06/22/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

McCain's Odd Townhall: Woos Clintonistas By Defending "Rights Of The Unborn"

In a "virtual town hall" Saturday fn. designed specifically to boost his standing with independents and disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, John McCain did his best to project a moderate, bipartisan image - but wound up enunciating policy stances that sharply conflict with positions held by Clinton -- and by most women, and by most Democrats -- on such things as women's right to choose, gay rights, the composition of the Supreme Court, America's role in using force overseas, and even the importance of intelligence and academic success in a good President.

Instead of effectively wooing social moderates, McCain has clearly delineated some significant differences between his views and those normally considered "moderate" -- and may have given those voters who were thinking of sitting out the November election, or of crossing party lines to vote for him, some new and compelling reasons to actively oppose his election instead:

McCain on Roe v. Wade:

"Roe v. Wade, we obviously will have a disagreement. I think it was a bad decision."

McCain on abortion rights:

"[W]e have to change the culture of America. We have to convince people of our view that the rights of the unborn are as important as the rights of the born."

McCain on medically necessary late-term abortions:

"I am unalterably opposed to partial birth abortion."

McCain on the two or more Supreme Court appointments the next president is likely to make:

"I would find people along the lines of Justice Roberts."

"I wouldn't have selected Justice Ginsberg or Justice Breyer."

"I believe that interpretation of the Constitution, and only that, should be the criteria for Supreme Court justices."

McCain on gay rights and "don't ask, don't tell":

"Don't ask, don't tell: I want to rely on the advice and counsel of our military leaders. As president ... I will ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to go back and review that and other policies to see whether those policies are appropriate, and I do rely on them to a large degree because they're the ones we entrust the leadership of the lives of our young men and women in our military. And I'm sure you may have a disagreement with that policy."

McCain on his own intelligence:

"You don't have to be real smart. I stood fifth from the bottom of my class at the naval academy, which shows in America anything is possible."

McCain's on what makes America great:

"We're the only country in the world that has over time sent our young Americans to shed our most precious asset -- American blood -- in defense of someone else's freedom."

I'll supplement this post later with more details, and with audio when it becomes available -- but for Clinton supporters wondering what the effects on America would be if they either voted for McCain in November or simply stayed home and allowed him to be elected, just the few quotations given above -- again, delivered in a setting designed to woo social moderates, not extreme conservatives -- may be a powerful indication of how deeply reactionary a McCain administration is likely to be.

I tend to think that the DNC talking point that McCain would be "a third Bush term" is oversimplistic. On the other hand, in just one public appearance McCain has announced that he is pro-life, anti-Roe v. Wade (and other privacy rights), would appoint Supreme Court justices just like those appointed by Bush, bases his patriotism on ignorance of history (America is the ONLY country that's ever shed blood in defense of someone else's freedom?), and is dismissive of his own poor grades at a superb university that family connections got him into. If that's not "Bush III," I don't know what is.

Anyone who thinks Obama is running against the pro-choice, fiscally conservative, socially moderate John McCain that we all respected in 2000 had better check behind the house for pods, because the John McCain of 2008 is nothing like the straight-talking "maverick" we used to know. And anyone who feels estranged from the Democratic Party by the unfortunate divisiveness of the primary season should look very, very carefully at John McCain -- the current version 2.00.8, not the archived version 2.00.0 -- before indulging any shortsighted impulse to withhold their vote from the Democratic alternative next November.

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fn.: Postscript: this "virtual town hall" was itself an unusual, and unusually insipid, event. It was announced in a press release last Thursday that got little publicity (though I did report it here on OffTheBus). The press release asked members of the public to sign up for the event by filling out a form on the McCain campaign website -- a form that asked them for their questions in advance; and, indeed, the questioners invited to participate only threw slow-pitch. Both before and after the event, I asked the campaign for more information about how it was organized and received no reply.

There was no mention ahead of time that there would be any live component to the event -- it was mainly conducted as a conference call, with press allowed to dial in and listen -- through as it turns out, a small audience could be heard (and, more interestingly, protesters chanting antiwar slogans, presumably outside the room, could be heard in the background as well). Those protesters are to be commended for their investigative abilities, because neither the press nor general public were told where the conference would physically be held, though it appears it was in a room at McCain campaign headquarters in Virginia.

The conference call part was plagued with technical difficulties -- the introduction given by failed Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was cut off, and the sound quality for those of us listening on the phone was terrible. And those "independent and pro-Clinton" supporters were, almost without exception, as kind a pre-screened audience as McCain could have, one gushing that McCain had been her son's commanding officer in the 1970s and adored him, and another almost tearful over the fact that Cuba was drilling for oil just outside U.S. territorial waters.