I've been a fan of The Other McCain since 2008, and I have long admired his blogger antics, love for Nation, and his occasional outbursts of Conservative craziness. He represents the grassroots of the blogosphere, as he depends on generous Americans instead of demanding bosses. This is one Interview I have been waiting for months to do, and now that it is done, I hope that all of you enjoy it. This is number 65 in our interview series. Our next interview is with an Arkansas Senatorial Candidate.
Q. Mr. McCain, ever since you arrived into the political blogosphere, your mannerisms, rules and travels have transformed the blogosphere, so to speak, what is the method to your madness?
A. Trial and error – and fun. I spent 22 years in the newspaper business, where I was hemmed in by other people’s rules and subject to firing if I pissed off the boss too bad. When I started blogging full-time in March 2008, the absence of rules and bosses was kind of confusing at first. So I just did whatever seemed interesting or fun.
Of course, the reader is the whole point of writing. There’s no point writing if nobody’s reading, and the idea of growing readership – what I call the insane scheme to take over the entire blogosphere – soon became a kind of game: How can I get more readers today than I had yesterday?
So that’s where The Rules ("How to Get a Million Hits on Your Blog") came from. It’s kind of a humorous synopsis of some of the Stupid Blogger Tricks I used to build traffic. Trying to make it fun is a big part of it. There are lots of serious commentators out there, and I also do serious stuff, but all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and I think it’s important that conservatives try to break the whole "uptight no-fun-allowed" image that the Left wants to put on us.
One of my favorite movie scenes is in Animal House, where Boon and Otter are playing golf. Boon says, "I gotta work on my game," and Otter says, "No, no, no. Don’t think of it as work. The whole point is just to enjoy yourself." There’s a profound philosophical truth in that.
Q. Mr. McCain, how would you describe your political foundations, such as your economic, social and national defense leanings?
A. To begin with, I’m an ex-Democrat. As far as I’m concerned, anything that is good for the Democratic Party is bad for America, and vice versa. That’s the only good thing about Obama’s presidency, that he has been an unmixed disaster for Democrats. The big question is whether his destruction of the Democratic Party will be speedy enough to save America, or whether he’ll destroy America first.
In economics, I’m an Austrian – Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. That goes back to the mid-1990s, when an editor of mine in Georgia, Tommy Toles, used to give me his back issues of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, a monthly publication of the Foundation for Economic Education, which is heavily influenced by the Austrian School. The basic point was made by Mises in 1922: Socialism, in whatever form it may assume, simply doesn’t work. However much liberals want it to work – to improve or reform society, to create more equality and "social justice" – their economic agenda simply can’t overcome the basic facts.
As far as social policy, I’m a Burkean, in that I am profoundly skeptical of radical notions of moral and political "progress." Edmund Burke, in rebuking a friend who supported the French Revolution, wrote: "We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity." Mega-dittoes.
My views on national defense are very simple: Don’t lose wars. The decision of whether to go to war is very important, and I’m all in favor of healthy debate until the first shot is fired. Then the debate is over, and the only acceptable peace is victory. I actually disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq but, because I was then employed as a news editor at The Washington Times, didn’t have a chance to express my criticism of the Bush administration’s case for war. (That’s the "rules and bosses" thing.) However, once the shooting started, my argument was the same as for any war, "If you’re in it, win it." Every time I’d see those stupid "peace" protesters, I’d say, "Where’s the Ohio National Guard now that we really need them?" Any way you look at it, war is a very bad thing, but losing a war is worse.
Q. Mr. McCain, how does one become a successful political blogger?
A. Link me more often! OK, that’s half-joking, but only half. People have to understand that the blogosphere isn’t about just spouting your own opinion. Blogging is inherently a collaborative enterprise. "No blog is an island," as I like to say. By linking other blogs, you’re giving the reader a chance to get news and opinions from a variety of sources. That’s why, whenever I’m blogging about a big story that lots of other people are covering – like the health-care debate – I try to update with a list of links to the other blogs that are on the same story.
Not every blogger can be Michelle Malkin or Instapundit, but everybody can do linkage – "aggregation," as it is called. Even if your average readership is less than 100 a day, try to give those readers a variety, a blog buffet. Sure, you want to link major news stories and give your own opinion, but by including links to other blogs, you help your readers develop a wider selection of sources.
Something else: Try to find a niche or two, where you have some specific experience or knowledge, and serve that niche. Everybody wants to do "big picture" commentary and address major national issues, the stuff that’s on Fox News, and that’s OK. But sometimes the most important thing a smaller blogger can do is to dig down on a story where nobody else is really paying attention and own that story. That’s especially true if it’s a local story, where you have direct access that people outside your community don’t have. For example, in the upcoming mid-term election, reporting on candidates and campaigns in your own state or district has more "reader value" than pontificating about some national issue that a zillion other bloggers are already pontification about.
Another thing: Try to build relationships. In the wired world of "virtual" relationships, there is still no substitute for direct human contact. If you actually get to know other bloggers personally, that makes a difference. That’s why I think all conservative bloggers should make it a point to attend CPAC every year if they can – that’s the one chance we have for everybody to get together and hang out.
Finally: Stick to it. It’s easy to become discouraged when traffic sucks and it seems like there is no point. That’s what I call the "Zero Hour," and it happens to everybody. (I’ve been surprised to learn that even successful bloggers sometimes get that what’s-the-point feeling.) But if you keep at it, day after day, and try to steadily improve the quality of your work – not just the written content, but the design, the blogroll, etc. – eventually you can build something important. Sometimes survival is victory, and as long as you don’t quit, you’re a winner. Think in terms of the long haul, blog regularly, and remember that every reader you reach is important.
Q. Mr.McCain, as the father of several homeschooled children, what is your advice to parents that are considering an alternative to public schooling?
A. Just do it. Parents have to understand that the problems of public schools are not temporary, isolated and episodic, they are chronic, pervasive and systemic. Whatever you have to sacrifice in order to save your children from the menace of the government school bureaucracy, that sacrifice is worth it.
One day in 1997 my wife said to me, "I’m tired of working all the time just to pay someone else to raise my kids. You get a job where I can afford to stay home." And I did. We moved to Washington and spent the next seven years living in a three-bedroom apartment. We had one car – we still only have one car – and I took the bus to my job at The Washington Times. Then in 2004, when our daughter wanted to go to high school at a Christian academy, we moved to Hagerstown, and I spent the next three-and-a-half years commuting 750 miles a week round-trip to D.C. until I finally quit in January 2008. So far, the combination of freelance journalism, blogging and Internet consulting hasn’t added up to half of what I made at my old job, but we’re slowly getting there.
Our oldest daughter, who was 7 when we started, is now a junior in college, an honor student paying her own way through. Our boys, who were 4, are now 17-year-old juniors at Christian schools, and we’ve added three more children since 1997. All of that, you see, started with my wife’s ultimatum. We’re not rich. We’re not even middle class, in terms of per-capita income. But we’re raising our own kids, and that’s what counts.
Government schools are just another form of welfare slavery. Stop sending your kids to those liberal indoctrination camps. However crappy a job you think you might do as a home-schooler, you could hardly do a worse job than the overpaid government bureaucrats at your local public school.
Q. Mr.McCain, you are a well known supporter of the former Libertarian candidate for President, Bob Barr, being such, who do you like for President in 2012, and can a Republican receive your vote?
A. I’m actually not all that picky about Republican candidates, it’s just that I could not in good conscience vote for John McCain. If nothing else, the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law was a direct assault on the First Amendment. Let’s not even get started on his push for amnesty in 2006 and 2007. Like a lot of other conservatives, I wasn’t really pleased with the field of GOP presidential candidates in 2008. I started off as kind of a Fredhead, supporting Fred Thompson, and when that fizzled out, I was for Mitt Romney as the last, best hope for stopping Crazy Cousin John. The day that Mitt quit – Feb. 7, 2008 – I swore a vow that I would vote Libertarian in November, and I have no regrets and no apologies about that.
I’ve been very impressed with Mike Pence. He’s kind of a squish on immigration – compared to me, just about everybody’s a squish on immigration – but other than that, he’s solid and he’s an excellent public speaker. Mitt’s still OK, despite all the criticisms of his record, and of course, I like Sarah Palin.
The two candidates I absolutely could not support are Mike Huckabee – he lost me when he started using class-warfare rhetoric in the 2008 campaign – and Jeb Bush. We’ve already had two too many presidents from that family, who are like a curse to conservatives. "No More Bushes!"
Q. Mr. McCain, what is the best part of being an "investigative blogger/journalist"?
A. Road trips. The one thing I’m most grateful for is that readers have hit the tip jar to help me make trips during the past few months to Pennsylvania, Kentucky, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and California.
When I started out in journalism, I was always an "on-the-scene" guy, whether I was doing news, features or sports. I like going out and meeting new people and seeing things for myself. When I was at The Washington Times, it was basically a desk job and I didn’t get very many chances to go out and do that kind of on-the-scene reporting. So when I started the "Shoe Leather Fund" in 2009, to pay for my trips down to D.C. to report on the inspectors general story, I was pleasantly surprised by how many readers responded by hitting the tip jar.
The American Spectator pays me for my stories, and they’ve covered some of my travel expenses, and yet somehow it never seems to add up to the break-even point compared to the actual cost of going out on the road. I joke about submitting "The Mother of Expense Reports," but it really is kind of a hassle to collect up a bunch of receipts, fill out the forms and then cross your fingers while you wait to see how much they’ll pay you back. Then, of course, there’s the problem of paying the regular bills here at the house. Mrs. Other McCain is supportive of my career, but she’s not so supportive when the bill collectors start threatening to cut off our utilities and repossess the car.
The Shoe Leather Fund enables readers to act as the assignment desk for the blog. If I say, "Hey, I want to go cover this story," it’s really up to the readers whether I make the trip or not. This is reader-supported journalism in its purest form and I’m amazed it’s been so successful. (I’m way behind on my thank-you notes.)
The ultimate test was when Dan Collins of Piece of Work in Progress double-dog dared me to do a tip-jar fundraiser for my trip to cover the Alabama Crimson Tide at the BCS football championship in Pasadena. That was completely crazy, but it worked, and then right after that the readers sent me to Massachusetts to cover Scott Brown. And then, in February, we were able to get them to hit Da Tech Guy’s tip jar so he could afford to come to CPAC.
What it goes to show, I think, is that there is a real demand for reporting that people can trust, unlike the biased crap we get from the MSM. And it’s sure been a lot of fun. Roll Tide!
Q. Mr.McCain, what is the key to your professional success as a blogger, what is that one element of luck or surprise, faith, etc. that provides your ultimate success?
A. Thanks for mentioning faith. I am a poor excuse for a Christian, but I really do have a deep faith in God, and I try to be grateful for his blessings, most especially including Mrs. Other McCain. We’ve been together more than 20 years, and there were many times when she would have been entirely justified in dumping me. But she’s stuck by me, "for better or for worse," and I certainly couldn’t have found a better wife. She’s got the practical common sense to balance out my craziness, and we have our fights – "California? You’re flying off to California and leaving me here in a snowstorm with all these kids?" – but the kiss-and-make-up part is still kinda cool.
Mrs. Other McCain says when she first met me, she knew I was going to "be somebody" one day. And to the extent that I’ve become "somebody," I credit God’s promise in Proverbs 22:29: "Seest thou a man diligent in his work? He shall stand before kings." Years ago, I claimed that promise. I’m naturally lazy, but I determined to work hard at being a writer, and God has so far been very good to me. I haven’t literally stood before any kings yet, but I’ve interviewed governors and congressmen and senators and, if only 60 million more Americans had joined me in voting for Bob Barr, I would now be ambassador to some sunny tropical island nation in the Caribbean. Maybe next time . . .
Q. Mr.McCain, how did Smitty become your "blogger yin to your blogger yang"?
A. That’s a very long story. Smitty was one of the earliest and most frequent commenters at The Other McCain, and I had no idea who he was. I didn’t realize he lived in the D.C. area until he said he’d meet me at a film festival in Arlington. After that, we hung out a little at CPAC 2009. Then there was a Heritage Foundation event and I said, "Hey, if you want to write this up, I’ll give you a log-in." So he did a good job with that, and I said, "Fire away."
Smitty’s second post compared Obama to the H.P. Lovecraft monster Cthulhu. Turns out that Glenn Reynolds is a Lovecraft fan, and Smitty got the Instalanche. Dude. ’Lanched on your second post? That’s some awesome blog-fu, and we have been inseparable (and, perhaps, insufferable) ever since.
Smitty says I remind him of someone he once got in a lot of trouble with, and you can see the complementarity factor here. Smitty is everything I’m not: Sensible, responsible and capable of tying a bow-tie. He has a delight for fiendish wordplay, as evidenced by his several satirical plays. His taste for bad heavy metal music, however, is utterly inexplicable.
Much to Mrs. Smith’s dismay, he has spent the past year doing all this bloggerly voodoo for free, which is something we’re trying to rectify by adjustments to our Underpants Gnome business model. Smitty is an ace with all the advanced geekology at which I’m so horribly deficient, as shown by our (relatively) smooth changeover from Blogspot to WordPress. He could certainly hire himself out on a consultant basis for anyone who wants to set up a Web site, and my greatest fear is that Charles Johnson will lure Smitty away with a lucrative contract based on LGF calendar commission sales, plus the chance for a cameo in the next Chuckie-as-Hitler-in-the-bunker video
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