Straight Talk Express's Limited Engagement
By Robert Barnes
ASPEN, Colo. -- For a time today, the Straight Talk Express returned, to the approval of a large, pro-McCain crowd at the Aspen Institute -- and the likely worry of his campaign staff looking for a more disciplined message.
John McCain of late has abandoned the ask whatever you want approach that characterized his earlier campaign in favor of a message of the day structure that minimizes time answering questions from reporters.
But he sat down with Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson this afternoon and took all questions -- with the familiar results that often keep his staff on edge.
He admitted he had probably over-reacted to a Supreme Court decision on the rights of prisoners being held at Guantanamo -- and he also misstated it. He seemed again to say that increasing payroll taxes might be considered as a part of reforming Social Security, though he said tax hikes weren't needed. He got into a testy exchange with a questioner who said that McCain had essentially called Sen. Barack Obama a "traitor," but repeated that Obama used the war in Iraq to further his political ambitions.
He even defended Abba.
Under Isaacson's questioning, McCain said he continued to believe the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should be closed. Reminded that he had called the court's decision that prisoners there have a constitutional right to challenge their imprisonment one of the "worst in history,'' McCain stepped back.
"Sometimes I'm given to a little hyperbole,'' he said.
He also misstated the case, saying it was about prisoners "Miranda rights" when it was about habeas corpus, the ancient legal right to challenge imprisonment by the government.
McCain denied he had abandoned his maverick ways when a questioner who said he had previously voted for McCain challenged the Arizona senator as having abandoned his principles on tax cuts and the Christian right.
McCain, who opposed President Bush's tax cuts but now wants to extend them, said he has always favored lower taxes but wanted them coupled with a reduction in spending. He said his newfound affinity for the Christian right was spurred by his desire to leave past differences behind.
"My life has been characterized, I thank God every day, by reconciliation,'' he said.
And when the man said McCain's criticism of Obama over the war amounted to calling Obama a "traitor,'' McCain did not answer directly but also refused to back off.
"I think he's wrong and I think he used the issue of Iraq for political purposes to get the nomination of his party,'' McCain said.
McCain has called for a bipartisan effort to fix Social Security and infuriated some conservatives by saying that everything, including increasing payroll taxes, could be on the table. He said today that "you know I'm opposed to tax increases" when Isaacson asked him about it. "I think I can convince people on the other side of the table that we do not need tax increases.''
When Isaacson said the proposal would have to be on the table to be negotiated off the table, McCain drew a smattering of laughter when he said "I have to be against tax increases, as you know.''
Isaacson also noted that McCain was recently asked to name his top 10 songs, and that he had chosen Abba's "Dancing Queen.''
"What we you thinking?'' he asked.
McCain swore that his favorite song was Frank Sinatra's version of "I've Got You Under My Skin,'' but said Abba gets a bum rap.
"Everybody says, 'I hate Abba, aw Abba, how terrible,' blah, blah, blah,'' McCain said. "But how come everybody goes to Mama Mia!?''
Posted at 11:59 PM ET on Aug 14, 2008
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