Last Wednesday, Rachel Maddow welcomed Meghan McCain on the set of her show for an interview in which Maddow questioned Ms. McCain about her potential role as a new and “fresh” spokesperson for the Republican party. With Michael Steele continuing to unravel on camera and Rush Limbaugh publicly holding on to the delusion that he is the de facto leader of the political right, it’s no secret that the Republicans could use someone more hip and more articulate to help corral the party into something “average Americans” might actually want to associate with again.
Enter Meghan McCain. At twenty-four, she has youth (and the energy that comes with it) on her side, and a higher level of “with-it-ness” at her disposal, what with her personal blog, McCain Blogette, her ongoing contributions to The Daily Beast, her Facebook page, and her twitterstream through which she keeps a running monologue of all things Meghan. So if the media is right about Barack Obama’s success being due, in part, to his campaign’s understanding of how to use social media to reach out to and galvanize young voters, then Ms. McCain is already making the right moves to position herself as the person who could conceivably help make the Republican party powerful again. Indeed, she has written about her frustrations with the Republican party’s seeming lack of web presence and how it likely prevents them from attracting younger supporters, and thus she clearly understands the value in “putting herself out there” in a virtual sense.
And putting herself out there, she is. On Maddow, McCain made a point of saying, “I will never run for office,” but such a declaration, of course, is the kind of thing usually made by people who most certainly will be running for office. Besides, it’s easy at twenty-four to say you’ll never do a lot of things that, by the time you’re thirty or forty, might seem more attractive or interesting to you, and therefore a claim as bold as, “I will never run for office,” sounds, at best, a bit precocious when it’s coming from someone barely out of college.
Still, whether she wants to run for office or not, McCain is clearly keeping herself in the public eye, most notably by criticizing some of the most outspoken voices of anti-left punditry, and that willingness to call out her own is making her quite the phenomenon these days. When she wrote a blog post titled, “My Beef with Ann Coulter”, Ms. McCain took plenty of heat from Republicans who accused her of being–gasp!–an Independent and lambasted her father for losing the election because, as one commenter remarked, “Moderates never win elections.” She also received a fair amount of praise from people who prefaced their comments with lines like, “I’m a liberal,” or “I voted for Obama,” but then went on to say how much they “respected” Ms. McCain for her level-headed criticism of people like Limbaugh and Coulter.
Still, while she may seem to be taking some heat from Republicans for her readiness to publicly accuse Ann Coulter for actually hurting the Republican party with her antics, Ms McCain isn’t doing anything so revolutionary. Is it really all that “brave” to point out that Ann Coulter is “offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing”? It hardly seems fair to award points to someone for pointing out what everyone but only the most unstable among us already knows.
And that brings us to the real problem with Meghan McCain and all the attention she’s currently receiving. Her criticism of people like Coulter and Limbaugh is grounded in the harm she feels they do to the message of the party: if these nut jobs are the folks who’ve appointed themselves the messengers, then clearly your party is going to suffer from a slight image problem. But really, throwing the blame onto right-wing blowhards simply seems like further evidence that the Republican party is more off the grid than people think. No matter what Coulter and Limbaugh are saying, the problem with the Republican party is not that no one in it has spoken out against these two; it’s that no one in the party spoke out against George Bush as he spent eight years rolling out one failed policy after another, driving our country and those we invaded deep into debt and disrepair. In case you haven’t noticed, Ms. McCain, our country has had its own image problem abroad, and it has nothing to do with what Ann Coulter’s been saying. Message only matters in terms of the policies the message represents.
We might wonder, then, what Republican policies Ms. McCain feels are worth embracing, and which she feels have clearly been problematic. After all, if she truly wants to change the direction of the Republican party, she is going to need to do a lot more than take potshots at the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter. She told GQ that she is, “Socially liberal, economically conservative,” and has remarked that the Republican party has been wrong about such things as gay marriage. But again, these confessions are so often put in the context of what the Republican party needs to do to sell itself to other people, rather than what it needs to do to do the right thing. So much of what she said on Rachel Maddow was in regards to reshaping “message” to make the Republican party “look” better to others.
Meanwhile, the Republican party was looking even more ridiculous as Republican senators called on the federal government to “tighten its belt” during the recession and Republican governors refused stimulus money designated for their struggling states simply to make a point. They had eight years to make a point about bad economic policy, but maybe during those eight years it didn’t look like bad policy, so they remained silent, but now feel they need to somehow register their discontent, no matter how lacking in credibility they may be.
In an effort to understand the Republican point of view on the stimulus package, Maddow asked Meghan McCain, “Do you agree with the Republican Party right now on policy, like on what to do about the economic crisis?” to which McCain responded, “I agree with my father that there should not be as much pork that‘s going on. There is pork in each segment of the bill. I think that [it’s] awful.” Recognizing perhaps that this was an incredibly vague answer that sounded more like someone repeating a campaign soundbite than offering an intelligent point of view (really, what “pork” does she object to, and why?) , Maddow asked, ” But you can‘t agree with [your father] on the spending freeze?” McCain’s response? “No economic things – I said it on ‘Hannity.’ I didn‘t take economics in college. I don‘t completely understand so I‘d hate to make a comment one way or the other…I keep reading, and I just do not understand it.”
So despite having classified herself as “economically conservative,” she admits to having absolutely no understanding of economics whatsoever. It seems odd to classify oneself as something without knowing what that classification entails, but that hasn’t stopped Meghan McCain. She knows what’s good for the party, you see, and she’s not afraid to come out and say it. Unfortunately, though, her continued attention on the message of the party in place of any critique of its policies makes her a lot less like the web-savvy Obama campaigners she’s clearly modeling herself after and a lot more like the right-wing “personalities” she so publicly denounces: her rhetoric is long on words but short on real ideas–in short, the same combination that got the Republican party–and, indeed, the United States–to the place it is right now.