Meghan McCain: My Dad Thinks I ‘Joined the Dark Side’

Interview by Tara Kutz

Meghan McCain, the vivacious, platinum blonde daughter of Sen. John McCain, is making the rounds in television punditry as a new face for young, moderate Republicans. Often with a flair for the dramatic, she’s been splashed on celebrity gossip sites, criticized for her vocabulary snafus, provocative tweets, lunching with Tila Tequila, and even spending an entire day riding an elephant for the cover shot of her 2008 campaign memoir, Dirty Sexy Politics.

But making a splash seems to be her forte.

Between TV appearances, the Columbia University alumna spoke with Pushback about her new(ish) role at MSNBC and the second coming of her campaign blog, McCainBlogette. The edited interview below:

You recently became a contributor on MSNBC—tell us about your role there.

Well, obviously, I’m a Republican, and there aren’t a ton of Republicans on MSNBC. I’ve been writing for The Daily Beast for … three and a half years now? I don’t know, a long time. I had been doing a lot of commentary and an opportunity came up to be a contributor. And when I was kind of deciding which network, I just thought that MSNBC would be a little bit of a more interesting choice.

I have the utmost respect for CNN, FOX, and all the news networks, but being a Republican on FOX won’t get as much attention and won’t have the kind of platform for my personal message as much as MSNBC would. … I’ve only been there for three months, but everyone’s been very nice, very warm, very welcoming. I just hope everyone continues to be very welcoming with my message, you know, as the election gets more heated (laughs). It’s very hard, but it’s really fun.

How does that affect your family dynamic? You tweeted last week that your dad wanted you to become a second grade teacher or something similarly uncontroversial. What do your family political discussions look like?

My dad jokes that when I joined MSNBC I had “joined the dark side.”

You know, originally when I had the conversation with my parents that I was meeting with everyone [from networks], I just wanted to go some place more provocative and they understood that. In my father’s fantasyland, I would be a second grade teacher in Phoenix and probably married with a bunch of babies by now—that’s probably the ideal world that he would want for me. That being said, he is unbelievably supportive of my life right now.

I think it’s just difficult, in the same way that I get emotional when anyone criticizes my parents or my family. I mean, I’m starting to get emotional when people criticize Mitt Romney now. I’m sure it’s even harder having a child and seeing them criticized. I think that they just know the industry and are protective.

It’s interesting that you, as a child a politician, are getting involved yourself, much like [former presidential candidate Jon] Huntsman’s daughters are doing. Do you think it’s important for politicians’ families to be involved, particularly young people?

I think it’s important for any young person to get involved in the process. I think when your father or mother or family member is running for office, it’s everyone’s personal comfort level—because what happens is basically a double-edged sword.

I’ll use the example of Chelsea Clinton. When she came out [into the spotlight], the media just annihilated her for not doing any interviews. And now that she does interviews, she’s criticized for not doing interviews sooner. I’m criticized for being on MSNBC because my father’s a politician and all these things, but I always tell people that I do wonder if Sophia Coppola is screamed at everyday for becoming a director because her father is a director.

I mean, my mother was pregnant with me at the 1984 Reagan convention; I did my first live interview at age 9 on the convention floor. I’ve been on campaign buses all my life; I don’t feel like I’ve ever really had any choice in the matter. This is something I love, it’s the only world I know, and it’s the only world that I want to know. I know there will people who are going to be skeptical and scream nepotism, but at this point in my life and in my career I feel that I’ve proven myself.

 

I think nepotism can get your foot in the door, I don’t think it can take you any further. It’s up to you from that point to kick in.

Tell us about McCainBlogette.com. What’s the concept behind it and why did you decide to re-launch?

I did it around the [2008] election because, even at 22, I wanted to show a different side of my father’s campaign. I also really wanted to work on his campaign and didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t a strategist.

I remember Sarah Huckabee—Mike Huckabee’s very smart, very capable daughter—was literally running grassroots in Iowa for him, and I couldn’t have done something like that at the time because I didn’t understand. But I understood the Internet. I just launched it as something fun to let people in on the campaign. I’m glad there have been so many people who have done the same thing this time around. I’m also glad that Twitter wasn’t around at the time because I would have gotten into a lot of trouble (laughs).

It only re-launched a month ago—we’re still growing, and we’re still molding it. I’m hoping for it to be a place for young people, especially young women, who are told so many times, especially in the horrible blogosphere, not to talk, not to use their voice, or that they will face so many repercussions for voicing their opinions or speaking out in politics We want it to be a safe place.

There are some things that you just can’t get out in 140 characters, so this will be a good place for my personal opinions or personal experiences, something that I can’t do on The Daily Beast. We’re trying to grow it more with guest bloggers and as things get heated up I want to get college students more involved.

Part of your mission statement on McCainBlogette.com is that you believe there is room for all walks of life in the GOP. How do you think this generation of conservative young people—who trend progressive on social issues like yourself­—find a party alliance with the GOP?

You know, people sometimes ask me what I use as my political model or my life model and I’ve never had one, which is why I choose to speak out. When it comes to things like gay marriage, and even when Jay Leno asked me about the legalization of marijuana, I think those are issues that young people don’t take quite nearly as hard of a line on. It’s statistically proven that people under 40 view gay marriage more as a civil rights issue than a political or religious one.

 

I think times are changing. The world is evolving and we need to start evolving as a party or we’re going to die.

I know that gives people so much ammo to say that I’m not a real Republican or whatever, but I cannot imagine what it is like to live your life everyday, especially in a world like politics, and seeing everything completely black and white with no room for gray. I worry about people like that; I think they think very dangerously.

I’m just trying to show that I’m a different kind of person, that I think differently, and that there are a lot of people out there like me.

Unfortunately, the people who get the most attention seem to have the most radical message. I always say that there is never going to be a candidate that represents 100 percent of every single thing I want, ever. It’s just not going to happen. But there can be candidates that more morph towards a Republican that I feel like I can get behind. Which is why I like Mitt Romney—because he isn’t as radical on social issues. Not to keep berating Rick Santorum, but I think his message is dangerously outdated. And unfortunately, if a college student Googles him on the Internet and all of his policies about birth control and gay marriage come up…

I’ve just found that in my “long time” doing this, that college students have a very adverse reaction to that kind of rhetoric. I worry that we’re going to continue stereotyping Republicans and stereotyping the party as just one extreme as we keep losing young voters.

You mention birth control, and I know you and Jay Leno talked about it for a bit. Most of the Republican presidential candidates, including Romney, have supported policies like personhood laws, which would put birth control and other contraceptives at risk of becoming unavailable. What’s your take on that?

I’m proudly pro-life, but I do believe that women should have access to the birth control of their choosing.

I mean, the idea of banning birth control—even Jay mentioned this; he’s actually quite smart on politics even if he doesn’t get to showcase it much—I don’t think you can give the country something and then take it away, especially something that was given to them in the 60s.

To me, these issues are important, but I’m much more concerned about the economy and foreign policy and things of that nature.

This is where people in the Republican party can kind of hit me where it counts, I guess, because I have never been comfortable talking about other people’s personal lives.

 

What you do in your alone time, as long as it’s legal, is of no business to me, which is why I’m such a proponent of gay marriage.

I just think that it’s not the government’s role to police the bedroom.

You write about women’s issues and advocate for access and opportunities for young women. What do we think about our current “role models?”  Should we be demanding more?  – and – what do you want to stand for as a young woman in a powerful position? Do you feel like you’re succeeding in doing that?  

I was part of a panel for a screening of the movie Miss Representation. It’s a fantastic movie about why it’s so difficult being a woman, in America, and especially being a woman in the media. I mean, I have made mistakes. I continue to make mistakes. I still struggle with the fact that I like feeling like a sexy, provocative woman and wearing clothes that make me feel like a sexy woman, and the world projects back to me that that means that I’m a slut. So I struggle with these things, even now.

 

I’m 27 years old and I’m still trying to figure out how I can walk the line of feeling like I have some connection to feeling like a sexy woman and also being a smart, strong voice in politics.

Unfortunately, the media doesn’t make it easy for us. It’s like you can’t be smart and sexy and beautiful all at the same time.

Do I think that there are women out there who are doing it? Oh, completely. There are women everywhere that are doing this. But for the most part, the media wants to peg us in this role like we’re either a Hilary Clinton or a Sarah Palin. You’re a strong bitch, or you’re a stupid … whatever stereotypes they’re placing on Sarah Palin.

I’m trying to do the best I can. I’m still a work in progress. I started this when I was young and painfully naïve and didn’t know much better, so there are definitely things that I would undo. But I think a lot of young women like that I am imperfect. I’m here to just say “This is who I am, this is what I believe in politics, and this is what I’m trying to change.”

For my specific role, I’m trying to change the way we see women in Republican politics. I didn’t really have any role models growing up that really identified whom I wanted to be. I met [former MTV News reporter] Tabitha Soren when I was 13 years old, when she interviewed my father on the campaign trail. She was the first person I had ever met that looked like someone who I could hang out with, who dressed really cool, had a cool haircut, had cool make up on, and was asking my father really tough questions about the election. She was the first person I had met that really gave an example that you could do it all.

So I’ve always tried to do the same thing since and I have this amazing life and this amazing platform. I’ve been handed so much and I always feel like, “Now what am I going to do with it?”

Let’s talk Occupy Wall Street. You went down to Zuccotti Park during the encampment. What’s your take on the situation now?

I went down there and was sort of vilified by a lot of people for even going down there. I just wanted to see what they had to say. It was a movement that was getting so much attention, and something that I, quite frankly, didn’t understand.

So when I went down to talk with a bunch of people, there was definitely a separation between people who were there because they maybe wanted to get attention and didn’t have a distinct message. I talked to one man who said he was there trying to inspire hope, and I said that’s great but in what fashion? He didn’t really have an answer.

But then I met a bunch of college students and some who had just graduated college who were addled with student debt or bogged down by student loans, the classic story of what’s going on right now. I met a woman who had six children who was just struggling to make ends meet.

I think, even though some people can’t eloquently say what it is that they think is wrong, the disconnect between the very, very wealthy and the very, very poor is getting wider, and that anger is very valid. I think Occupy Wall Street right now has unfortunately lost a lot of people’s attention because they don’t have a very clear message and they don’t have a leader. I know a lot of people don’t like that assertion, but I think it’s the very same problem the Tea Party had. I think you need one person, one leader, and you need a very simple message that can be translated across the board.

 

The 99%—I don’t know anyone who can’t get behind that or understand that. I do think its disingenuous when people just blithely said that these Occupy Wall Street-ers were just hippies and freeloaders because obviously that’s not what everyone is. Is that a small part? Yes.

There are some parts of the Occupy movement that I don’t feel comfortable getting behind—I believe in capitalism and I believe in the free market system, but do I think Wall Street has gotten out of hand? Was I against the bailouts? Completely. So I’m mixed, but I would never speak negatively of Americans exercising their right to protest.

Occupy Wall Street really has brought the issue of income inequality to the forefront. Do you think any of the candidates thus far have given any solutions?

No, but I don’t think, unfortunately, in the Republican primaries that it’s the main issue. I know it will be a huge national election issue. I know it will be something that will be discussed once Romney becomes the nominee, that’s something he’s going to have to deal with.

Primaries are sort of a weird lens into what very conservative Republican voters, especially in Iowa, want—and for a lot of people their No. 1 issue is gay marriage and pro-life/pro-choice. I think it’s going to be more of an issue in the national election than in the primaries.

Meghan McCain is an MSNBC contributor, columnist for the Daily Beast and daughter of U.S. Senator, John McCain. You can visit her blog at www.mccainblogette.com or follow her on twitter @mccainblogette.

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