Is Meghan McCain the new heartbeat of the GOP or the new headache?A point/counterpoint

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.

Love her!

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.
—Danine Spencer

Shove her!

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.
—Jonanna Widner

This article was published in Consumed Issue #44 | Fall 2009
by Jonanna Widner
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by Danine Spencer
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9 Comments Have Been Posted

good job!

I'm glad you published this piece because it's something I've been thinking about. I think it's really interesting that Meghan McCain's ideologies are being touted as fresh and edgy because, essentially, she's claiming a Libertarian stance yet calling it "the new Republican."

"the new Republican"

Mandy, I think you hit the nail on the head. In my opinion, the GOP identity crisis is whether or not it becomes more Libertarian (like Ron Paul) or super right-wing conservative (like Fox News). I don't think they can survive long-term if they go the Fox News route, which disturbs me as we need a two-party system. It helps create the system of checks and balances that we've thrived on for over 200 years.
Danine Spencer
Feminist, political junkie, writer, blogger, advocate

I think Joanne missed the mark

I think Joanne is to fixated on an engrained vision of the Republic party to really do a good commentary on Meghan McCain. This comes to light right off the bat when Joanne starts to comment on few lines from a speech McCain made to the Log Cabin Group that Joanne thought "best summed up" McCain. "Putting aside the fact that McCain somehow equates wearing black and having tattoos with liberalism, let’s concentrate on sentence no. 3." McCain clearly states that "[w]hat I am talking about tonight is what it means to be a new, progressive Republican" and not equating herself to "liberalism" as Joanne thinks. Instead McCain is saying who she and what she believes as a Republican firmly grounded in traditional party principles. The Republican party has a rich progressive movement that historically when it believes that government should be involved in peoples lives (line three does not say government should never be involved) has taken action to support the very civil rights movement that Joanne writes about. Republic President Eisenhower sent in troops to enforce Brown vs Board of Education and proposed, then later signed into law, the first signification civil rights acts since the 1870s. Yes, the ugly side of the Republican party that Joanne describes is very present. However unduly lumping McCain into the mix is a great injustice to her and to Bitch readers.

Thank you

Although I forgot to also comment on this line "Whether or not Republicans are capable of caring about anyone other than rich white men is arguable..." As Spencer clearly points out, McCain does in fact care about people other than "rich white men", and it should not even be a contestable point. Yet Widner still puts this unjust rhetorical bombshell in an article on McCain at the same time trying to grandstand about equality; what a juxtaposition.

Thanks for the preview.

It's really great to see these two perspectives presented so well together here because I feel like I go back and forth between them as a non-Republican. I think on the one hand, Danine is expressing the sentiment that it would be great if more moderate conservatives could move away from the harsher neoconservative social values that have marked the Republican party in recent years. The neoconservative movement has been successful in pulling the national discourse so far right that anything to the left of it, including the Democrat party, seems "socialist." If Megan McCain is successful in pulling the Republic party left a little, creating the opportunity for the Democratic party to move even farther left, I love her and want all of her dreams to come true.
On the other hand, I think Jonanna is making the valid point that, whether framed in more or less moderate terms, traditional Republican ideas about the free market, small government and personal responsibility are problematic concepts when applied to complex social issues. They are especially problematic concepts if one sees social issues in terms of inequality and inequality as a product of capitalism and neoliberalism (that is an emphasis on free market, small government and personal responsiblity), which Jonanna may or may not being saying. But, I'm putting it out there.

Jonanna Widner is so off

Jonanna Widner is so off kilter in her assessment of Megan McCain. From the inception of her shove it diatribe, she's literally trying to find things about McCain to hate. She even goes so far as to concoct a lazzie faire stance on social conventions that McCain has never had or boasted about.

"Putting aside the fact that McCain somehow equates wearing black and having tattoos with liberalism..."

Who ever said that McCain equated black clothes and tattoos with liberalism? The only person I've ever seen to claim this is Widner herself. She's trying so hard to create a version of McCain that's so far from reality, but fits well into her vision of what McCain ought to be; something to be hated, feared, and despised. Why is she putting words in McCain's mouth? Because it's easier to hate someone when one forcibly perceives that person to be more terrible than they actually are. The black just gets blacker for Widner, and from her written piece, one can note that she dearly hopes that Megan McCain will indeed ignore the plight of minorities (such as myself) and those who's sexual preference are not conventional, but she has done otherwise be actively reaching out to both communities.

I also wonder how thoroughly Widner researched McCain, for it seems as if she went into the deep-end of her "Shove It" rant without much to go on, other than those few sentences she qouted and her own personal bias.

In the end, I feel that Megan McCain never stood a chance with Jonanna Wider for no other reason than McCain is a Republican.

I'm not a fan of Republicans or Democrats for that matter, but this article was more about hating on Republicans than looking at factual, negative aspects of Megan McCain.

Whether or not Megan McCain is the future of the GOP remains to be seen.

Conservative Bombshell

No doubt true conservative thinkers have their work cut out for them when it comes to organized political machines. I applaud McCain and her efforts to shine a light in the forest for the younger, forward thinking future of conservatism. Note I said 'conservatism' not Republicanism. What folks fail to realize is the STARK difference between the two and how we are at a defining fork in the road. Conservative voters are vastly different than the insidious members contained in the Republican party that pretend to represent them. Shame on the RINOs. McCain points this out. As a gay conservative I still hold on to the ideas of classic conservatism : limited government, lower taxes, personal responsibility, a strong defense, free markets, and the idea that being gay is 'part' of who I am not my entire existence. If Republicans allow the right wing headlock to remain in place, they are indeed doomed. Meghan's dad lost because he pandered to those idiots.

Widner's response to McCain is typical liberal bashing that is neither constructive or new. Meghan McCain may not have all or even any of the answers but at least she is stimulating productive dialogue. I admire her for being brave enough to speak out against the tired, bewildered, disinformed, biggety, blind leaders who are driving the party to the brink.

The Pavlovian shrillness of the left is oh so tiresome.

Politically Incorrect?

I think maybe "Politically Incorrect" was intended to be "Real Time with Bill Maher"? The show Politically Incorrect doesn't actually exist anymore... It was canceled following Maher's comments regarding 9/11.

Keep one another in check? Check.

But we really don't need, as one poster accurately stated, to actively look for reasons to hate on one of our sisters. Love it/Shove it has the unenviable job of balancing between needed criticism and playing devil's advocate. But this column focuses on the petty instead of the poignant, and fosters the notion that a pull towards more progressive politics could ever be a bad thing. Something only allowed if the person striving for progression (granted, that is relative like a mofo in this case) is approved by lefties. That isn't going to happen. So let's take it where we can get it. Progression is progression.

Besides, everyone knows Ms. McCain will switch parties one day. But in the interim Bitch should try to offer a perspective we couldn't get from Faux News or any periodical aimed at dudes.

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