Is Meghan McCain the new heartbeat of the GOP or the new headache?
You may know her as John McCain’s cute, blonde, 24-year-old daughter, whose site, McCain Blogette, may have been the first campaign-trail travelogue to dish about its author’s favorite cosmetics and love of Tupac. You may have seen her appearances on The Rachel Maddow Show or Politically Incorrect. And you may have heard about her kerfuffle with conservative columnist Laura Ingraham, who made fat jokes about the young McCain, to which she responded in a Daily Beast column titled “Quit Talking About My Weight, Laura Ingraham.” What you may not know is that Meghan McCain is currently being shined up as the new face of Republican politics in a time when that party is grasping wildly at relevance. She’s pro-God, pro-gun, pro-life, and pro-military—but, as she’s constantly pointing out, pro-sex and pro-gay as well. Two writers ponder the polarizing upstart.
As we all know, the Republican Party is currently experiencing an identity crisis: With no real leader since last year’s presidential election, Rush Limbaugh and the far-right wing seem to be growing ever closer to taking over the party. Moderate Republicans are feeling alienated; the party base is shrinking; and with a recession, two wars, and countless other problems, it’s time to revitalize the two-party system.
But almost no one in the GOP has been willing to challenge the far right except Meghan McCain. Using hip, liberal-leaning websites and youth-friendly social-networking platforms, McCain is reaching out to younger Republicans and confronting the ills that plague the Republican Party.
In a controversial March 2009 column in the Daily Beast, McCain argued that the GOP needs to reject calls from überconservatives like Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to “purify” the party. “I think most people my age are like me in that we all don’t believe in every single ideal of each party specifically. The GOP should be happy to have any young supporters whatsoever, even if they do digress some from traditional Republican thinking.” She revisited the topic on a May episode of The Colbert Report, telling Stephen Colbert the party needs to change its tone on LGBT issues: “I do believe the Republican Party can be a safe place for the gay community…. If you go to the basic belief of the Republican Party, if you want to keep the government out of your life, why can’t that include [gay] marriage?”
And while she’s at it, MMC thinks Republicans should wise up and realize abstinence-only sex education programs just aren’t enough, writing in another Daily Beast column, “The GOP Doesn’t Understand Sex”: “If we can’t discuss birth control in addition to abstinence, and in a nonjudgmental way, kids will continue to make bad choices for lack of having access to informed, safe options.”
Not everyone loves a political whippersnapper, but even as a liberal Democrat myself, I’m nursing a serious crush on McCain, who’s got charisma her father could only hope for. Unsurprisingly, there have been numerous calls from the likes of Limbaugh for McCain to pipe down and leave the party. Still, as right-wing politicians and pundits wring their hands and whine over the future of the GOP, McCain is emerging as an intelligent, funny, confident young woman who loves her party and wants it to succeed. If the Republican Party doesn’t want her, maybe she should start her own.
You’re darn tootin’ the Republican Party finds itself leaderless right now—who wants to grab the helm of a ship adrift in a sea of shit? But yes, Meghan McCain seems pretty convinced that there is a way to marry a liberal philosophy on social issues with classic Republican ideology. The problem is, she’s wrong.
Before we get to how she’s wrong, let’s explore how McCain envisions this cozy coupling of lefty-righty politics. Via various media outlets, McCain has been hammering home her I-contain-political-multitudes message with a steady cadence. She perhaps best summed up who she is in a recent speech to the Log Cabin Republicans, in which she proclaimed:
I am concerned about the environment. I love to wear black. I think government is best when it stays out of people’s lives and business as much as possible. I love punk rock. I believe in a strong national defense. I have a tattoo. I believe government should always be efficient and accountable. I have lots of gay friends. And yes, I am a Republican.
Putting aside the fact that McCain somehow equates wearing black and having tattoos with liberalism, let’s concentrate on sentence no. 3. This sentence, along with the tenets of fiscal conservatism and relying on a free market to correct social ills, embodies classic Republican philosophy. It’s commendable that McCain is vocal in her criticism of the GOP’s current incarnation, which prioritizes hellfire-and-damnation histrionics at the expense of pretty much everything else. But that doesn’t mean the party’s laissez-faire ideology is compatible with advancing the social issues—gay rights, sex education that goes beyond abstinence-only, the environment—to which McCain is apparently so attached.
Gay marriage is a good hypothetical case study: Let’s say McCain gets her wish, and the GOP powers that be decide to “stay out of people’s lives,” and not give a shit who marries whom. It still wouldn’t be enough. History has shown us that rights need both enacting and protecting, and that requires legislative muscle, and that in turn requires—somewhere down the line—a government that cares enough to act. Whether or not Republicans are capable of caring about anyone other than rich white men is arguable, but even if they did, their core principles would dictate that they not act. Let the chips fall where they may, they’d shrug.
The problem is, sometimes the chips fall and it gets dangerous. Back in 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard was beaten, pistol-whipped, tortured, and left for dead, tied to a buck fence. He died five days later, and his assailants used the “gay panic” defense in court, claiming they freaked out because he hit on them. More than 10 years later, Wyoming—and many other states—has no substantial hate-crime laws.
And this is what McCain doesn’t get. When violence is at hand, and when people can’t feel safe in their own country, active government is called for. That means not just passively waiting for rights to spring up out of thin air, but actively pushing for them via legislation and government involvement. The history of this country has proven it: Would the civil rights movement have succeeded without Brown v. Board of Education and its ensuing laws? Would the marchers and protesters and school integrators have survived without the National Guard troops guarding their flanks? Sometimes justice requires a symbiotic effort on all fronts; neither the grassroots movement nor its governmental counterpart could have made it without the other.
I’m guessing that’s not what goes through the minds of McCain and her many faithful queens in the Log Cabin Republicans. I’m guessing that, for her, it feels very brave and progressive to take on Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh via Twitter, or to assert that she’s “pro-sex” on The Colbert Report. But all McCain is really asking for is a much larger tent, full of even more people her party will be all too happy to ignore.
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