Vote Smart President Richard Kimball recounts John McCain's impact as a board member of our organization:
Some Vote Smart members have heard me joke about my being the dead political body that John McCain walked into the U. S. Senate over. It is true.
It was 1986. John was a congressman representing Mesa, AZ and I had been elected chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, regulating the state’s utilities and such.
He was a former prisoner of war, I was a former Vietnam anti-war protester. We had argued on issues. He focused on jobs, I on the environment. He pushed for a strong military, I for strong education. But the issues had become irrelevant. It was all about emotional manipulation, and I decided to confess that fact in my closing argument during our statewide televised debate. I said:
“Understand what we do to you. We spend all of our time collecting money from people we do not know, who will want access to us if we win. And we both spend the money in the same identical three ways.
“First, we measure you, find out what it is you want to buy in the political marketplace, just like Campbell's Soup or Kellogg's does in their marketplace.
“Second, we hire consultants to tailor our image to fit what we then know you want to buy.
“Third, the most expensive part, we then buy all of the media necessary to bombard you with the meaningless, issueless nonsense that inevitably results.
“And whichever one of us does this to you best is going to win.”
Years later those words would help break the ice between John and myself. We would become friends and he would join Vote Smart’s board and actively help us defend people from what modern day campaigns do to them.
He took a hit for pressuring every Republican presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative candidate in the nation by writing them a personal letter saying these words:
“Are you willing to make a good faith effort to provide voters with your inclinations on the issues you will most likely face on the citizens’ behalf? Our (Vote Smart) staff and news media will document a number of requests asking each candidate to make a good faith effort to respond to the enclosed questions on the minds of voters. We only ask that you take a few moments to demonstrate some effort to respond to some of these questions by returning the test.”
Turns out that most candidates, both Republican and Democrat, refused.
From where I stand that will be one unrecognized, unacknowledged or eulogized chunk of John McCain’s courage.
Vote Smart President