Meghan McCain Will Be Heard

11.2.2010

By James Kirchick

'Does it sound campy to say I love gay men?' asks Meghan McCain, sipping an iced tea at the nouveau-chic Hotel Palomar in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle. Campy or not, the lovesick McCain has been ubiquitous this year, sallying forth on late-night TV -- Larry King Live, The Colbert Report, The Rachel Maddow Show -- to scold the Republican establishment for its social conservatism and stump for gay marriage. 'If two people fall in love, they should have the option to get married just like I can,' she told Stephen Colbert, pointing out the inherent hypocrisy of a party that believes in keeping government out of people's private lives -- except when those people are gay men and women.

McCain's timing was propitious, coming in the midst of a struggle within the GOP for direction and fresh momentum that saw Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin arrayed on one side, and, well, who, exactly, on the other? For a while, you might have said John McCain, but he disappointed with his rightward lurch during last year's presidential campaign. Could his 24-year-old daughter take up that mantle in his stead? It's telling that her favorite line from her father's election campaign was also the one that best epitomized his original promise: 'I'm not President Bush.' Although she says she has no political aspirations, McCain has an astute understanding of her own generation -- one more inclined to identify with her bright, bushy-tailed enthusiasm than with the GOP's grumpy old men. 'My generation -- we like our celebrities,' she said on Larry King Live. She was referring to Obama, whose superstar qualities have caught the attention of the world, but she might as well have been talking about herself.

Like her father, Meghan McCain isn't shy -- a fact she's quick to point out. 'I think I'm a lot like my dad,' she says. 'We're the same person.' Most noticeably, both McCains have a preternatural ability to piss off their fellow Republicans, an asset they wear on their sleeves. Within weeks of starting a regular column for The Daily Beast, McCain flexed her newfound muscle by attacking the GOP's queen of mean, Ann Coulter -- 'watching her is sometimes like watching a train wreck,' she wrote -- and dissing fellow GOP Twitterer Karl Rove, whom she branded a 'Twitter Creep.' Easy targets perhaps, but it was a smart way to position herself on the opposite side of the aisle. 'I'd be flattered to be considered the anti'Ann Coulter, the anti'Rush Limbaugh,' she says.

But it's her position on gay marriage that has garnered McCain the most attention. In a speech to the Log Cabin Republicans, she said that 'old-school Republicans' were 'scared shitless' of the future and retreating further and further into an ultraconservative crouch. In late May, a week after the New York State Assembly passed a bill that would legalize gay marriage, she penned an open letter to New York Republicans in the Daily News, which said that GOP support for the bill 'will leave a legacy that will make us all proud.'

Not surprisingly, McCain the younger has drawn poisonous quips from the party's moralizers-in-chief, including conservative columnist Laura Ingraham, who dismissed her as a 'plus-sized model' ('Kiss my fat ass,' McCain retorted on an episode of The View), and Rush Limbaugh, who suggested that she follow Arlen Specter's example and leave the GOP. More surprising has been the scorn of liberal writers such as Judith Warner of The New York Times, who called her Colbert appearance 'stupid' and 'foolish.' Much of this has to do with McCain's slightly girlie, conversational speaking style, which lacks the spit and polish of professional pundits and occasionally strays into gauche phrases and pat formulations. Yet for thousands of ordinary viewers, schooled in the language of Facebook and Twitter, that's what makes her fresh and sympathetic. She has grown up in their world, and when she talks about her love of the Scissor Sisters and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or asks readers of her blog to write in with suggestions for her next tattoo ('So far McCain in gothic letters on the back of my neck is winning my unofficial survey'), she is talking their language. It turns out those old-school Republicans are not only scared shitless of the future; they're scared shitless of her. Or, as media writer Michael Wolff put it, Meghan McCain 'was a mild diversion during the presidential campaign....But empowered, she's turned into someone who actually wants a seat at the table, apparently unaware of the incongruity and awkwardness of a 24-year-old girl among the guys with their pants pulled up high.'

Some critics have argued that McCain's support for gay rights amounts to little more than attention-seeking cynicism, that while it's nice to have the daughter of the former Republican presidential candidate's vocal support, it would've been more helpful if she'd made her views known on the campaign trail. McCain -- a fan of Lucky Cheng's drag club in New York City where she gets her Lady Bunny fix -- says that during the campaign no reporter bothered to ask for her views on the matter. Had they, she would have told the truth and not worried about further upsetting conservatives already wary of her father's maverick reputation. 'I never would have lied,' she says.

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