BOCA RATON, Florida — At this point four years ago, Senator John McCain was fighting for his political life in a pitched battle to beat then-Senator Barack Obama to the White House.
But just hours before Monday night's final presidential debate between president Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, McCain was making the rounds of the media filing center on the campus of debate host Lynn University when MTV News' Power of 12 caught up with him for a quick chat.
"How's my friend Snooki?" was the first question from the veteran Arizona legislator's mouth. "Congratulations again to her on the addition to the family and I still agree with her that we should never, never tax tanning beds. That was one of the worst things about Obamacare that could possibly have happened."
Pivoting to more pressing matters, Power of 12 correspondent Andrew Jenks related a story to the retired Navy captain about a 27-year-old friend of his who served two tours of duty in Iraq and returned Stateside with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance problems, as well as few prospects for finding work.
"It's so disheartening to see this," said Jenks. "What can either candidate do to really, really make some sort of change so that our veterans can come home and be respected the way they should?"
First of all, McCain said, there's a simple answer to that question: fix the economy. "Half of the young people graduating from college today can't find a job, so we've got to improve the economy so there's job opportunity," he said. "But specifically as far as our veterans are concerned, we have to get into this PTSD issue in a lot more effective way."
McCain lamented that it currently takes more than 400 days for a veteran with PTSD to get their case reviewed and called for an overhaul of at the top of the Veteran's Administration. "That's unacceptable," he said. "That's disgraceful. We also need a better understanding of the suicide issue. There's a lot of suicides [among the armed forces] and these suicides are sometimes by people who never served overseas. So it's not just a direct result in many cases of combat, so we've got to understand that better."
Finally, he said he knows that American businesses want to hire veterans, so we need to do a better job connecting veterans to those employers. "But there's not going to be a lot of jobs as long as we have this high unemployment rate," McCain said. "Which means give the American people a better economy. I think Mitt Romney can do that."
With college students leaving school with an average of $25,000 worth of debt, Jenks asked McCain what the candidates could do to ensure that this generation isn't the first to secure a better future for themselves than their parents' generation.
"It's very disheartening, particularly since half of college graduates now are unable to find a job and are living with their parents," he said. "We have to create jobs for young people. We also have to address this whole issue of massive student loan debts ... [and] what we just did, taking the banks out of the equation, has made the problem much worse than better," he said of the Obama administration's move to cut private banks out of the federal student loan program.
One suggestion McCain made was forgiving of some student loan debt, but also rooting out the waste and abuse in the student loan system. "That's not the heart of the problem," he said. "The heart of the problem is to make sure college is affordable ... college tuition costs [are rising] in double digits in some institutions. We've got to find out what's causing that."
The bottom line for McCain: every qualified American should be able to get a quality education, especially our veterans.
Before he scooted off to yet another in an endless barrage of interviews, McCain had to circle back to one more pressing issue at the center of his focus.
"And I want to say to Snooki, I miss you. I hope you're happy. I hope everything's fine with your baby and I wish you'd get rid of some of those jerks you're hanging around with," he concluded. "But that just comes from an old geezer that doesn't understand a lot of that lifestyle."
Check out our sit down with the president on Friday, "Ask Obama Live: An MTV Interview With the President," which airs at 5 p.m. E.T. (tape delayed PT) and stick with MTV's Power of 12 throughout the 2012 election season.