September 4th, 2007
08:26 PM ET
14 years ago

McCain faces hard-hitting high schoolers

Watch Sen. John Mccain answer a high school student's question about his age in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire (CNN) – Sen. John McCain’s visit to Concord High School proved to be more than your average guest speaker appearance Tuesday with the Republican presidential candidate giving and getting a dose of the campaign’s trademark “straight talk.”

During the question and answer session one student rose and asked a pointed question about McCain’s age: “If elected, you’d be older than Ronald Reagan, making you the oldest president. Do you ever worry that like you might die in office or get Alzheimer’s or some other disease that might affect your judgment?”

The Arizona senator chuckled slightly as the “oh my gods” filled the room. In a self-deprecating reference to his memory, McCain said his children have joked about their father “hiding his own Easter eggs,” but quickly added, that he was a “24-7” worker and would out campaign any of his rivals.

McCain then ended the exchange in his quintessential style: “Thanks for the question, you little jerk … you’re drafted.”

Full story: High schoolers pitch hardballs at McCain

- CNN Senior Political Producer Sasha Johnson

Filed under: Iraq • John McCain • New Hampshire • Same-sex marriage
soundoff (346 Responses)
  1. Elizabeth, Bandon OR

    I'm totally with Alex in WI and Michelle in MN – We need MORE kids like this willing to verbalize all the things their adult counterparts are too damn polite to do. Some of you may think he's a smart-mouth, but I think if we had more people like William Sleaster who are unwilling to sacrifice truth for the sake of civility, maybe we wouldn't be in this neverending corrupt war.

    I'm smiling knowing the next generation is watching, participating, and ready to vote soon.

    Jacob, give your bro a big pat on the back from the Elizabeth on the west coast. You and your family should be proud 😉

    September 4, 2007 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  2. Vic, Los Angeles, CA

    Wow that draft comment sure did angry up the wussies. Look people it was a joke and a funny one too. McCain was just playing with a subject that high schoolers fear. I seriously doubt that he (McCain) actually wants to send a kid to war (that's just an idiotic thought process that I can't begin to comprehend) or wants to punish him for his comment. I believe Mr McCain was actually impressed by this kids comment. Now before I get the right wing crap comments I'll let be known that I am a register Independent , I am what many would consider a leftist (I voted Green a few times for crying out loud!); so no I am not a pro Republican kind of guy. I am however someone who has a genuine respect for John McCain, and if I did ever vote Republican it would be for him.

    September 4, 2007 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  3. AJ, Vancouver, WA

    First of all, the question about age was meaningless. There is no presidential candidate, regardless of age, who is exempt from the possibility of dying in office, or getting a disease that might affect his judgment.
    As for the other student, who came looking for a good leader but didn't find one, the comment was obviously rehearsed and no matter how McCain answered his question, he would've made that comment. I think that before some twit like this kid makes a comment like that, he ought to look at who he is talking to. McCain has an exemplary record as a serviceman and as a politician, whereas this kid has yet to separate from his mama's bosom.
    As for the gay marriage debate, it will not subside anytime soon. Marriage ought to remain between a man and a woman; everyone else will just have to find another way to unionize.

    September 4, 2007 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  4. SFL, Danbury, CT

    Very courageous young lad. I wish many more asked such tough questions which are very pertinent of candidates. Obviously his age is of concern. Why in a nation of such great talent do we place emphasis on his age and experience. His views seem outdated anyway. Kudos young man...You define the spirit of young America...fearless , bright and energetic

    September 4, 2007 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  5. C. A., Portsmouth, NH

    As a life long resident of NH, I can assure you that anyone who lives in this state learns about politics starting from the cradle. It surrounds us starting two years before an election, and continues until months after the primary. Any candidate appearing before the children of this state will get honest and typically informed questions. As a child and a teen, I went to rallies to hear Pres. Ford, Pres Carter, Sen Kennedy (Ted, that is), Gov. Dukakis, VP Bush Sr, Pres Clinton, and, last Sunday night, Sen. Clinton in my hometown of Portsmouth, NH.
    I grew up on politics and respect any teen who is not afraid to stand up to his leader to ask the tough questions or fire back a dissenting opinion. That is how to keep the politicians on-track. Anyone not as involved with the process might want to keep that in mind.

    September 4, 2007 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  6. Sam Breckinridge

    People are crazy.
    1. McCain was just joking with the kid who asked about his age. There was no insult involved. It was funny.
    2. I just read another "Bush stole the election" comment. Please review our election system- everything was done exactly as it was supposed to be.
    3. McCain's response about gay and lesbian issues was excellent. He stated his position with respect to others and even encouraged the national debate to continue.
    4. The Sleaster kid is a REAL jerk- throwing an obscure acronym at him then telling him he is a poor leader (just because he didn't agree). Now thats a class act. There is supposed to be a balance between criticism/questioning and respectfulness. He needs to learn that.
    6. For me, I don't see how anyone could see this "event" as anything other than positive for McCain. He was open and honest. He was funny. He showed some real leadership by not "informing" Sleaster of his leadership experience. He was a REAL complete class act.

    September 4, 2007 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  7. Megan, Bryan TX

    This exchange would've been even better if the student (who I am presuming is gay) had responded to McCain's draft comment by reminding the senator had just said he does not want gays serving in the military.

    I'm proud to hear about high school students, who are likely not even old enough to vote, engaging in the political process. Kudos to this student for taking a stand and shame on the school for reprimanding him.

    September 4, 2007 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  8. Jay, Tampa, FL

    I really don't see anything wrong with what McCain said here. He thinks marriage should be between a man and a woman, add agrees with "Don't ask, don't tell", and "that debate needs to be continued to be held."

    So he's saying there should be a debate, and which side he would take. Good for him for stating his views but admitting there are other ones out there worthy of discussion. For those who are saything this is an ignorant answer, please explain.
    The kid closed his statement with an opinion that takes a personal shot at someone who has dedicated most of his life to serving this country. I agree with his right to do it, he should not have gotten into trouble for it, but it's not very classy. And a personal attack is not exactly a strong tactic in debate (although it's pretty popular).

    I like that McCain takes a stance on issues, whether I agree with them or not. I don't get the feeling that he's having the polsters tell him what the most popular answers would be.

    September 4, 2007 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  9. Larry, Columbus, Ohio

    I'm a Republican. I think Hillary is an uber politician, Edwards more show than go, and Obama just too inexperienced. That said, if my son had made the same comment "I didn't find one" to ANY of them, I would have been disappointed in him (and by the way, he wouldn't have done that). There are times when it's appropriate to respect your elders even if you don't agree with them. I would encourage my son to ask tough questions, but I would also expect him to be respectful of those who are giving answers. If you admire the "I didn't find one" comment, don't be surprised (and don't you dare tsk) the next time you find a 12-year old cussing at you, etc. One of the challenges with a free society is that many people just don't have the maturity to handle it gracefully and respectfully. Tough questions, yes. But this kid has NO business saying McCain is not a's a stupid and disrespectful thing to say.

    September 4, 2007 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  10. Adam Maryville, MO

    Although his drafted comment was poorly stated, I think he meant it as comedy. That statement should be put into the category of yet another statement that intended humor but grossly missed it's mark. It can be argued that the straight talk express has been and continues to de-rail on key issues, but McCain in general can be seen as one of the most forward senators in Washington. He is a leader, and has been one for years; however, leaders are formed through constant conflict and trial. This is one more battle that will test the leadership qualities of this storied military man and politician. It will be interesting to see how the senator handles the press and publicity from this situations.

    September 4, 2007 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  11. Chris Stoneburg, Newmarket, ON

    McCain is a contradiction unto himself. He doesn't believe in discrimination, yet he doesn't believe in equal rights. Common sense puts those two hand in hand. I believe that the right to marry the person you love whether it's a man-man, woman-woman, or man-woman relationship.

    September 4, 2007 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  12. Bob, New York, NY

    We have all been in high school at one point or another. I find it funny that so many people here actually think that there are that many kids out there that actually have developed an opinion that isn't based on somebody elses. If that was the case the voting numbers among the younger voters wouldn't be as piss poor as they are.

    I hate to imagine what kind of mess we would have if the young voters in this country did start voting. I might feel different if they actually spent time looking for information and we hadn't created this society where living at home until your 30 is the norm. But until we start teaching our youth self reliance and accountability again I can only hope the youth of this country will continue to not vote.

    September 4, 2007 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  13. Terry, Rochester, MN

    “I came here looking to see a good leader, I don’t,” Sleaster said.

    Define a 'good leader'..Does young Mr. Sleaster understand what it takes to be a leader of any kind, let alone a good leader? Regardless of whether or not he believes McCain is a good leader or not, McCain as earned the right to be respected. I have no problem with freedom of speech, but what Mr. Sleaster said was totally disrespectful and another indication of the problem with America today. Disrespectful people who don't have any consideration for anyone that doesn't see eye-to-eye with their ideals. It takes a leader to stand up and take a side. Not one to 'ride the fence' like most politicians have become so adept at.

    September 4, 2007 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  14. James Chirico

    McCain's quest for the presidency has
    turned the independent maverick into
    OF PRESSURE during the "nuclear option"
    episode that nearly changed the Senate rules. Rove and the neocons did what
    the Hanoi Hilton did not, broke his
    spirit with the threat of non-support.
    After the rug was pulled from him by the GOP during Dubya's first election, I expected him to be more independent not less.

    September 4, 2007 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  15. Michael-Davenport, Iowa

    What did they expect to get from high schoolers? It is one of the last times in any person's life that they can truly tell it how it is without worry. Good for that kid pointing out that there are no good leaders in these races. I continually look for good leaders, including John McCain, but what I get are Republican and Democrat Automatons. We are only one party away from Fascism. Do away with these abominations of politics and lets here what is truly on the minds of people.

    September 4, 2007 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    as an aside: functionally illiterate is an apt descriptor for the individuals who claim to be high school students posting in this thread. and while they may not be sheep necessarily they certainly seem incapable of expressing any complexities inherent in their internal thought processes with words.

    September 4, 2007 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  17. Rodney, Atlanta, GA

    It's always nothing but political spin. Candidates these days don't really answer any questions. They don't really address any issues. They just spin everything and leave some of us with a bigger question mark over our heads then what we had with the original question.

    “I believe that the sanctity of marriage between man and woman is unique and should be preserved, and I understand the controversy that swirls around that issue, and that debate needs to be continued to be held, but I support that position,” McCain said.

    Yes, that's because all politicians do these days is debate, and nothing productive gets done. I'm very surprised at these kid's moxie. It gives me much more hope in the future generation then I had before.

    September 4, 2007 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  18. RB

    The student must've known something about Ronald Reagan, as he was perceived by some to have been mentally adrift in his later years.

    It is a valid concern, given McCain's age.

    September 4, 2007 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  19. Bill, Greensboro NC

    As usual someone makes a comment and they get blasted because people cannot see past their own highly opinionated viewpoints. Wow, John McCain made a joke about drafting a kid...he must be a warmonger. You people really need to get a clue. It's that kind of partisan thinking that has created the current fiasco in our political process today. You do not see people, you see words that you then fit into your already determined world view. This goes to both Republicans and Democrat partisans. Try using your brain and rationally thinking about who you want for a leader. We'll all be better off.

    September 4, 2007 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  20. Brett, Mongtomery Township, NJ

    Sorry, I can't reconcile the self-adopted "Straight Talk" moniker with McCain’s internally inconsistent positions and his frequent inability to answer the same question the same way at different stump stops – or even during the same town hall meeting for that matter!

    How do you oppose any form of discrimination but support Don't Ask Don't Tell? McCain just doesn't seem like a solid choice for both supporters of gay rights or folks who believe homosexuality is deviant behavior undeserving of federal protections.

    And his inconsistency doesn’t stop there. Just Google "McCain flip-flop" to get yourself started. Yes, you’ll find left-wing and left-leaning sites covering this, but look for substantiated quotes from sources you’re personally comfortable with and I’d be surprised if you’re able to hang on to the "Straight Talk" notion of John McCain for long. The bottom line is that for many issues, whatever your personal position, you’ll find quotes that indicate McCain both supports and opposes it. And I’m not talking about a growth process over the years of gradually changing one’s mind...

    September 4, 2007 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  21. Ed Williams, Lufkin,TX

    After reading the article I realized that Sleaser is a prime example of what is wrong with this country. Kids today do not care who they are rude to or who they insult. It just shows that this country is going down the toilet. Sleaser is an embarrasment to his school, his family and his country. He is a useless kid who will grow up to be a useless adult. HOW DARE SOME SNOT NOSE KID INSULT A MAN WHO HAS GIVEN EVERYTHING FOR HIS COUNTRY!!!

    September 4, 2007 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  22. s.m, harrisonburg virginia

    Thank you Tamara from Concord! (the only other student who actually attended the rally). Thank you for speaking so eloquently on the subject. We all have our beliefs and live in a place where we can freely express them. However, there's no excuse for being impolite and disrespectful. Sadly, Sleaster totally negated his whole point of view the second that last statment came out of his mouth. The scolding he received from the administrator was about how unatractive rudeness really is.

    September 4, 2007 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  23. Keisha P. Chicago, IL

    When Mr. McCain called the one child a "little jerk" he set up the atmosphere for Mr. Sleaster to insult him. If Mr. McCain can't handle comments like that from Mr. Sleaster he shouldn't be running for office. If Mr. McCain wants respect he must create that kind of atmosphere, in this case he did not.

    September 4, 2007 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  24. Dave, North Haven, Connecticut

    if you think that the education budget is bloated, then you need to do some serious research before you vote in the next election because education in this country is sorely lacking.
    At any rate, it's not good for a high schooler to blatantly disrespect a national authority figure such as McCain. The fact that he did not understand the initials was (or at least, given the current political climate, should have been) insulting enough to the man.

    September 4, 2007 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  25. Cheryl Chicago IL

    So now the old coot is picking on kids?


    September 4, 2007 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
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