Senator McCain included Dartmouth on this weekend's slate of town hall meetings, speaking to a capacity crowd in Alumni Hall last evening. I may not agree with him on some issues, but there's no arguing that he's an authentic statesman with a record in public service that does merit presidential consideration. That experience puts him in select company in this campaign. It was nice to see so many students at the event. Several of them asked good questions.
The event focused on two topics, the war in Iraq and federal spending. On both of these topics, McCain began with a sincere acknowledgement that it has been Republicans in the majority who have made major mistakes. On the war, McCain pinned the blame on Rumsfeld and insisted that the "surge" strategy was working. In response to a question by a student, however, I think McCain stumbled a bit in trying to describe how the war would eventually come to an end. Is it nothing more than we leave and declare victory when the troops are home? I don't think the Republicans, even the authentic ones, will have much chance for electoral success until they can paint a picture of a successful end to the war.
On federal spending, McCain linked runaway spending to corruption and the jail time now being served by former members of Congress. He sounds really good when he's talking about this, but he showed no signs of addressing my big frustration with federal spending. Does he really think we can close the budget deficit only by eliminating pork barrel projects? If so, then he must think that a big chunk of the defense budget is pork. He must think that plenty of health-related and entitlement spending is pork. And if that's the case, then he shouldn't tell me about a $233 million bridge to nowhere. He should be telling me about $233 billion (or more) in cuts that he's willing to make. And, of course, he cannot combine silence on that with the combination of "not wanting to raise your taxes" and "needing to spend more on defense." I've heard worse, but I still would have liked a bit more "straight talk" on the budget. If he were saying that, I'd be working for him.
Overall, a great event. As John Gregg wrote in his recent "Primary Sources" column for The Valley News, the Republican candidates have passed through this area, but they haven't had much of a presence. So it was particularly nice to see one stand up and answer direct questions.
UPDATE: An article from the student paper on the event.