Q & A with Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

Q & A with Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

From left to right: Standard Online Editor Tyler Zschach, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Cindy McCain and Head of School Coreen Hester.

John McCain, a 2008 presidential candidate and current Senator of Arizona visited ASL on Thursday, October 11, to speak to ASL students as well as students from several nearby British schools, including Eton College and Westminster School. Following this, editors of The Standard, along with several other student organizations, sat down with McCain to ask questions in a more intimate setting. We have published a Q&A from his sit-down with ASL’s student leaders to commemorate our re-launching of the website.

Why is it important to start voting young?
It seems to me that voting should be most important to the younger generations because what happens affects them much more than older generations. They’re not going to have the education opportunities, the job opportunities, or the career opportunities that a good portion of the local voters are already on that course. It’s of the utmost importance; most young people that I know that got involved in the political campaign – mine or any of the others – view this as one of the great experiences of their lives. There’s nothing quite as interesting and sometimes exciting as a very close political campaign. Right now, it’s a toss up between Romney and Obama and I’ll tell you, I went up to the headquarters in Boston , and every time I go around visiting places and about 90 percent of the people working in these campaign offices are 25 and younger.
Would you consider your military career and your career in office sort of link together as a life of service for the country?
In some ways, it’s a very good one in that in my time in the military you were in a squadron with 16 pilots and 12 airplanes. It was very close knit and sometimes you had to depend on one of these guys for your life. Politics was a harder transition for me because it’s a very artificial business. I think it’s a very honorable business and the finest people I’ve ever known. But it was a hard transition for me from the very close relationship we had, especially in prison, where we literally depended on each other for a lot of things, to one in politics. And that was a bit of an adjustment. I have some great friends in politics, but not the same as it was.

What would President Barack Obama have to say in the next three weeks to get you to vote for him?
One of the things he would have to say is that we’re going to help the Syrians. … My experience in Syria still wakes me up at night. It’s just terrible. So I would like to see him say that. … There are many times where I’ve praised him, there are many times. We had a terrible shooting down in Tuscon, Arizona, where a Congresswoman was almost killed and I wrote an article in the Washington Post praising him, thanking him, for countering terror and for helping us. So it’s not personal between me and the President. And it should never be personal in politics. When you get personal in politics, that’s when you really make enemies.

Ted Kennedy and I used to stand on the floor of the Senate face-to-face and just really go at it. It was never personal. And there was one time when we had a huge fight on the floor of the Senate and we when we walked out, he said, “We did pretty good, didn’t we?” And we became very close friends. So that’s the way that we want to see.

So my differences with the President are not personal and one of the problems we have in American politics today is that there is so much of these personal and character attacks. And someone has attacked me, I forget about it all the time. When someone attacks my character, you don’t forget it. You just don’t. That’s really all you have. So that’s why I’ve always tried to not do that.

How do you feel about that with super political action committees that don’t have to disclose their donors and are very secretive in their intentions?
I think they’re terrible. But I also say that I don’t get involved in that but I can’t complain because of the Constitution. But I warn you that we are on the path to corruption. … Money corrupts.

You said earlier that the United States should be inherently against any government that supports Shari’ah law. However, Saudi Arabia is a government and a society in which a mangled form of Islam is so deeply woven into their society that innumerable people are denied rights. Yet the U.S. government actively engages in trade with them. Why?
I tried to say in my comments that we are not out to right every wrong. … We are not omniscient and we are not omnipotent. And I have complained a lot about what goes on in Saudi Arabia. When I met their ambassador who told me about how women in Saudi Arabia were now going to be able to vote. And I said, “Fine. But who’s going to drive them to the polls?” And he was not amused by that. So we should be more critical of Saudi Arabia; we should be more critical of some countries where this is the case. But because of their oil, they [Saudi Arabia] play a much more important role than the other governments would. I continue to urge for change, but the Saudis are not slaughtering their people. The Saudis are not using tanks and artillery. The Saudis are not shooting women and children in the street. So the Saudis are not doing what they are doing in Syria. So it’s bizarre, with all due respect, to compare what the Saudis are doing with what Bashar Assad is doing. It’s bizarre to compare those two. In the end, there are a lot of places in the world where I’d like to see change. China – China with the one-child policy, I think is terrible. You tell a married couple that they can only have one child, that their whole future is decided by a group of guys who meet in a seaside resort once a year? So we condemn that, but that doesn’t mean we start giving arms to Chinese.

Barack Obama is so close to his election time that I’m assuming any sense of action might temporarily be stopped. Don’t you think that we should reserve any criticism of the way he’s handled the Syria situation until after the election when he has time?

In the last day, 400 hundred people were killed. I don’t think there should be a pause in any campaign if people are being slaughtered.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen on the Senate floor?
When there was the impeachment of President Clinton. He was accused of abusing his office and, as you know, it was all about the affair he had with the young woman named Monica Lewinsky. My best friend in the Senate is a guy by the name of Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, and he was a Housemember. The way impeachment works is that the house decides that there should be a case and then they go to the senate for the actual trial. All 100 senators sat in their seats and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was sitting in the chair. It was the most solemn you can ever imagine – can ever imagine.

Well, to present the case from the House, representatives help the lawyer and one of the representatives was Lindsey Graham. During the Monica Lewinsky saga, the President had heard that Monica Lewinsky was going to go public about their affair, so there were frantic calls made from the White House to Monica Lewinsky to try to talk her out of it. And it got as late as 2 a.m. So Senator Graham was presenting the case and he said, “Phone calls from the White House to Monica Lewinsky at 2 a.m. Where I come from, any men calling a woman at 2 a.m. is up to no good.” And everybody, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, went like this. [Puts hands over mouth and chuckles.] That’s probably the funniest.

What do you think is more important: Would you focus on national issues like the economy or international issues, like you’ve been talking about for a while?
Everybody chooses their own way when they come to the Senate. There are a lot of guys and women that focus on purely issues that affect their state. There are others who decide to take a world view. You’ve got to take care of your constituents. You’ve got to answer all their mail, you’ve got to go to the town hall meetings, you’ve got to do all those things if you’re going to be reelected because it’s your obligation to keep in contact with your constituents. But there’s some of us that have gotten involved in international issues. It’s not as rewarding as far as votes go. Right now in Tuscon, they really don’t care that much about Syria. But I care about Syria. And so I try to tell them why they should care about Syria. So it depends on what you choose as the way you want to conduct your time in public office, and it has to be a careful balance.

Support of the military is easy in a way in Arizona because we have a number of big military bases. So to get involved in some of the others is tough.

What are your key values of leadership?
There is really one, and that is what we call the Golden Rule. And that is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Books to fill this room have been written on leadership, and I promise you that if you treat other people in the way that you want to be treated, you can never go wrong.

That doesn’t mean always being nice. When I was in prison, they kept us in conditions of solitary confinement or one or two in a cell and they did that because they didn’t want us to organize. When people organize, they are much stronger. We used to tap on walls to each other and we had a little tap code. I can still to this day probably tap to you as fast as I can talk. And the real secret to our ability to resist was that we had leadership and we communicated with that leadership and they would help us to be stronger. And that was really the most important aspect.

I was blessed to have a senior ranking officer who’s still alive today – he’s in bad health – he’s the most highly decorated living American. He has the Congressional Medal of Honor. And he was an Air Force guy. And he had a very straight view of how we should go, but he also understood that some of us were not as strong as he was. So we had a code of conduct that we were supposed to abide by. And sometimes these guys because of the pressure and the torture fall off, but he always picked them up, and so even though he was the toughest guy, he recognized the failings in others that they weren’t as strong as he was. Sometimes, you will be in a leadership position and recognize that there are others who aren’t as smart or may not be as dedicated or may not be as principled as you are. But your job is not to criticize them and condemn them, your job is to help them.