Meghan McCain wants to be memorable. In her new memoir Dirty Sexy Politics, she complains about a Secret Service-issued pin she had to wear during the 2008 campaign to identify herself as John McCain’s daughter. “Forget the pin,” McCain writes: “Remember my face. Could you do that?”
For those who don’t remember Meghan McCain’s face or writing, she remains the second-most famous daughter from the 2008 Republican ticket. During the election, she ran a blog detailing her travels with her father’s campaign. The blog, called McCain Blogette, has disappeared from the internet, but McCain has grown relatively well-known as a writer on the subject of how the Republican Party might attract young voters.
Her appeal is clear, as with each column and Tweet she’s assiduously groomed a dual self. She’s, aside from her support of gay marriage, a fairly dutiful young Republican and Senator’s daughter, but she’s a rebel in her mind, simultaneously as a punk (the pin imbroglio, getting caught stealing Romney campaign signs) and as a GOP Marianne. “Don’t let me pick up this torch alone,” she exhorts the Republican Party.
The torch she holds stands in for merit-badge notions like freedom, inclusiveness, and technological awareness – it stands for making noises that would welcome young people who feel less like outsiders than iconoclasts – but what McCain is saying hardly matters as much as how it’s said. The 2008 election provides an apt backdrop for a series of poses, each of them flattering in a Facebook-photo sense. McCain knows which angles to work.
Here Meghan is at the White House, with a vaguely disinterested Jenna Bush! (“I was excited to be there, but they weren’t excited to have me.”) Here’s Meghan with her closest friends on the campaign – smile! Each vignette places McCain amidst drama, but never at fault: the man who catches her stealing Romney signs, for instance, is “super-dorky” and a “jerk.” She’s kicked off her father’s campaign, but only because the organizers can’t understand the energy she might bring, if properly used.
The political children who’ve sought the spotlight are few in number; most tend to seem shy and retiring once the camera lights fade. Certainly, Jenna Bush, who’s published a children’s book and appears on TV periodically, has refused to allow the world the access to her emotions that McCain, three years younger, freely grants. And the likes of Alice Roosevelt Longworth (mentioned, totemically, in the memoir) and Patti Reagan Davis would have been befuddled by McCain’s ability to instantly transmit her feelings, if not also the impulse to blog at all.
And Dirty Sexy Politics begins to feel like a blog one’s read too long: while clearly worried over, McCain’s persona grates on the reader at times. A lengthy passage where Meghan McCain weeps and curses when her parents won’t reveal Sen. McCain’s running mate was especially poorly advised. Palin’s identity is “wrongfully secret”; McCain is still so angry about the incident that peripheral figures on the morning of the Palin announcement earn invective. “I know I will later claim that Steve Schmidt was my least favorite person on the campaign, but I really do mean it about Mr. Burns.” Mr. Burns, a political advisor pseudonymously named after Homer Simpson’s evil boss, knows information “the candidate’s daughter and a campaign blogger” doesn’t.
This is where the garrulously open ethos of the social-network generation and the duties of the political child part ways. The Meghan McCains of the world are obligated less to seem perfect than to seem relatable, somehow (a point McCain, in her litany of outfit descriptions, seems to miss). In her attempts to bridge the campaign to the hyper-democratic blogosphere, McCain only highlights how many surreal entitlements come with being a Presidential candidate’s daughter. Many bloggers just like her document their fights with their fathers; few of those fights are about the father’s running mate. There’s a reason daughters like Chelsea Clinton never spoke up, and not because, as McCain tartly claims, they seem to “be waiting for someone to peel them a grape.” It’s because when McCain opens her keyboard, she proves that she’s doing just that.
McCain seems to think that blog fame and real-world repute are interchangeable: “I should be allowed in and asked to join the team,” she writes of the Republican Party’s power brokers. It’s not meant as an insult, though, to say that no one on that team is interested in Meghan McCain for her ideas. As the 2008 campaign moves ever more into memory – and as McCain’s hoped-for open, welcoming Republican party moves ever more into the realm of fantasy – one suspects she’ll devote more of her energies to cultivating a web following rather than carrying political torches. Best of luck to her as she tries to become memorable online, or at least a meme – she’ll be a part of the most democratic system on earth.