McCain talks politics, social media, her sense of humor in ISU visit

February 24th, 2011

The Tribune-Star

By Brian Boyce
February 24, 2011

McCain talks politics, social media, her sense of humor in ISU visit

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TERRE HAUTE — A young Republican willing to laugh along to a point, Meghan McCain made it clear some adults in politics need to act their age.

“I believe in the Republican Party and I want it to grow, but I don’t think these pundits are helping it. In fact, I know they’re not,” McCain said frankly Wednesday afternoon, just hours before her speech inside Indiana State University’s Tilson Auditorium. Participating in the university’s 30th annual speakers series, McCain was on campus to discuss her current book, “Dirty Sexy Politics,” which chronicles her personal journey across the American political landscape.

But prior to the speech, the 26-year-old daughter of a two-time presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), spoke informally about topics spanning Saturday Night Live to charter schools. And in doing so, she described her own experience coming of age in a partisan world. An active blogger since age 21, her political leanings confuse older generations, she said, explaining that her membership in the National Rifle Association doesn’t preclude her friendship with gays. But in as much as she’s ridiculed by social conservatives, she’s embraced by a younger set of Republicans with like minds, she said.

“There’s a lot of people who really hate me,” she laughed, noting with a shrug that she wasn’t invited to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month.

But if a graying Republican Party doesn’t change its extremist ways, there might not be much of a future in store for such conferences, she said.

McCain said she was raised in a conservative home, but she left for New York City at age 18 to attend Columbia University and was initially a registered Independent. The partisan name-calling and downright viciousness of recent political discourse is a turn-off to many people, she said. Partisan pundits screaming into television sets, questioning the patriotism of anyone who dares disagree with them, are not winning votes.

“Again, my world is very gray,” she said, adding she’s promised to get out of political discourse if she ever descends to such personalized verbal combat. “I think the Tucson shooting brought a lot of that to light.”

According to McCain, conservatism doesn’t need that to win. While the GOP’s brand is neither cool nor sexy these days, the ideology it espouses is. The idea of individual responsibility and limited government is very attractive to young people once they get past all of the fighting on television. And it’s imperative that they do get past it, she said, pointing out that today’s debts won’t be paid by this generation of grandparents.

“We’re spending ourselves into oblivion,” she said.

Even as an Ivy League graduate from a family of millionaires, McCain said she’s scared for America’s future given the rampant debt plaguing the country. The storm of protesters packing legislative assemblies from Wisconsin to Ohio show an increase of frustration and fear, she said.

But government spending has to be curbed, and the GOP needs a public relations make-over if it’s to sell conservatism to the public. If a staunch conservative such as Fox News commentator and former Gov. Mike Huckabee wins the GOP nomination for president in 2012, expect a strong third party candidate to follow up the middle, she said.

Meanwhile, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are going to play an even greater role in 2012 than they did in 2008, making for a higher-tech, faster-paced race. Who gravitates into candidacy roles for the coming year will make for an interesting election, she said.

“I know who Mitch Daniels is, but I don’t think the average American knows who Mitch Daniels is,” she said when asked about the Indiana governor’s chances at a White House shot. “I would tell him to start campaigning harder if he wants to run,” she added, noting that former GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Huckabee both have significant name recognition from their work since 2008.

As for herself, making a foray into political discourse has been rough at times, but it’s something McCain said she loves. Keeping a sense of humor is key, even though the same technology which has sped up discourse has intensified personal attacks. From cracks about her looks to her weight, McCain said she and other women in the public light face a scrutiny her brother wouldn’t have to share.

“I say never change,” she said, explaining that women entering the public sphere should do so on their own terms, ever remembering the kind of attacks launched against her father’s running mate, former Gov. Sarah Palin, as well as Democrat contender then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or