McCain's NYT Interview: Federalism, Live and In the Flesh

| Sat Jul. 12, 2008 6:01 PM PDT

John McCain is famous for chatting with reporters for hours on end, but everyday folks (and even reporters from small magazines, ahem) are rarely privy to those conversations. Two reporters from the New York Times sat down with McCain and put his answers to their questions up online. They are basically unedited, and it's actually rather nice to get an unvarnished look at a candidate's thoughts.

Now, the blogosphere will almost certainly focus on McCain's further admissions of technological incompetence. In the interview, McCain says, "I am learning to get online myself" and "I've never felt the particular need to e-mail."

But what I want to focus on is a moment of principle. McCain is asked about gay marriage and about teaching evolution in schools — he gets the first question "right" (that is, right from a progressive perspective) and gets the second question "wrong." The reason? He takes a federalist approach to both. Here's the transcript:

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Q: If California wants to legalize gay marriage, should it be permitted to do so?

Mr. McCain: I respect the rights of the states to make those decisions. I obviously am personally in favor of preserving the unique status of marriage between man and woman. And I also would point out that we passed a thing called the Defense of Marriage Act, which I know you're familiar with, where we said that states were not required to recognize in their states the decision that other states made. In other words, if the state of Massachusetts recognized marriage between man and --- had allowed same-sex marriage, that does not mean that that decision can be imposed on the state of Arizona. The state of Arizona will make that decision."

Q: But if the state wanted to do it on the own, you would not support taking action to stop it?

Mr. McCain: If the people wanted to amend the constitution in order to support the unique status, affirm the unique status, I certainly would support that. But if they decide not to, that's a state decision that's made by the state.

Q: How do you feel about teaching evolution in schools?

Mr. McCain: I think, first of all, it's up to the school boards. That's why we have local control over education. So my personal view is that children should be exposed to as much as they possibly can so that they can make their decisions and be the best informed. But I really believe that school boards are elected in order to make a lot of those decisions, and I respect their decisions unless they are unconstitutional in some way or, you know.

So he won't take action to block the state of California from legalizing gay marriage (Focus on the Family will not be happy) and he won't take action to stop a school board from putting creationism in schools. After seeing so many of the Brownbacks of the world insist that the government doesn't have the right to intervene on teaching creationism, but does have the right to intervene on abortion, gay marriage, and Terry Schiavo, it's nice to see a conservative who displays a little principle. At least some of the time.

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