Republican Sen. John McCain told a crowd gathered at the Benedict Music Tent he thinks the war on terror will "go on for a long time" and that he supports the Bush administration's approach to preventing Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.The one-time presidential candidate fielded questions from an audience assembled Saturday night for the Aspen Music Festival's "Evening of Words and Music."McCain sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 but then supported his opponent, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, after losing the nomination to him in the primaries. A veteran of the Vietnam War, McCain was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for more than five years. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1958, and one of his sons followed in his footsteps, marking the fourth generation of McCains to attend that service academy. Another son recently enlisted in the Marines, and McCain told Saturday's crowd he will report for duty on Sept. 11.In a CNN poll conducted June 1-6, 60 percent of respondents said they "might consider" or "would definitely vote for" McCain if he runs for president in 2008.The Arizona senator identified finding new sources of oil and combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction "as they become easier and easier to acquire" as other priorities for the United States.
On the home front, McCain said Congress must address a failure to control spending and broken Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid systems."It's not a matter of whether - it's a matter of when these two safety systems are no longer there," he said.Although the national economy is good and unemployment is low, McCain said most Americans still fear they won't have jobs or health care in the future."We have a booming economy, [but] 65-70 percent feel America is on the wrong track," he said.Audience members, including California Congresswoman Jane Harman, drilled McCain on immigration issues, ongoing controversy surrounding prisoner abuse at military prisons, how the United States should be involved in combating genocide in Sudan, teaching evolution and creationism in schools and on the government's eavesdropping on Americans' phone calls.McCain said the current immigration problem is a "product of 40-50 years of broken American policy" and that to stem the tide of incoming illegals, he "would enforce the borders - we're doing that now."
With regard to the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, McCain said there are three options: the status quo, which he said is "not acceptable"; sending the immigrants back to their homelands - unlikely; and making them become citizens. He said the United States' current system for earning citizenship is lengthy and complicated and does not fit the definition of amnesty."Four-hundred and ten people died in the desert of Arizona last year," he said. "Many of [those who survive] are exploited and abused and mistreated."McCain said those immigrants are offered no protection under American laws.On the question of the United States' failure to act against acts of genocide in Rwanda and what the country's role should be in Sudan, McCain noted that the U.S. did intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo, and he said he is proud of the nation's actions there. However, he called the country's failure to act in Rwanda a "black mark" on American history.As for Sudan, the senator said he would want the nation to "provide whatever logistic assistance we need to get African troops into the area." And if that fails, he would "send American troops rather than see millions of people die."In the final question of the evening, an audience member asked McCain to outline his stance on teaching evolution and creationism in schools.
"I think Americans should be exposed to every point of view," he said. "I happen to believe in evolution. ... I respect those who think the world was created in seven days. Should it be taught as a science class? Probably not."Nevertheless, the senator said he does believe in God, and he doesn't think Christian groups have too much influence on the Republican Party."I think there's room for the religious right in our party," he said. And for those who think that faction holds too much sway, McCain had a strong message: "Get in the arena. Go out there and register to vote and recruit candidates."Abigail Eagye's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org