McCain is stumped on the stump

And now a look at what religiousness does to US politics..

McCain is stumped on the stump

It’s not often that a reporter stumps John McCain. But it happened Friday, and it was a telling moment for the Republican presidential contender.

The bus had been rolling for a half-hour and McCain was holding court on everything from Iraq to college basketball. (“Who woulda thought? VCU,” he exclaimed upon boarding.) And then someone asked about public funding for contraception in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS.

“I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it in the past,” he stammered as he looked to his communications director. “I’m sure I’m opposed to government funding.”

Sensing a vulnerable moment, reporters kept the questions coming. What about sex education in the schools? Should it mention contraceptives? Or only abstinence, like President Bush wants?

“I think I support the president’s present policy,” he said, tentatively.

More questions: Do condoms stop sexually transmitted disease?

A long pause.

A stern look.

“I’ve never gotten into these issues or thought much about them,” he said, almost crying uncle. “Obviously, we all want to stop the spread of AIDS. Everybody wants to do that. What’s the most viable way of doing that?”

Well? The reporters asked?

In a last ditch attempt to rescue himself, McCain told an aide to go get a briefing paper prepared by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a doctor, who he said has been advising him on “these issues.” But the aide couldn’t find the briefing paper. “We’ve lost it,” McCain mumbled.

“Whether I support government funding for them or not, I don’t know,” McCain said about contraceptives. He then said he’d look into it for the reporters, who finally let him off the hook and moved onto other subjects again.

— Michael D. Shear