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Full speed ahead

To borrow a sailing term to describe Navy veteran John McCain, we like the cut of his jib. He does seem a man focused on achieving his own agenda rather than gerrymandering one to make it fit his party.

Back from the presidential primary wars, McCain suggests he is ready to shake up the telcom scene, particularly by reforming the FCC (both in the sense of remaking and of rehabilitating, we gather, given the harshness of his criticisms of that agency in the interview on page 22).

McCain also says there are enough communications voices to at least consider revisiting broadcasters' public-interest obligations. He says the ownership caps should be raised, even though he is concerned that he has seen more consolidation than competition from the Telecom Act of 1996 (which, predicting that outcome, he opposed). He also likes Michael Powell for FCC chairman (we like Powell, too, although we are not ready for endorsements quite yet). And, although McCain has been an outspoken critic of media violence and says Congress should encourage the media to adopt labeling systems and codes of conduct, he says it is not the government's business to force those issues.

The Senator is no more neatly tailored to our agenda than he is to that of his own party: We don't think the government should be mandating free airtime, and we disagree on creating new low-power FM stations. He says let'em in and sort out the interference later. We think that's a recipe for disaster, particularly for an FCC that McCain says can't handle what's already on its plate.

That said, the industry could do worse than having the tough, independent-minded McCain back full time at the Commerce Committee.

P.S. Of course, that point about being back full time is still being debated. There was some renewed talk about McCain's interest in the vice presidency last week. We have always been struck by the fact that the Senator says only that he has asked not to be considered and does not want to be considered (he echoed those sentiments and that phrasing to us last week). What he doesn't say is "no." Sounds to us like an old soldier who would not ignore the call of duty, if it were clear and loud. We'll know soon enough which pulpit McCain considers the bullier one.