In his first appearance in Grand Rapids since January, Republican Senator and presidential candidate John McCain hosted a “town hall” meeting in Grand Rapids last night at the Ford Fieldhouse at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC). The event–his first “town hall” with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin–was actually a pre-ticketed event and consisted of a mix of scripted comments and answers to audience questions.
While a few hundred protestors gathered outside the event, it’s also important to consider what was said inside even if McCain’s politics are rejected by much of the audience that reads Mediamouse.org.
The meeting began with John McCain pledging that the Republican ticket will win the state of Michigan (Republicans haven’t in the past three elections) which resulted in chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” He introduced Sarah Palin as “a real maverick, a real leader”–a reference to the McCain maverick myth–who shared a few remarks about how her son lived in Michigan while playing hockey in his senior year of high school. She pledged to bring their “reform” ticket across the country to “shake things up” in Washington. Most of her introductory comments focused on populist themes, talking about putting “government on the side of the people” to give the economy–and its workers–what they need to thrive.
Palin said that energy would be her major issue when they get elected and cited her residence in Alaska as her experience in the issue. She said that the United States is supplementing countries that don’t like the United States, when it could be developing oil in the United States and alternative energy strategies. Later in the meeting, she said that she supports drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Palin also outlined some of her experience as a “leader” and how she came to some of her political views. She talked about how she started in a small town by eliminating business inventory taxes, personal property taxes, and business renewal fees to spur economic growth. As governor, she removed fuel taxes to spur growth. She said that these are all examples of how government can help people without being a part of the problem. “No more politics as usual” according to Palin–after which she said that Obama’s plans to raise taxes is dangerous for the country.
McCain began his remarks by talking about how Sara Palin’s husband is a UAW member and has worked as an “oilman” in Alaska. He then said that “change is coming” and that the big money interests on Wall Street and Washington should be ready. He said that they will not stand for business as usual and that the Republican ticket will enact policies that will help Michigan workers. According to McCain, the “country’s best days are ahead of it.” Like Palin, he touted offshore drilling and alternative fuels. He said that his administration will make Detroit–via green automobiles–the automotive capital of the world once again by creating new jobs. He also said that nuclear power is needed in Michigan to address energy needs, saying that it is “clean and safe.” He also misleading said that Obama is opposed to nuclear power and offshore drilling, both of which he supports, albeit in a perhaps more guarded manner.
He said that Obama’s promised tax increases would be bad for the economy and pledged that his campaign would not raise anyone’s taxes, arguing that he is the best one to fight for this country’s workers. McCain said that he would put an end to high CEO payments, would stop the running Wall Street like a casino, and promised to protect workers’ retirement plans. McCain said that he has a record of confronting special interests with campaign finance reform, challenging his party, and addressing the Abramoff scandal.
McCain went on to say that his ticket would bring “peace” to the country, before saying that he was proud of his military service and touting his plans to secure the country. He said that he believes he can motivate people to put “country first” by motivating them through his past service in the military. According to McCain, his ticket is ready to work with anyone–including Democrats–to confront special interests in Washington.
Following their prepared remarks, the two candidates took questions from the audience. The first focused on “radical Islam” and the “threat” posed by it. McCain said that the struggle was a central issue of our time and that as such, it requires a multi-faceted approach using the military and diplomacy. To McCain, “radical Islam” poses a constant threat and that it is due to the bravery of the US military that there has not been another attack in the United States since September 11, 2001. Palin chimed in by saying that McCain was a strong proponent of “the Surge,” a strategy that is “working” in Iraq according to Palin. She said that the US must win in Iraq if it wants to succeed in Afghanistan.
The next question was about Social Security. McCain said that the system is broken and the reality is that it will not be there for young workers paying into it. He said that it needs to be addressed in a bipartisan manner and that debt cannot continue to be accumulated.
A woman–who identified as a lifelong Democrat who came over after the “sexism” of the Democratic Party–asked McCain how he would help empower women economically. Palin answered by saying that she was a product of Title IX and that she supports similar legislation if it is still needed to give women equality. McCain said that women need a choice and opportunity–whether through charter schools, vouchers, or specially designed public schools–to develop leadership among women.
Next, a man asked McCain how he is going to reform government. He said that earmarks breed corruption and that they need to be addressed. He said also that there are numerous federal bureaucracies that have long outlived their usefulness and that there are government workers who will soon be retiring that have jobs that do not need to be replaced once they retire. He said that Palin has as a history of limiting government growth. Palin said that she was not afraid to veto excessive funding as governor of Alaska and inferred that her administration would do it at the federal level. Palin said again that energy was a major issue for her and that as part of reforming government she would encourage the use of energy supplies in the United States.
The next question asked whether the candidates will “stand up to trial lawyers who are making healthcare less affordable for everybody.” McCain said that he hopes to lessen the college debt faced by physicians and reform medical malpractice laws. He said that healthcare is a “great challenge” and that malpractice lawsuits are a part of the reforms.
A woman who said that she was a “proud Republican Hispanic” asked what McCain could offer to the Hispanic community. McCain said that the big issue is comprehensive immigration reform that would include securing borders and a guest worker program with tamper proof identification. He also told the audience that it’s not just people coming across the Mexican border, but drugs. He advocated for the deportation of any undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes, but said that there needs to be a “compassionate” way to deal with undocumented immigrants who have not committed any crimes.
The next woman asked how Palin responded to people who say that she can’t be vice president and a mother at the same time. Palin simply said “let’s prove them wrong” and said that she has raised a baby as governor, just as others have.
The next man–who identified himself as a Vietnam War veteran–thanked McCain for his service and didn’t ask a question. This allowed McCain and Palin the opportunity to thank the veterans in attendance. Following those thanks, McCain said that the scandal of Walter Reed (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Walter_Reed_Army_Medical_Center_scandal) would never happen again.
Following this question, a man who said that he was in favor of “drilling here, drilling now” but was concerned that oil drilled here would go elsewhere. Palin said that Congress knows that oil is needed here and that it would not go elsewhere. Another man asked where the oil is at, and Palin said that the oil is located offshore and that there are many proven reserves that can be developed. She said that Congress needs to allow this and support “safe, reliable, and ethical” drilling that is not influenced by lobbyists. Interestingly, she said that the oil–albeit complicated by leases to oil corporations–belongs to the people and that the people deserve to have the oil. Of course, it’s really a matter of allowing the people opportunity to purchase the oil, but she framed her response as oil companies having a duty to provide the oil to people when they are “hurtin’.” McCain said that he thinks states need more incentive to allow drilling, citing increased revenue sharing as an example.
A twenty-year old woman from a low-income, single-parent home asked about healthcare and failures in government assistance programs. He asked what the Republican ticket planned to do to improve the health of everyone–regardless of income. McCain said that the United States has the best healthcare system in the world, but that it is hampered by access problems. McCain said that government funded healthcare is not the solution but that government has to do some work to help people get on insurance. He said that he supports a $5,000 tax credit to allow people buy whatever insurance package they want. McCain further said that health and wellness programs are important as preventive care and to keep people out of emergency rooms.
The next man, asked if Palin could get McCain to support drilling in ANWR–which she said she is still working on. He then asked about Obama’s desire to lessen programs aimed at developing future weapons systems. McCain said that he opposed this because of “recent events.”
The next woman asked Palin to give specific skills she has in response to critics who charge that she is not experienced on foreign policy issues. Palin said that because she is an “outsider,” people are eager to attack her. She says that she thinks she is prepared and that she will be ready. She told people to play “stump the candidate” if they want, but she is “ready to serve.” McCain said that dependence on foreign oil is a threat to the country and that Palin’s negotiating for a major oil pipeline in Alaska was an example of how she is prepared to deal with national security issues. In addition, he pointed out that Palin is the commander of the Alaskan National Guard and that because they have deployed–along with her son–she understands national security.
The meeting ended with Palin telling the audience that McCain was the only man in the election who has fought for those in attendance and urged the audience to elect them to end “status quo” politics, “to drain the swamp” in Washington, and put an end to “business as usual.”
As should be expected with politician visits, most of the response were vague and avoided specific proposals.