SEDONA, Arizona "" Relaxing at his sprawling rustic ranch compound this last weekend, Sen. John McCain hosted a barbecue for friends. Only a few months ago, John McCain III, had been left behind as another piece of flattened roadkill on the presidential campaign trail.
Now, he might cinch the GOP nomination.
I witnessed the event, not as a guest but as bartender, though I sipped more drinks than I mixed. After having responded to a local newspaper ad for busboy, I got a job.
A journalist in need of a little extra pocket money, I figured his gig answered my prayers to embed among the rich and famous at McCain's posh party. As a complete outsider coming from a Sedona where the tourist economy is shambling, I found the experience an open window into the enormous private estate of the man who may be only months away from becoming our next president elect. Overhearing various chats among the guests at this barbecue, you might be swayed to believe that maybe more of Bush's policies are what this country needs after all.
"It's like way cool," said Meghan, McCain's twenty-three year old daughter. "I drove here from our house in Phoenix with my friends. I didn't expect to have fun. But it's awesome, I'm the only one...gets to take pictures." Meghan talked while sipping a Bud and capturing the moments on her camcorder.
Budweiser beer is one of the many brands that made a fortune for Meghan's mother, Cindy, whose family owns a huge beer distribution, Hensley Corporation. Like Paris Hilton, Meghan won't need to work a day in her life. Dad counts on campaign contributions from such corporations. Coming from several generations of high ranking Navy Admirals and other such bureaucrats, he doesn't fret much about losing any of his estates to ballooning mortgage loans.
"Dad's going to win," said Meghan, letting slip a little beer belch from between her lips as she opened another can. "The middle class is so gullible, like, they believe everything he says. And then when he has to change his mind, you know, like, not staying in Iraq, he has to convince people that it's what he said all along. They don't get it.
Sometimes he has to change his mind, especially now that George has talked about a timetable to pull out of Iraq.
Now Dad can't keep saying that we should stay there a hundred years. Like in his speeches, those blue collar people, wow, they really swallow up every word. And sometimes that gets him into trouble...'cause then he has to undo what he said. It's so gnarly in the spotlight. Dad can't even make a speech without people taking what he says as solid. You know? It's not like he's a flip-flopper."
After a couple more beers, Meghan went on and on about her father. She almost had a melt down like she did during a recent press conference, but her friends pulled her aside and into a bathroom to chill for a few minutes.
When she later emerged, one of her friends joked that her barbecue video might inspire Osama bin Laden to produce another one of his home movies. "Yeah," said another of her friends, "maybe he'll do a barbecue video and reveal where he's hiding. You'll be a hero."
Among dad's speeches, which Meghan mentioned, is the recent one McCain made in Hudson, Wisconsin, where he defined the model for his policies. While she videoed one of her friends making funny faces, her friend broke into a comic routine, imitating McCain's speech in a mocking voice, saying,
"I count myself as a conservative Republican, yet I view it to a large degree in the Theodore Roosevelt mold."
I vaguely remembered reading parts of that speech in a newspaper, (NY Times, July 13, 2008).
Sipping another Bud, I tried to focus my attention on this quote from McCain's speech and my alcohol visions elucidated the line.
McCain calls himself a "conservative Republican?" What other type of Republican is there? It sounds like "conservative conservative," or "Republican's Republican." This means ultra conservative Republican as in Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., and Bush Jr. These presidents promised a balanced budget, reduced spending, and prosperity around the corner but always finished with engorged deficits, especially the overachiever Bush Jr. whose national debt surpasses any in history.
They succeeded in maintaining some sense of security, preserving the status quo of American institutions like Exxon, CACI, Halliburton, and Diebold which helped manage our elections with their high-tech black boxes.
Standing over a sizzling barbecue with tongs in hand, McCain tended to the grill, doing his best to appear like just another middle class guy. He looks like a man desperately trying to assume the role of a tough "rough rider" cowboy, some image of a working man, like Bush does with his Texas twang and swagger. It's a hard role to play when both Bush and McCain come from generations of blue blood Connecticut type wealth and privilege.
While sloshing beer bottles and mixed drinks, I tried to ease into questions on hot issues during a brief opportunity to serve the Senator. "What do you think of Bush's chances in court," I slipped in a question while handing him a cold one, "once he's out of office and indicted on murder charges?"
"This is just a barbecue with buddies," McCain said. "no heavy questions, no cameras. You just keep those beers coming, son."