The Daily Illini
Jason Febery-Opinions columnist
Posted: March 6th, 2011 – 10:00 PM
I had the chance to meet Meghan McCain before she spoke on campus last week.
As I entered the holding room, the first thing I spotted was her platinum blonde hair. She was wearing dark blue jeans and an Illinois shirt underneath a trendy sports jacket. Cameras snapped pictures of her as she walked around the room, sipping coffee and exchanging jokes with her hosts.
Meghan was everything I expected from the author of “Dirty, Sexy Politics.” She was brash, confident and down-to-earth, speaking to strangers like they were childhood friends and making sure that all pictures were, as she put it, “Facebook-worthy.”
Once pictures had been taken, including one for me to send to my conservative friends and relatives, Meghan and I retreated to a corner of the room for the interview, flanked by a dozen cameras and microphones.
I had a long list of questions to get through so, as soon as we were seated, I jumped right into the thick of things by asking about the conflict brewing between the establishment and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party.
Meghan acknowledged the rift and said that it would not be in the best interests of the Republican Party to nominate a Tea Party candidate to challenge President Obama in 2012. Her favorites for the Republican nomination? Mitt Romney, Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels — all much more moderate alternatives to other frontrunners like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.
Meghan then touched on one of the major themes of her speech that night, urging her party to “maintain its core ideals of self-reliance and individualism” while making room for those who don’t toe the party line on every issue.
Her eyes seemed to light up when she spoke of the need for tolerance in her party. For her, this issue was personal, having been the subject of sharp criticism from conservative firebrands like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham for her views on same-sex marriage, gay adoption and global warming — not to mention her brand of moderate, big-tent conservatism.
With refreshing candor, Meghan went on to say that it was a shame that such figures as Limbaugh and Ingraham on the right — and Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann on the left — were sucking all the oxygen out of the room and disillusioning the younger generation by introducing vitriol and partisan hate to our national discourse.
Later in her speech, Meghan told a story about Charlie Black, an old lobbyist serving as an adviser to her father’s presidential campaign. Meghan had gone to him for advice about her friend who was receiving a lot of criticism for wearing open-backed shirts that displayed her large dragonfly tattoo. Some people said that it was an unnecessary distraction for the campaign.
Charlie’s response surprised Meghan. Rather than encouraging discretion, he said that her friend should dress however she liked, even if it meant the tattoo was visible. He told Meghan that the day a young hippie with a hooped earring joined the Reagan campaign was the day he knew Reagan would be the next president.
According to Charlie, a bit of variety was a good thing.
I’m not sure if Meghan realized at the time how much she has in common with that hippie Reagan supporter or her friend with the dragonfly tattoo. Both were considered outsiders by their party because they did not fit the traditional mold of what it meant to be a Republican.
Regardless, I think all three are doing a valuable service as voices of moderation within the Republican Party. We may not agree on many issues, but I can certainly respect anyone who is willing to have a serious debate without resorting to sound bites screened by Frank Luntz or policy positions approved by Rush Limbaugh.
Keep fighting the good fight, Meghan.
Jason is a senior in Engineering.