Meghan McCain got star treatment on the front of the Sunday Styles section hyping "Dirty Sexy Politics," her thin little account of her father's 2008 presidential campaign. Frequent Times contributor Liesl Schillinger's 2,600-word profile ("The Rebel") of the 25-year-old daughter of Sen. John McCain reads like a parody at times, so over-the-top is the praise for what sounds like an incredibly shallow read.
Of course, McCain is the Times's favorite kind of Republican, a surprisingly uninformed "progressive" whose arguments won't convince anyone except shilling Schillingers.
On a sweltering 109-degree August day, driving past election signs (John McCain, J. D. Hayworth, Ben Quayle) and cacti (saguaro), I pulled into a roadside mini-mall, hoping it was the right one. Entering a barnlike Mexican restaurant called Blanco, I scanned the bright blue banquettes for Meghan McCain.
Ms. McCain, the 25-year-old politics and pop-culture columnist for The Daily Beast and daughter of Senator John McCain, is also the author of the just-published "Dirty Sexy Politics," a frank, dishy and often scathing chronicle of her experiences during the 2008 presidential campaign. Her book is not only a front-row view of one of the most historic elections in recent American history, it is, as she told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America," a "coming-of-age story."
It's hard to see the point of this paragraph:
...in a corner booth, I at last spotted a fresh-faced woman with straight unfoofy hair and next to no makeup. Dressed in a black T-shirt with an eagle on it, cutoffs and black flip-flops with crystal peace-sign charms (from a friend's boutique), she resembled the sunny girls I used to drive to lunch with in high school in Oklahoma (where we, too, had wide-open spaces and abundant Mexican restaurant options at our disposal).
Some of the puffery come off as ridiculous:
But I figured that, after three years as a highly visible blogger, writer, Twitter user (she has 86,000 followers) and speaker on college campuses, Ms. McCain had learned to control how she comes across.
Her own book would make as gripping a read for vacationers on South Padre Island as it would for students at midterms or for politicos on the eve of midterm elections.
But "Dirty Sexy Politics" is no young-adult memoir; it's a strongly-worded political platform from which Ms. McCain attacks today's moribund, inflexible Republican Party ("all the old dudes," is one way she puts it) and clamors for change.
We eventually get a hint why the Times is promoting McCain and her book so avidly:
Throughout the book, she lays out her vision of a moderate, inclusive Republican Party that could win over young people like herself who have come of age with interactive social media and care about small government, defense, the environment and gay rights.
It infuriates her when rigid Republicans accuse her of being a Republican In Name Only, a RINO. "I cannot stand the word RINO, because I think it's an easy way to belittle someone who's flexible with the kind of world we live in," she said.
"I'm pro-life, but I'm pro birth control. I am also pro being realistic about the kind of world we live in." She supports marriage equality for gay Americans, she added, because, "I have friends who are gay, and I'd like to go to their weddings."
....her progressive views have angered traditionalists within the Republican Party. In March 2009, she wrote a column in The Daily Beast that accused Ann Coulter, the conservative American political commentator and writer, of perpetuating "negative stereotypes about Republicans," and called her "offensive, radical, insulting and confusing." "I object to people who use politics as entertainment," she told me. The column provoked Laura Ingraham, the conservative commentator and radio show host, to deride Ms. McCain on her show as "plus-sized."
Apparently it's perfectly fine to insult Ann Coulter as "offensive and radical," but commenting on McCain's weight is an offense good for several overwrought paragraphs. Schillinger went on and on about it.
But in Arizona, Ms. McCain admitted that she finds attacks on her looks hard to take. "It's very harsh," she said. "I'm of the belief that you should never say anything bad about a woman's appearance, ever. It's nothing I would ever do."
McCain seemed desperate to sound transgressive:
"I'm a 25-year-old woman with tattoos," Ms. McCain said, waving her left hand to show the black cross on her wrist, "I just live my life very openly. I don't think in this climate that I could get elected, either. I like to go to Vegas and I like to play blackjack with my friends. Can you do that if you're a candidate? No. I rest my case."
She still resents Ms. Ingraham's remark but added, "I should send her a fruit basket. It's one of the best things that's ever happened to my career. I don't care if she disagrees with me."
Schillinger and McCain squeezed several more dramatic paragraphs over enchilada-gate, an evident "snub" by Laura Bush which was literarily enriched with deep observations about who was wearing what:
It was in March 2008, two days after Mr. McCain had won four presidential primaries, clinching the Republican nomination. Mrs. Bush had invited Meghan and her mother to the White House for lunch.
Meghan dressed to the hilt, in an elegant black Diane von Furstenberg dress, a capelet and Tory Burch peep-toe heels, her hair swept up in plaits.
But when Mrs. Bush, in a sweater and slacks, greeted her and her mother, she told them there'd been a misunderstanding. The invitation only applied to Mrs. McCain. Meghan was sent to the White House mess. "I was given a doggie bag of enchiladas," Ms. McCain writes.
"Want to talk about feeling stupid and unwanted? Try carrying a take-out bag as you leave the White House in sparkly glitter heels and your hair braided in three huge cornrows."
"I hope Laura and Jenna Bush won't be angry with me for dishing like this," she writes. "But I use Taylor Swift as a model: If you don't want her to write a song about you, don't give her a reason." Zing! But at Blanco, Ms. McCain excused the Bush diss: "I think that it was a long eight years for them," she said. "They're not ill-intentioned."
After two fawning quotes saying that she could (totally!) pull off a "Meghan McCain Show" on politics, Schillinger gushed about "the book's other juicy secrets," such as (gasp) campaign sex:
There was the crazy sex among overworked "drones and journalists" blinded by "campaign goggles;" thefts of Mitt Romney signs by misbehaving McCainBlogettes; and even a Xanax mishap that left Ms. McCain "knocked out like a corpse" on a campaign plane (she gives a "special shout-out" to Cynthia McFadden of ABC, "for not putting it on ‘Nightline' ").
Schillinger doesn't spell out that it was McCain herself that stole the Romney campaign signs.
For Ms. McCain, the political is inextricable from the personal. And whether she would like to see it this way or not, her father's presidential loss also marked a new beginning for her. Since her book's release last week, she has appeared on "The View," "The Rachel Maddow Show," "Fox & Friends" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
"It was liberating to be able to tell my side of the story," she told me in Scottsdale. But the new story she's narrating is her own; she's the front-runner in a race whose goal is still unknown, but whose progress is visible.
Red State blogger Leon Wolf had some harsh but hilarious criticism of McCain and her book. Here's some of the milder stuff.
When I finished reading Dirty, Sexy Politics, I flipped to the acknowledgements section to find the name of the person who edited this travesty, so as to warn incompetent authors of the future away from utilizing this person's services, but no such person was identified therein. Either this book had no editor, or the editor assigned to the original manuscript threw up his or her hands three pages in and decided to let the original stand as some sort of bizarre performance art, like Joaquin Phoenix's appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.
Meghan's primary goal in writing Dirty, Sexy Politics appears to have been to show off her encyclopedic knowledge of who was wearing what clothes on what occasion. From all appearances, it is physically impossible for Meghan McCain to describe a given scene or occurrence without describing in detail what everyone in the room was wearing (and how their hair was done), most especially including herself. I stopped counting the number of times she informed me that she was wearing UGG boots on a given occasion at five. Dirty, Sexy Politics is 194 pages long; if you removed the descriptions of outfits and hairstyles so-and-so wore when such-and-such was going on, I doubt it would have scraped 120 pages.