Know Your Right Wingers
At first glance, Meghan McCain seems totally rad. She supports gay marriage, opposes “don’t ask, don’t tell,” is in favor of stem-cell research, agrees that comprehensive sex education should be taught in schools, and actually believes climate change is a problem. What’s more, she rails against Sarah Palin, is disturbed by the racist undertones of the Tea Party movement, and even called Ann Coulter a train wreck!
And such outspokenness has made her very unpopular on the right; in fact, she has earned the moniker “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) from a group called Conservatives 4 Palin. Not easily intimidated, she defends her controversial positions, claiming that conservatives are much too confined to ideological extremism. She even extends this critique of ideological extremism more broadly to progressives. As she commented recently in The Daily Beast, "Where can we hear voices that dare to cross party lines, think outside the box, and say what they truly believe? If this country wants to simply be a place of extreme partisan politics, I think we are well on our way.” But a closer look at McCain’s positions makes one wonder whether her urge to push past partisanship is genuine.
The oldest of four children, McCain, now 25, was born and raised in Phoenix, Ariz., where she attended Xavier College Preparatory, an all-girl Catholic high school. Her father, John McCain, is, of course, the long-time U.S. senator from Arizona and 2008 GOP presidential nominee. Meghan McCain has been a public figure most of her life, appearing at various political events since childhood. Meghan McCain’s mother, the wealthy heiress to a family beer distributorship, is Cindy Lou Hensley McCain, who, after years of trying to cover-up an addiction, finally admitted to taking painkillers from her own medical relief agency. At 18, McCain registered as an Independent and voted for family friend John Kerry for president in 2004. In 2007, she graduated from Columbia University, where she majored in art history.
Although originally interested in music journalism and fashion design, McCain began gravitating more toward politics. After interning at Saturday Night Live and Newsweek, in 2008 she decided to accompany her father on the campaign trail. She registered as a Republican and began making use of her role as a public figure. She started Mccainblogette.com, a blog supposedly inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. On the site, she publicized the family’s public appearances, the campaign’s talking points, and her daily observations of the horserace. The site was a unique blend of news, multimedia, and thoughtful music recommendations.
Coinciding with the November 2008 elections, she penned a children’s book titled My Dad, John McCain and eventually landed a regular gig in early 2009 at The Daily Beast, where she provides political and social commentary. Since her rise to notoriety, she has proven quite deft at commanding the limelight. Risque photos posted to Twitter, public tiffs with right-wing pundits, and posing in a pro-marriage equality advertisement have made Meghan McCain a lightning rod for social conservatives, while guest appearances on The View, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Colbert Report, and The Rachel Maddow Show have led many in media to refer to her as the “most visible young Republican in the nation.”
In January, McCain took—and published the results of—a “GOP Purity Test," a ten-point quiz said to determine one’s conservative credentials. Though she initially criticized the test as “sinister,” she then lauded its results after passing with flying colors. She scored points for supporting “small-government” economic and health care solutions, supporting “a worker’s right to a secret ballot,” and vowing to “protect the lives of vulnerable people” by opposing “health care rationing” and “government funded abortion.”
But McCain, like most right-wing pundits, ignored health care reform and the stimulus’ support among economists, spread false claims that health care reform will ration care and provide taxpayer support for abortions, and preferred the same “free-market” approaches that have left millions jobless and uninsured. She also gave herself points for favoring troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, containment of Iraq and North Korea, and supporting gun rights.
Because she needed eight points to qualify as a bona fide conservative, McCain added a half of a point each for two positions: Sort of opposing cap-and-trade climate legislation, and opposing immigration "amnesty.” The only traditionally conservative position she outright opposed was the “Defense of Marriage Act,” since McCain has said on Larry King’s show last March that she "believes in" same-sex marriage. Considering her frequent calls for independent politicians to cross party lines, it seemed a little strange that she proudly declared, "Yes, I’m a pure Republican" when publishing her test results.
McCain also lauded Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s call for Sen. Harry Reid to resign from his leadership position after the tell-all book from the 2008 election, Game Change, revealed that he referred to Obama as lacking a “Negro dialect.” Even though the conversation around the word "negro" is nuanced, she completely endorses Steele’s comparison of Reid to Trent Lott. Couching her sweeping analogy in seemingly evenhanded rhetoric, McCain writes that progressives’ refusal to hold Reid’s feet to the same fire as Lott was a “double standard.” However, Reid’s fleeting remarks are fundamentally different than Lott’s well-documented and troubling involvement with racist groups. McCain concludes her defense of Steele by quickly dismissing Steele’s own “honest injun” remark, glossing it over as a “slang term.”
Indeed, McCain’s practice of misrepresenting facts to draw artificially evenhanded conclusions has proven quite useful. For example, after seeing the 2009 film Brothers in which a soldier returning with post-traumatic stress disorder attacks his own family, McCain concludes that Hollywood portrays soldiers in “a negative light.” She asks “Why Does Hollywood Hate Our Troops?” and argues that public would be better served to witness “heart-wrenching tales of heroism.” Conveniently, she skips over the fact that many movies depict soldiers heroically. But acknowledging this would make her thesis ridiculous and jeopardize her agenda.
Perhaps a testament to the role she sees for herself within the GOP, McCain also weighs in on the power of online marketing. After posting a link to a campy video called “Just Tax,” she glorifies the use of multimedia propaganda. A parody of Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” video, "Just Tax" establishes Obama’s economic plan as a debt-ridden ploy to tax the citizen and slash defense. Ignoring data that finds Bush’s tax cuts as the most responsible for current deficits and that the current administration has not cut the defense budget or raised taxes, a determined McCain eagerly advises conservatives to take note of the video’s “easy, simple explanation” of the left’s plan to “tax us out of debt.”
Ultimately, this self-described “progressive Republican” rhetoric does more harm than good. The only position on which McCain that can be described as progressive is her stance on marriage equality—and even there she doesn’t distinguish gay rights from other concerns within the LGBTQ community, whose bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, and queer voices are often drowned out by the politicization of gay marriage. Concealed behind a thin veil, McCain’s positions ultimately reflect little more than conservative talking points. Politeness, tech-savviness, and “believing in gay marriage” are incapable of saving conservatives from reactionary politics. If McCain is serious about her push for inclusivity and ideological independence, she needs to start applying these standards reflectively instead of exploiting them at her convenience. As a member of the fourth estate, this is now part of her job.
In Her Own Words:
“I don’t relate to the hard right. I think that’s common knowledge. It’s time to reinvent the Republican Party. And I think my dad can do it.”
"I, personally, am pro-life, but I’m not going to judge someone that’s pro-choice. It is not my place to judge other people and what they do with their body."
- On Larry King Live, March 24, 2009
"Obviously, I realize the Second Amendment has been heavily scrutinized. Its simplicity is sometimes mistaken for ambiguity. But it stands as a fundamental right, ensures the conditions for a ‘free state,’ and rewards responsible, trained citizens with the freedom to protect themselves."
"And there is plenty to respect, starting with his [Michael Steele’s] call on Fox News Sunday this weekend for Harry Reid to give up his position as Senate Majority Leader because of his racially insensitive comments about President Obama not having a ‘Negro dialect.’ Chairman Steele rightly took a hard stance, emphasizing the double standard of Democrats and Republicans making racially insensitive remarks, and comparing Reid’s comments with Trent Lott’s to Strom Thurmond in 2002."
McCain: I don’t think he was a great, great president [Bush]. But what I think is that the Obama Administration really has to stop completely blaming everything on its predecessor completely. And I really am sick of hearing, “Oh, well we were handed this, we were handed this!” I know. Everyone knows. But we need to move on…
Bill Maher: You think that that’s what Obama is doing? You think he’s doing that?
McCain: I do…to a degree
Paul Begala: Boy, not to enough of a degree. Not nearly enough. Ronald Reagan blamed Jimmy Carter everyday for eight years. In the speech, what President Bush said. One of the things he’s had to address—-
McCain: Yeah, I wasn’t born yet, so I don’t know.
Begala: Well, that’s…I wasn’t born in the French Revolution but I know about it.
Delaney Rohan is a former editorial intern for Campus Progress. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree at American University.