Campaign 2008 – A Conversation with John McCain

Deal W. Hudson
December 10, 2007

With the opinion polls in motion and the Republican primary back up in the air, Deal Hudson talked to Sen. John McCain about the race, his bruises over immigration, his attraction to the Baptist church, and the role of faith in the voting booth.

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Deal Hudson: Senator, I adopted a little boy from Romania about six years ago, I see that you have a little girl from Bangladesh, but from the Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic group. How did that come about?

Sen. John McCain: Well, Cindy [McCain] was over there with a medical team that was doing charitable medical work and she happened to go by Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Dhaka. The nuns brought these two little babies, one had a very serious heart problem and the other had a terrible cleft palate.

And so Cindy brought both of them home because both of them were those medical emergency kinds of situations where they could get better treatment for them here. Some friends of ours adopted the other little girl and that’s basically how it came about. Cindy showed up at the airport and I met her and she said, “Meet your new daughter.”

DH: In your political experience do you find that the Catholic voters who actually attend Mass on a regular basis have distinctive concerns about who’s going to be president of the United States?

JM: I think the average Catholic voter, of course, is family values oriented; they are strongly pro-life and they are fundamentally socially conservative. I think my record – strong on pro-life issues, strong pro-family – would bear up under their scrutiny.

Also, you know there’s always been a strong connection among Catholics who were behind the Iron Curtain – countries like Poland, and others that had a large Catholic population – they all know about Pope John Paul’s credible work on behalf of bringing down the Iron Curtain. So I think they’re still very much involved in freedom for people all over the world, especially Catholics that are discriminated against and mistreated.

DH: Senator, do you think your pro-life record is as well known nationally as it should be, as it deserves?

JM: Well, I don’t think so but I certainly do everything I can at the town hall meetings and at those debates to point out that I’ve never changed my position. I’ve never had any kind of a doubt of my commitment to the belief that life begins at conception and – I’m not criticizing anyone else – but my record has been consistent.

DH: Yes, it has. By the way, the only area that you have been criticized by pro-lifers is in the embryonic stem-cell area and as you know, just a few days ago there was an announcement that researchers had been able to create embryonic stem cells out of human skin tissue. Do you think this is a way that we can move ahead with this issue?

JM: Well, I am very encouraged by the news and I hope that it can make this discussion academic; this is something I had stated that I had hoped would happen for a long period of time. I haven’t changed my position yet but I certainly am encouraged by the news.

DH: During the 2000 primary you criticized some religious right leaders, but I noticed that in 2006 you gave a commencement address at Liberty University. How did you come to reconcile with Jerry Falwell? Did you just call him on the phone? How did that happen?

JM: Reverend Falwell came to my office, asked to see me, and sat down in a chair opposite me in my office. He said, “I want to put our differences behind us,” and I said, “I would be honored to do so – it would be my great pleasure.”

Our relationship began then and frankly, that’s been the history of my conduct in my life, whether it be reconciliation with the anti-war movement or the Vietnamese or others that I have had a difference with. I believe that fundamentally, reconciliation is a part of our lives and I’m especially glad of course that that happened now that Reverend Falwell has passed on.

DH: I notice that you’ve been attending a Baptist church. I’m an ex-southern Baptist minister turned Catholic. How did you end up in the Baptist church after being Episcopalian? And I’m not asking you to criticize Episcopalians at all – I just want to hear why you’re attracted to Baptists.

JM: Well, I had the opportunity to watch on television at the North Phoenix Baptist Church. I liked [the pastor’s] message, and I liked the feeling of family that’s there at North Phoenix Baptist church. I also liked the message of reconciliation and redemption which I’m a great believer in. And so I began attending North Phoenix Baptist church and I’m grateful for the spiritual advice and counsel that I continue to get from Pastor Dan Yeary.

DH: Your position on immigration is very close to the official position of the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Also, critics say your Guest Worker program is simply amnesty. How do you answer your critics who say you’re offering an amnesty?

JM: I say I hope they’d look at the record. But I understand they have no trust and confidence in the federal government. When we told them we secured the borders through a guest worker program and needed to address the issue of the 12 million who are here illegally, they didn’t believe us. That’s because there’s no trust or confidence in the federal government.

DH: The bishops talk about welcoming the stranger and you’ve hung in there on immigration issues and you’ve taken a lot of criticism. What is it about this issue that keeps you hanging in there on this in spite of the criticism?

JM: You’ve got to do what’s right and when I haven’t done what’s right, I’ve always paid a political price for it, as is appropriate. I think we are a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values and these are God’s children – we ought to recognize that as we try to address this very emotional issue.

DH: My wife and I, by the way, are divided on this. I’m very much in your camp and she’s in the other camp. But what do you say to the people who argue that they broke the law and should have to pay a penalty?

JM: Oh, I think they’re right. And I also get the message that they want the border secured first, and I will do that as president. Of course, we also have to address the issue in a humane and Judeo-Christian way. But we will enforce existing law and the people who broke the law obviously have to pay a penalty.

DH: While you’ve been on the campaign trail, you’ve been one of the most visible defenders of the war in Iraq. What kind of response have you gotten along the way to your position?

JM: Much better than I used to thanks to the success of General Petraeus and his new strategy. Sen. Edwards used to call it the McCain Strategy and the McCain Surge – they don’t anymore. It is succeeding and we can succeed. If the Democrats had had their way, Al-Qaeda would now be telling the world that they beat the United States of America.

DH: What do you think your chances are of winning the nomination?

JM: Well, it’s coming on. It’s all in the mix now and we’ve recovered from a bad summer. We’re doing much better, but we have a ways to go, so we need to keep winning these debates and we’ve got to keep campaigning hard. I am all over the states and I’m confident we can win, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work.

DH: A friend of mine has been writing about you and is comparing you to Eisenhower in the debates because you somehow seem to keep above the fray. You keep your calm, you keep your peace of mind. Is that something you think about going into the debate or is that just the way it comes out?

JM: It’s the way it comes out. I think it’s important to focus on the issues.

I had to violate that cardinal rule the other night because I had just come back from having Thanksgiving with the troops in Iraq. To say that they’re fighting for oil or illegally or a lot of the other rhetoric that [Sen. John Edwards] uses – They’re fighting to make America safe. They’re sacrificing for it, and they’re doing a magnificent job. I had to stand up for them.

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