Asked whether he is equally passionate in wanting to put Kerry's antiwar activities off-limits, he said, "I think his activities after the war open, and are subject to, any debate and discussion that they want to, but I still say that it has the effect of reopening these wounds. Everybody is accountable for what they do, and certainly John Kerry is accountable for what he did after the war, and people can make a judgment."
Throughout much of the interview, McCain carefully chose his words as he tried to demonstrate his commitment to Bush's reelection while preserving a reputation for independence and straight talk. He blamed Bush's campaign and allies for attacks leveled against him in the 2000 primary campaign but said that although others have charged that the Swift boat controversy follows a similar pattern, he has seen no proof that Bush or his team is behind the effort.
"I think from what we learned during the campaign, the president's people were behind that [a third-party ad attacking him] and many, many other things that happened in South Carolina," McCain said. "But the most important aspect of this whole thing for me is to not look back in anger. . . . For to me to look back in anger at something that happened in the year 2000 is, one, sore loser, which Americans don't like, and two, would impair my ability to serve the country."
He said his high-profile support for Bush this year is not materially different from the campaigning he did for Bush in 2000 and for GOP candidates in 2002, but said he will continue to speak out when he disagrees with Bush or others in his party. McCain will speak Monday at the Republican National Convention and will campaign with Bush next week.
"I said since January, when the Bush campaign asked me to campaign for him in January in New Hampshire, that I was supporting his reelection. Now if that's called being a good soldier, then fine, I will take that indictment. But my M.O. has not changed in the slightest," he said.
McCain said the president deserves reelection for rallying the country after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said he supports Bush's decision to invade Iraq, despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, saying Saddam Hussein was a threat.
He enumerated disagreements with Kerry on foreign policy, including the Democratic nominee's vote against the resolution authorizing the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and his vote against the $87 billion authorization for Iraq and Afghanistan last year. "But I do not mean to say that would make him a bad president," McCain added.
Although McCain expressed satisfaction that Bush had joined the legal battle against the 527 groups, he said he believes it is too late to have any impact on the current campaign.