Monday, October 06, 2008

The time I met John McCain

Okay, I haven't told this story here yet. It was 1999. I had a book coming out soon on Social Security. Someone at NYU who handles press relations told me that Good Morning America was going to have John McCain stop by to discuss Social Security privatization (this being before that term was forbidden), and if I came I could ask him a question. For sure? I asked. Yes, she answered, the flacks at GMA assured me that you will get to ask a Social Security question on a widely watched national television show. OK, she knew the press angle better than I did.

For the record, while I considered Social Security privatization completely pointless, I wasn't by any means flat out hostile like most in my post-2001 political camp, and indeed had sketched out an idea that I called progressive privatization. What I liked about privatization, while recognizing that the stock market investment aspect was pointless and that it did nothing to ease the program's fiscal problems, was its being one way of clarifying the tax-benefit relationship for individual recipients that current Social Security assiduously obscures. You can read about it here or here.

Well, you know what Gore Vidal once said about being on television and one other thing - you can never have enough of either, he said - so, being next to unacquainted with the former, I headed up to midtown at some ungodly earthly hour, in order to get there by 6 am (or maybe it was even 5:30).

When I got there, I discovered that I had been totally scammed by the GMA flack, who had duped my NYU PR contact. They just wanted warm bodies to fill the room, most of them seemingly off a tourist bus. Everyone got to submit an index card and they would pick 3 to ask Senator McCain. Anything above the 6th grade level was definitely not wanted. (This had nothing to do with McCain but rather with the presumed TV audience for GMA.)

I should have just left, but like a cowed sheep in a herd of antelopes - I'm trying the Tom Friedman trick here of mixing and mangling the metaphors; it works (commercially) for him - I stayed around. Assiduous viewers (a couple of family members) got to see a couple of shots of me glowering from the back of the audience during McCain's gig, because I was so angry about having been conned to go there under false pretenses and way too early in the morning. The inconvenience, the disrespect, the lost sleep, the fact that I felt so used and foolish - but I digress.

At the end of the segment, they went to commercial and also were going to use a different part of the set for their next segment. So McCain, doing his duty as a politician, went through shaking hands with everyone in the crowd. No big thrill to me, though this was nothing particular against him; I simply don't have huge excitement about any of these guys, even though at the time I rated him much higher than I do now. But I didn't leave the set right away, because I wanted to find someone from the show to whom I could complain about having been lured there under false pretenses when all they wanted was a room full of warm bodies.

So I passed by McCain one more time. Thinking I wanted to shake his hand again, he snarled at me: "I already shook your hand!" (And "snarled" really is the right word here, though I don't mean to suggest he was out of control.)

This was a bit amusing given how little his or any other senator's hand means to me. Had I been a little quicker, I might have said something like "Relax, it's not like you're the Beatles or something."

I got two things out of it, a story to tell my Tax class later that morning (focused more on my mission of folly than McCain, but he supplied the capper), and a GMA long-sleeved T-shirt that I still wear in cold weather.

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