Dirty Sexy Politics
By Meghan McCain
(Hyperion, 194 pages, $23.99)
One hesitation that any male reviewer will have when attempting to evaluate Dirty Sexy Politics is this: do I really want to make Meghan McCain cry?
It's not a hard thing to do because Miss McCain is admittedly "way too sensitive for politics probably, and really emotional by nature." Moreover, she is proud of this fact. "I can't fight it and I don't want to," she writes in this brief memoir of life on the campaign trail. "I'd rather have big feelings than shut down and become dead inside. I've seen what that way of dealing with life does to people, how it plays a direct hand in the disconnection between politics and people."
Color her connected. While the rest of John McCain's offspring decided to take a pass on their dad's ill-fated second bid for the presidency, Meghan, a recent graduate from Columbia with a degree in art history, decided what she really wanted to do was ride the Straight Talk Express. Using funds inherited from her maternal grandfather, Meghan hired a team to help her produce McCain Blogette, a daily online campaign diary with lots and lots of pictures.
The media buzz generated by that effort helped her to secure two book contracts -- for the children's book My Dad, John McCain and this present effort -- and an irregular column for the Daily Beast. Titles of the four most recent columns will give readers a sense of her literary achievements there: "The Palin Girls Don't Share"; "The Right Guy Won in Arizona"; "Meghan Meets Michaele Salahi"; and, daringly, "I Don't Care About Obama's iPod."
Meghan takes pride in taking politics very personally, so we aren't surprised to learn that she has strong opinions about the person her dad should have picked as his running mate to lose to Barack Obama. She wanted Joe Lieberman and hoped that it wouldn't be Mike Huckabee (who should go "lead the evangelicals") or -- shudder -- Mitt Romney.
Miss McCain worried about "campaigning across the country with five married Mormon men" -- Romney's five sons -- "and all those baby grandchildren…" The Romneys were "all so handsome, in a tooth-whitener commercial kind of way, and so seriously wholesome" that they might object to the "constant drinking and swearing that went on in our campaign…[n]ot to mention all the tawdry stories about crazy-sex…" that she insists, loudly, she didn't participate in.
She graciously allows that she could have accepted the Romneys but she worried that "they'd disapprove of me -- my bleached hair, my swearing, my 'edgy' clothes, not to mention my gay friends. Would they accept me or scorn me as some kind of closet liberal who didn't fit in?"
Fortunately, she didn't have to risk their wholesome Mormon disapproval. Unfortunately, the McCain campaign worried that she'd blab it, and so refused to tell her that they'd decided on Alaska governor Sarah Palin for veep. That was just too much. After mother Cindy McCain told her, "I'm not going to tell you" because "we don't want anyone to know," Meghan "clicked off the phone and immediately started crying," and that wasn't all. "Crying became bawling, which evolved quickly into uncontrollable sobbing."
It fell to Shannon and Heather, her blog production team, to get her ready for the cameras:
"You need to bathe!" Shannon admonished.
I kept sobbing.
"You've got to pull it together!"
I was still overcome.
"People are going to be watching you, girl."
It was hard to fathom why my parents would let me down so much.
"Get showered, get serious, and get some mascara on!"
Eventually, she showered. On the bus to meet Palin, Meghan decided she had chosen the wrong outfit. She headed to the bathroom to change dresses and a, uh, wardrobe malfunction ensued: "When a zipper became stuck on my bra, I kicked open the bathroom door, stood in the back of the bus in my bra, and called out to my friends." In case you were worried, she was fully clothed and no longer teary-eyed by the time she met the Palins.
Meghan cries a lot in this brief book: before meeting the Palins; at the Republican convention; after she reads a profile of her in Esquire, which painted her as a beer-swilling, bi-curious, bleached-blond firecracker; countless times along the campaign trail; and any time she thinks of New Hampshire.
John McCain's handlers found her so difficult to manage that they eventually offered her a choice: either go home or take your own bus well away from the main McCain campaign, on a tour through "Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, and Florida." She took the bus. Her dad lost all four states.
IT'S DIFFICULT TO TAKE Miss McCain's political ideas seriously, but let's pretend. She wanted Lieberman for vice president, the same Joe Lieberman who was Al Gore's running mate in 2000. He is technically an independent after he lost a Democratic primary, but has the voting record of a typical moderate liberal Democrat. This would have led to an open revolt by delegates to the Republican National Convention. They would have rejected her dad's pick and who knows where they would have stopped.
Meghan calls herself "passionately pro-life" (Mormon grandchildren notwithstanding) but it seems more rhetoric than a real, thought-out, grown-up position. She finds advocacy of abstinence to be practically medieval. She frets that in dealing with Bristol Palin's pregnancy, the McCain campaign should have used this as "an opportunity to discuss the importance of contraception." Boy, wouldn't that have made a great line in John McCain's stump speeches!
And she cannot fathom why the Republican Party doesn't get with it on gay marriage and being more tolerant of…her outfits. A gay friend of mine satirized her point of view by writing, "She, like, has tattoos and stuff. And is, like, totally not one of those H8rs!"
Our young author could have given us ample reasons to want to read an account of the McCain campaign. She doesn't have a supple intellect but she does have other charms. Her children's book making the case for her father wasn't awful and McCain Blogette had a lot of fun campaign pics she could have used to wrap a narrative around.
But those pictures are nowhere to be found in Dirty Sexy Politics and have been removed from the website. She's making a play for readers to take her seriously -- an effort that can only end in tears, I'm afraid.
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