friend and she pointed out the problems with universal health care.
I technically should have been with another group of protesters. Across the street, there were four old men who were protesting McCain’s record on illegal immigration, which conservatives detest as “shamnesty.” But I was hoping to shake the candidate’s hand, so I stayed with the McCain people.
Eventually, the McCain bus came down the road. In making a path for McCain from the bus to the building, the McCain people essentially moved the liberal protesters to an inconspicuous location. My side (Republicans) may not be good at coming up with chants, but we sure can do crowd control! Those protesters weren’t even there after the rally, when we were waiting for McCain to come out of the building.
How did McCain strike me in person? Well, he looked smaller than he does on television. He also had whiter eyebrows, whereas they appear darker on TV.
McCain’s speech was okay. He talked about giving job training to unemployed workers, which was appropriate for Ohio, where people are losing their jobs (though I wonder how many jobs are being created on account of free trade). He pushed for the FISA legislation and making the Bush tax cuts permanent. He said that America is number two in the corporate tax burden, which he rightfully portrayed as a bad thing. He supported government funding of alternative energy because of global warming and the imprudence of buying oil from nations that support terrorism. He supported nuclear power and made swipes at France, yet he lauded France’s new pro-American leader. He defended the surge and stressed that he would never surrender to Al-Qaeda. He advocated a new system of health care for veterans in which they would get a card that they could use at any hospital of their choice, rather than having to wait in long lines at veterans’ hospitals (and I’ve been to a veterans’ hospital–he’s not kidding about the lines!). Then, he brought his speech to a close, but I don’t remember how.
There was thunderous applause for the parts about FISA, tax cuts, Bush having prevented another attack, fighting Al-Qaeda, and supporting veterans. I was thunderously applauding at those moments. But even some of the people with McCain buttons were not clapping at the parts about the government funding alternative energy. My impression is that these are conservatives who are trying to reconcile themselves to a McCain candidacy. “He is the Republican candidate,” they are probably thinking, “so we’d might as well get used to him. After all, we don’t want a real socialist like Hillary or Obama, do we?”
When I was walking behind one group, a woman said, “You know, I just don’t think the government does most things right. Look at the FEMA trailers!” I was thinking, “Did you and I hear the same McCain speech? The government should spend here, and be involved there, and interfere here.” Well, for all I know, she may have had the same reaction to the speech that I did. Maybe she wasn’t gun-ho about McCain either, but was there either to see a celebrity or to make her peace with the GOP nominee.
After the speech, we were outside the building waiting for McCain to come out. We’d clap, thinking he was about to come out, and then he didn’t. That happened twice (or more). It reminds me of a time when I was in a crowd in Chicago waiting for Michael Jordan to come out of a building, when he wasn’t even there. The Republican high school students were trying to create a chant–“Hey John McCain, it’s snowing today,” or something like that. They were even holding a sign that said, “We like old people.”
What was really weird was this one group of young activists that was passing out stickers and fliers. Guess what their cause was. Iraq? Stop special interests? Abortion? No on all three. They were supporting clean coal. Personally, I don’t know the difference between clean coal and unclean coal. I may have offended one of them when I said, “Yeah, another group seeking a federal handout,” but I was frustrated with McCain’s big government spiel on energy. I should learn not to say what I think at all times–the place for that is my blog, not always in public. But, in any case, I’m still puzzled: Why are young people so enthusiastic about clean coal?
And, in the end, I was disappointed because I didn’t get to shake Senator McCain’s hand. He had his back to me. But I did get to see him close up. I also got to see Ohio’s former Republican Senator, Mike Dewine.
My emotions about the whole experience were mixed. I really liked the people. There is a sense of camaraderie that comes with being at a rally, even if I’ll never see these people again. We all laughed at the same jokes and smiled at each other, despite the fact that we were strangers.
At the same time, I had a hard time getting excited about John McCain. If it were Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul or George W. Bush, I’d be jumping up and down, shouting at the demonstrators (though the lefties would probably be on my side at a Ron Paul rally), thunderously applauding every word, and waving my hand with a resounding “Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!” But I feel that John McCain is too liberal, even though I like his opposition to earmarks. His campaign left an automated message on my answering machine a day before the rally, and here were my reactions:
McCain: “We must make the Bush tax cuts permanent.”
James: “Then why’d you vote against them?”
McCain: “I’ll appoint justices like Scalia and Thomas.”
James: “But Bob Novak says you criticized Alito.”
McCain: “We must protect our borders.”
James: “Like YOU have any credibility there!”
So, when a middle-aged woman after the rally came up next to me and said, “Wasn’t that exciting?!”, I had a hard time agreeing. But she liked seeing Presidential candidates in general, since she had recently been to an Obama event.
So it was an okay experience, and I’m glad I went. At least I’ll be able to tell my kids that I saw the President, assuming that he wins in November.