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John McCain — Unplugged

Arizona Republican candid in talk with Chamber audience.

<bt>The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce began its Platinum Speakers series with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaking about heroes, service, the potential for war and the economy.

McCain began the evening by speaking about his latest book, Worth The Fighting For.

In his first book, he wrote about his father, grandfather and mother, heroes and role models. In this book, he began with the next person he considered a hero.

"My first two heroes were my father and grandfather, the first father and son to reach the rank of four star admiral," McCain said. "Their respect for me remains to this day my most lasting ambition. My mother, a woman of indomitable spirit, was also obviously a profound influence on my life. But I've written about their lives in my first book. So I began this book with the story of a man who was chronologically the next major influence in my life. That he is an entirely fictional character probably says something about my nature.

"I'm not exactly sure what perhaps that I'm given to excessive fits of romanticism. But whatever it reveals, it's hard to overstate how much Robert Jordan, [Ernest] Hemmingway's protagonist in For Whom the Bell Tolls, influenced both my adolescence and my mature years."

One of McCain's political heroes is Teddy Roosevelt.

"He had his flaws, to be sure, as a leader and a man. But yet, one animating principle that trumped all others was the cause he inherited from Lincoln and the Army of the Republic. He believed that we were a nation and that we must act nationally. Because he served it so well, because he stood up against so many entrenched self-interests that opposed it, America came of age under his leadership. We became a better country."

MCCAIN WENT ON TO SAY, "Roosevelt believed that patriotism in this country is not, nor should it ever be, a sentimental attachment to blood and soil. Our love of country is a love of ideals. Values of freedom inspire our patriotism; government derives from the consent of the governed; equal justice under the law and an economic system that that is an open market for our creativity and competition. Those values must inform every national policy, domestic and foreign.

"We are not a perfect nation. Prosperity and power might delude us into thinking we have achieved that distinction but inequities and challenges unforeseen a mere generation ago, commanded every good citizen‚s concern and labor," McCain said.

Following his speech about his book and his heroes, he responded to questions from the audience. Lynn Hampton, the former chairperson of the Chamber Board, asked what he hoped to hear from President Bush in the State of the Union address.

"I'd like to hear the president talk about the economy. I'd like to hear him explain in very clear terms about the challenges we face in terms of Iraq. I don't think the president's made a final decision yet on this issue.

"I think he ought to do something else, something that I've felt very strongly about since 9/11 and that is he ought to ask more of Americans. If we are in a war on terrorism ,and I believe that we are, then I believe that we should ask people to do more than take a trip or spend money. I think we should push very hard on this concept of national service, voluntary national service. We should expand AmeriCorp; we should expand the Peace Corps. We should allow young men and women to serve in the military for 15 months in return for $15,000 in educational benefits. In other words, we should create programs on both a national and global basis, for Americans to serve their country," McCain said.

ANOTHER MEMBER OF the audience asked McCain to share some of his thoughts about the economy. "I'm very worried about it," he said. "I believe that the underpinnings of our economy are very strong; that the information technology revolution that we went through is akin to the industrial revolution because this incredible flow of information and knowledge over time will make productivity so much greater. We're clearly going through a terrible shake out; 1.4 million jobs, in the last year, have been lost.

"I'm worried about the deficit. Remember when we were going to have surpluses as far as the eye could see? Remember the lock box? We suffer from amnesia. We forget all of this rhetoric. I thought that as Republicans we were for two things primarily: a strong national defense and no deficit spending. That was OK, but to have $300 billion in deficit spending next year and we haven't even started the pork barrel spending, I would tell you that we spend money like a drunken sailor but I never knew a sailor with the imagination of the Congress."

HE ALSO SPOKE about North Korea. "Do you know why we aren't paying more attention to North Korea, which is, right now, more dangerous than Iraq," he asked. "Because we don't have the military capability to address both crises at the same time. We're kicking the can down the road in hopes the North Koreans won't do what they could do and that's to take the rods out of that reactor and they could have six or eight more nuclear weapons in a pretty big hurry."

Alexandrian Lonnie Rich asked McCain about the role of the two party system. McCain replied saying, "My principles are those of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. From time to time people ask me why I don't become a Democrat and it is because I am committed to the principles of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and I want my party to move back to those principles. I want my party to understand that what we just went through is a terrible embarrassment. I want us to understand that it was Theodore Roosevelt that attacked the malefactors of great wealth; it was Theodore Roosevelt, my friends, whose idea was the estate tax so the dynasties couldn't pass a huge amount of America's wealth from one generation to the next. It was Theodore Roosevelt who went after the Wall Street robber barons. It was Theodore Roosevelt who got enacted the first law that outlawed corporate contributions to political campaigns."

After the question and answer session, McCain stayed to sign copies of his book and to greet participants. "What a great way to kick off our platinum speakers series," said John Redmon, the chairman of the Chamber Board. "We are looking forward to many more like this one."