- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

You almost want to feel sorry for John McCain, but then again, he did ask for it. Why in the world would Mr. McCain choose as the first stop on the last leg of his "Straight talk Express" the so-called "shadow convention" in Philadelphia? Except perhaps that it was one more moment to bask in the glow of his defunct maverick campaign. Well, Mr. McCain must have regretted that he did not pass up the invitation from the organizers, comedian Al Franken and columnist Arianna Huffington.
Mr. McCain was the star attraction that kicked off the counterculture convention on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania Sunday morning, but the speech he gave was hardly to the liking of the audience. While Mr. McCain's calls for campaign finance reform received much applause, his outspoken support for the Republican ticket got loud and rude boos. No one there seemed to agree with him that Mr. Bush is "the candidate of change." One "gentleman" sporting nose and tongue rings and a particularly scruffy beard kept yelling, "Drag him off," and had to be silenced on the command of Ms. Huffington by guards. After offering simply to stop right there and leave the stage, Mr. McCain was allowed to continue. Nor did it go over well when he described himself as a "proud Republican." The nosed-ringed protester, by contrast, immediately became the darling of the media who flocked to hear his thoughtful comments during a break in the proceedings.
While Mr. McCain's courage in the face of verbal fire is a trademark and an admirable one, it's not clear what a "proud Republican" would be doing there. Or for that matter, what California Rep. Tom Campbell would be doing addressing this crowd, or even a "recovering" Republican like Ms. Huffington would be doing, her new style reflecting a new set of political priorities: gray suit, T-shirt, little makeup, subdued hair. Ms. Huffington's sidekick, Al Franken, took some particularly nasty cracks at the Republicans, expressing puzzlement at Mr. McCain's loyal performance and accusing Texas Gov. George W. Bush of shoving cocaine up his nose by the pound while Mr. McCain was "hanging by his thumbs in a Vietnamese prison cell."
Indeed it seems that Mr. McCain met the real constituency for his calls for reform of the political system, and they really did not take to each other. Mr. McCain left so quickly that he did not have time to sign any of the stacks of his books on sale, amidst Democratic Party campaign literature, anti-drug campaign posters demanding, "Get the Government Out of My Urine," League of Women's Voters literature, etc. Later in the day, Mr. McCain graciously and tearfully released his 150 delegates to Mr. Bush, telling his supporters that "I will always be grateful," before choking up. It was the right and classy thing to do, and no doubt Mr. McCain's speech to the convention will be in the same vein. If only Mr. McCain could have resisted a last gesture of self-promotion that blew up in his face.

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