- Title: Dirty Sexy Politics
- Author: Meghan McCain
- Publisher: Hyperion
- Release Date: August 2010
- Hardcover, 194 pages
- My Rating: 2/5 stars
- Synopsis: Meghan McCain discusses her time spent on the campaign trail during her father John McCain’s 2008 bid for President.
Most of you have probably already read Leon Wolf’s scathing review of this book. In my approximate year and a half spent on Twitter, I can’t recall a single article getting that many Re-Tweets in my timeline ever before. In the interest of full disclosure: I don’t like Leon Wolf for personal reasons and my issue with him is serious enough that I’m probably going to dislike or disagree with anything he writes. My review of this book is no exception. To me, his article felt like half book review, half hit piece. (He starts with making a legal distinction between the mentally retarded and the just plain stupid, and near the end of the piece states that the book would be enough evidence for a medical professional to make a DSM-IV diagnosis of psychological disturbance.) I follow a lot of conservatives on Twitter because of my love for the show Red Eye, so I’m aware that the consensus seems to be that you all miss Leon Wolf’s presence there and hate (or at least strongly dislike) Meghan McCain’s online persona. For that reason, I was very apprehensive about reviewing this book for my blog.
I planned to post this review for Fearless Friday, as I’m calling it when I force myself out of my comfort zone, but I was delayed due to technical difficulties. Now is probably as good a time as any to break out this book review. SPOILER ALERT! Here goes nothing…
Meghan McCain is famous solely because she is the daughter of John McCain and she acknowledges as much. She writes of her desire to befriend other “daughters-of,” as she calls them, to discuss their common life experiences in that role of the ‘stand still, look pretty’ political prop. After graduating from college, she used her own money to finance a blog of her own creation, McCainBlogette.com, ostensibly to give people a more human, less political, behind the scenes look at her father’s 2008 Presidential campaign. Is Dirty Sexy Politics a classic work of literature? No. Is it a political playbook for the GOP going into the mid-term elections this year and the 2012 presidential race? No. But if you expected it to be either of those things, you need to seriously re-evaluate your expectations of Meghan McCain. This book is frivolous, and Meggie Mac’s choice of title underscores that point.
Dirty Sexy Politics, for what it is, isn’t all that great of a book. It is in serious need of an editor but no such person is credited in the Acknowledgments, which seems suspicious. I’d guess it was probably only edited by her father’s most trusted advisors rather than anyone on Hyperion’s staff if she is stuck with using the pseudonyms “Mr. Burns” and “Blond Amazon” to the two campaign staffers she has only negative things to say about.
I’ll break it down for you. At one point, Meghan describes an interview she gave to CBS as part of a piece also featuring “daughters-of” Sarah Huckabee and Cate Edwards. Her most notable quote from the profile was: “Just because you, like, watch The Hills, doesn’t mean, like, you can’t, like, be involved in politics.” I can sympathize with Meghan’s horrified reaction after the piece aired:
“I couldn’t help but remember all the other things I had said to the reporter of the CBS interview, things that (in my memory, anyway) were smarter and less peppered with likes. The producers of the segment could have shown me in a better light – if they’d had a reason to. Maybe it was better television, better entertainment, to make me look like an idiot.
But did I have to make it so damn easy for them?
After all the money spent on my education, and hours studying at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, a Catholic girls school, and later at Columbia University, and after all the other various social and political events I had been privileged to attend, and brilliant people I’d been lucky enough to meet, you’d think that I could find a way to talk or dress like I’m not straight out of a mall in Scottsdale.
No offense, Scottscale.
Well, you know what I mean.”
This is the issue of the book in microcosm: the grammar issues interfere with Meghan’s ability to convey a decent point or observation to the reader. The funny lines at the end work for her, but too late to really leave the impression she wants. That said, poor editing didn’t make the book completely unreadable.
Meghan does make a note of what everyone was wearing and so on and so forth at various events, which for some people comes off as vain. One of the most popular book quotes I’ve seen is: “My hair is my security blanket. When it looks good, I feel good. That’s true for lots of women.” But Meghan’s focus on the aesthetic makes sense to me for three reasons. First, Meghan’s appeal is primarily to young people who don’t consider themselves political. And this just in: women, gays, and those wily metrosexuals stereotypically like fashion! From a PR standpoint, this choice makes a lot of (dollars and) sense. Second, she majored in art history at Columbia University. And finally, Meghan writes about the double standard about what women in politics look like. She was presumably writing this book when all the hullabaloo over a photograph of her in a tank top, cleavage on display, holding the Andy Warhol biography she said she’d be spending a “spontaneous night in” with, so I imagine the topic was on her mind. On the campaign trail, Meghan was bothered when she was repeatedly called ‘voluptuous’ in print and in the blogosphere. “Why describe my body at all?” She continues, “For a woman in politics, revealing things that make you a woman is a total negative. No boobs. No ass. Not much leg. Bare arms, like Michelle Obama’s, became a huge story.”
She continues the comparison, citing Hilary Clinton’s short hair and pant suits and Sarah Palin’s half up, half down hairstyle and skirt suits. “How much time had Hilary Clinton spent considering her outfits and accessories for debates – or sitting in a salon chair getting her hair done? My dad didn’t have things like that to worry about.” She extends this discussion to candidates’ families and spouses. “On camera, and onstage, women in politics weren’t supposed to seem angry, ever. You had to seem soft, sweeter than a guy, compassionate, and at least believably maternal. My mom was all of those things […] but when she got on a stage or gave an interview, she shut down.” I have to agree, Cindy McCain definitely came off as frigid. Meanwhile, candidate Hilary tearing up made her too feminine but downing a shot of whiskey made her too masculine.
One of the best-kept secrets in recent political history is probably the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate. And Meghan is very candid about describing the screaming, crying meltdown she had the night before she met Sarah Palin for the first time. She hoped it would be Joe Lieberman, but assumed it would be Mitt Romney. She didn’t hear the name ‘Sarah Palin’ until she saw TV footage of the Palins’ private jet arriving from Alaska, just like the rest of us did. Given her own admitted inability to keep a secret, I wasn’t surprised. But she was. Now she writes: “I don’t have any illusions about what my real job was on the campaign. I can talk about the blog and my moderate Republican fanbase until I’m blue in the face, but basically, all my job ever was, or would be – even if I became a First Daughter – was to stand up straight (chin up, core tight, it all helps with the camera angles), keep a smile on my face, look admiringly at my father, and clap at the appropriate times.” Of her own failings, she says: “When you are twenty-three years old everything seems about you, despite all evidence to the contrary.”
One of Meghan’s disappointments was that she liked Sarah and all of the Palins but there was little time spent together and miscommunications between the camps about socializing Partridge Family-style. One of the only negative points Meghan raises in the book is about Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy: “While I admired anyone who didn’t try to make an unwanted pregnancy disappear privately with an abortion, I couldn’t help but feel a very important message was missing. Rather than seizing an opportunity to discuss the importance of contraception, the campaign seems to be glamorizing teen pregnancy. And rather than a sense of remorse about Bristol’s condition, there seemed only glee and excitement. Did the campaign really want to suggest that a pro-life message was more important than a message of how to avoid teen pregnancy to begin with?” And right now on Dancing With The Stars, Bristol is capitalizing on her own 15 minutes of fame. In addition to that paycheck, she makes money by preaching abstinence to teens…which is pretty hypocritical. Meghan makes the point that it’s great to have a moral stance, but: “Abstinence doesn’t seem practical to me. It seems like a way of avoiding reality and real conversations about complicated things like pregnancy and STDs. […] This heat-of-the moment change of heart [on a vow of abstinence until marriage] often happens when no contraception is being used.” Honestly, I don’t think being pro-life necessarily conflicts with being pro-birth control either, but I’m a liberal so it doesn’t matter.
(The other negative moment of note is Sarah Palin hamming it up onstage for the crowd after John McCain had already delivered his concession speech. And Sarah Palin hasn’t stopped since, most recently giving endorsements candidates for the upcoming mid-term elections.)
Meghan does devote the majority of the introduction and conclusion to her vision for the Republican party – not enough explanation or textbook-style references to be clear to anyone, no matter how closely they follow politics. (She invokes the names of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Regan but implies the latter is overused in a bizarre mixture of the words “oversaturated” and “white noise.”) Excepting the 2 pages on Bristol Palin that I quoted, the rest of the book keeps the issues to a bare minimum and instead is a diary of the campaign. There are some really funny anecdotes about all the cheap motels they stayed in, some with fake plastic grass on the floor and too many with pubic hair that she and her staffers had to blow-dry off the toilet seats and showers. And after her father lost, Meghan writes touchingly about how he took quiet time to call a long list of donors personally and spent every meal grilling for the family. If you’re a John McCain fan, it’s probably at least worth borrowing a copy of Dirty Sexy Politics from the library for those moments alone.
Given what happened in the 2000 South Carolina Presidential Primary, Meghan McCain’s disdain for George W. Bush is understandable. It was alleged that John McCain had children out of wedlock, and specifically pointed out Meghan’s younger sister Bridget, who was adopted from Bangladesh, as a “Negro child.” Further negative robo-calls painted McCain as “mentally unstable from his years spent in prison as a POW or a Manchurian candidate secretly planning to spread communism.” Meghan was 15 years old then, so I can understand her hyper-awareness of public perception, which I’ve seen many people go so far as to call paranoia, imagining boogeymen, or self-victimization. She admits that because of this incident, she registered to vote as an Independent, and in 2004 she voted for Democratic candidate John Kerry over then-President Bush. She changed her official designation to Republican to coincide with her father’s 2008 campaign. If that had happened to my father, errr, strike that, my father’s a complete douchebag and simply allowing him to live is charitable. If that had happened to my grandfather who I love and respect, I would have been pissed off too.
Such a public rift between John McCain and President Bush makes Meghan’s anecdote about being invited with her mother Cindy for lunch at the White House with Laura and Jenna Bush all the more bizarre. I don’t think Bush was directly responsible for those attacks, but he certainly benefited from them. The simple fact that it was necessary for Bush to invite McCain to bury the hatchet at a public endorsement ceremony at the White House, should have been enough to get Mrs. Bush’s staffers’ attention on this meeting as well. But Meghan wasn’t invited for lunch too. Jenna didn’t want to have to take her down to the White House mess to eat so by the time Meghan and her two blog staffers had ordered they had to leave because Cindy and Laura’s lunch was over. But rather than making the story about how the Bushes hate the McCains, in the limousine Meghan and her staffers tried to one-up each other, making the retelling of the mistake as hilarious as possible.
In Dirty Sexy Politics, Meghan doesn’t specifically quote or call out people who have said nasty things to her behind closed doors. I think this is partly at the urging of her father’s staffers and partly because if you can’t prove it happened, you open yourself up to lawsuits over what you choose to print. Anecdotally, I myself have gotten death threats over my views on health care reform from people who I thought were my (albeit conservative) friends. And hey, I don’t think if I named names that the people in question might actually sue me! So I don’t think she’s paranoid and delusional, constructing boogeymen out of thin air. If you really think Meggie Mac is a narcissistic attention whore, here’s an idea: don’t follow her on Twitter, don’t watch her on TV, and don’t read her book! (And if you don’t like me, I’m not forcing you to read my blog or follow me on Twitter either.) Personally, I think you need to embrace Meghan McCain for what she really is: a media persona. Do I think she’s a MENSA-worthy genius? No. But I’m not suggesting she be your next Great Republican Thinker. I’m suggesting you make the most of the PR attention on her. She’s the Vince, you’re the Sham-Wow. (I hear those things really do work, for what it’s worth.)
If you want to take a stab at appointing some other Official Young Republican to trot out for PR appearances, that’s worth a try. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Thomas Sowell, Mark Steyn, Andrew Brietbart et al aren’t exactly bringing large numbers of young people into the Republican fold. Meggie Mac is mainstream and moderate enough to do that. Is she running for political office? No. So I have a hard time understanding why I seem to see more attacks on Meggie Mac for just being herself on her own time than I do for actual political candidates like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell. If your first campaign ad has to make it clear to your potential constituents that you are not, in fact, a witch… It’s kinda hard to take you seriously as a political candidate. Not to mention the allegations of campaign finance irregularities. The same people who initially made jokes about Christine O’Donnell’s anti-masturbation stance with the Twitter Hashtag game #NoMasturbationNoPeace are the ones calling for party unity (or… #UnityDirtyUnity)! Maybe that should be applied to Meghan as well?
Right now as I’m writing, there is venom being spewed at Meghan for her Tweet at 5:53pm EST yesterday: “apparently if I were an a-cup my comments about Christine O’Donnell would have been a lot less offensive, didn’t we do this 2 years ago? [sic]” She’s talking about reaction on the right to her appearance on the Sunday talk show This Week, where she called O’Donnell a “nutjob” who is “making a mockery of running for public office.” You do realize her Tweet is a response to people like Dan Riehl calling her a “self-indulgent set of mega-breasts” after said TV appearance? Or Doug Powers’ choice of photo on Michelle Malkin’s blog? If you’re you’re going to take Meghan seriously enough as a political pundit to spend your time and energy responding to her appearance on This Week, I’m guessing you’ll hear a lot less about her body if you stop bringing it up. You know, keep it classy and do unto others and all that jazz? Her 15 minutes of fame aren’t going to end if you don’t let them. If you stop talking about her, she will go away. She knows how to rile you all up and use that to her advantage. Right now? You’re serving as great promo for her new piece on O’Donnell over at The Daily Beast.
(Caveat: Yes, I do agree that Meghan does focus on her body more than most people do. It makes sense because she doesn’t have the typical tall, thin, model-esque look that other conservative women have, ex. Ann Coulter. But I’m just sayin’…it becomes a vicious cycle. Don’t talk about her body, then she won’t have a legitimate excuse to either.)
I’ll leave you with one last tidbit. From the GQ interview in which she made the political gaffe of describing Barack Obama as “sexy,” Meghan admits that, “Yes, I said all those things. Mea culpa and all that.” Despite being 22 and 23 years old then and only 26 now, Meghan says she’s learned a lot. I guess that’s for you to decide.
“First impressions are important. And the birth of my media persona wasn’t so wonderful. Thousands of people were introduced to John McCain’s daughter this way. I seem to be a big dummy with a big mouth and a beer bottle in her hand.
The funny thing is, I don’t even drink much.
But I guess I do have a big mouth.”