McCain defends immigration reform, denounces “City of Satan”

Republican presidential candidate John McCain stood on a raised platform in the middle of a sea of Nationwide Insurance employees.  Part of the company’s cafeteria in its downtown Des Moines office building had been recast to provide the setting for the Friday afternoon event.  The Nationwide exec who introduced McCain said the company would try to get the rest of the presidential candidates who’re traveling through Iowa to appear at a similar forum.

"You don’t have to," McCain quipped. 

After the introduction, McCain took the microphone and commented on the tad bit of feedback the system was exhibiting.  "This microphone is brought to you by the Democratic National Committee," McCain told the crowd.

He launched into his standard speech, explaining that Republicans lost in ’06 because they’d been big spenders, defending the immigration reform plan he helped craft and then closing with a discussion about Iraq. 

The first question was about torture.  "Do you think it will ever be possible for the United States to reclaim the moral high-ground when it comes to torture and the general treatment of prisoners of war and if so, how?"

McCain repeated what he said on the subject during the South Carolina debate, vowing to close Gitmo down, etc.  "This is not about the bad guys," McCain said of his belief that no one in US custody should be subjected to torture.  "It’s about us and what kind of a nation we are."  He closed with a reference to what Tom Tancredo, one of his Republican rivals, said during that debate about how Tancredo would look for Jack Bauer (that would be the lead actor in the FOX TV series "24" — and FOX was the sponsor of that debate, BTW).

"It’s not like 24.  It’s not like 24.  This is real life. I’m a great admirer of Jack Bauer’s.  He and I have a lot in common.  He gets captured.  I get captured.  He escapes.  I never escape, so other than that," McCain said.  The audience laughed. 

The second question was from a woman who is a big McCain fan and talked about why she was.  She told McCain her 24-year-old daughter wanted to know how he could stop runaway federal spending.

"If you and your daughter are not busy, I’d like to take you to a few more town hall meetings," McCain quipped and the crowd laughed.  McCain closed his answer to this question with this sentence: "I want to be president to do the hard things and the hard things are to save your tax dollars and let you spend them yourself and not send them to the City of Satan."

The third question was about what the government could do to help insurance companies deal with the financial aspects of widespread natural disasters.  (The crowd, remember, is a bunch of insurance company employees.) 

To begin, McCain denounced the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, said he’d ask the bigs like UPS, FedEx and Wal-Mart to use their resources and distribution networks to respond. "There are going to be areas where we are just going to have to have the federal government help insure some of these people," McCain then said in direct response to the question. "I’m not sure that you can do it all yourself." McCain also said there will be more and more natural dissters like Katrina in the future because of global warming.  "I"ve seen the evidence of climate change and global warming and we can address it," McCain said.

The fourth questioner asked McCain how the temporary worker program would be managed under the immigration reform proposal.  The fifth question came from a man who asked how he could keep track of what his senators were doing in Washington in regards to spending, or overspending.  The sixth question was about the level of US government support of soldiers one they’re off the battlefield.

McCain closed by talking about the importance of the Iowa Caucuses…and he told the "I drank a glass of ethanol" joke.

McCain shook hands with the crowd, then wound up in front of the bank of TV cameras for Q&A with reporters.  During set-up, he joked about the name tags all the reporters were wearing. 

"Does everybody have to wear a name tag here?  Security is tight?" McCain said.  "You never know when somebody might steal an insurance policy."

Here’s the immigration reform story which emerged from that Q&A.  "I notice that even in Iowa they’re scared, well, not scared but they’re a little nervous because of this new influx of people into our country," McCain told reporters.

There was a Fred Thompson question.  "I think Fred’s a very attractive guy and a good friend of mine and he’s already been president two or three times so I could see why you could envision it," McCain joked, referencing Thompson’s acting roles.  "As I said to my friend, Fred:  ‘Come on in.  The water’s fine.’"

"Do you have any assessment, senator, as to what he does to the dynamic of the race here in Iowa?" DMR’s David Yepsen asked.

"I do not.  I do not, but I bet you do," McCain replied, laughing.

"It seems like people just keep looking out there," injected a TV reporter.

"It happens in every campaign.  Part of the problem may be that Americans really paradoxically, a majority of Americans think this country is on the wrong track even when we have a pretty healthy economy so there’s an underlying dissatisfaction out there but that’s why we go through campaigns and if Fred comes in which I am told he will for sure now and Newt gets in and others.  Welcome.  Let’s have the debate and come to Iowa and do the things that you need to do."

FYI:  I can find three instances in which actor/soon-to-be-candidate Fred Thompson has portrayed a president.  He appears as President U.S. Grant in "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." He was the voice of Andrew Jackson in a 2001 TV movie and he portrayed (fictitional) President Charles Ross in "Last Best Chance." Thompson has done a whole other series of other roles in which he’s been a high-ranking government official.  I mean "portrayed" a high-ranking government official, of course. He was White House Chief of Staff in "In the Line of Fire"; a senator in "Born Yesterday"; a rear admiral in "The Hunt for Red October."; and the director of the CIA in "No Way Out" 

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.