Dirty Sexy Politics

by Meghan McCain

Hyperion, 208 pp., $23.99

Meghan McCain, daughter of John McCain, had a knack for many things during the 2008 campaign: walking in super-high heels, dropping f-bombs, and spilling the contents of her suitcase (undergarments included) in a hotel hallway at the very moment campaign bigwigs walked by. Awkward moments like these abound in Dirty Sexy Politics, a lively account of her experiences working on—and blogging about—her father’s presidential campaign.

Apparently John is not the only McCain with a penchant for straight talk: “Aside from my shit detector and gut, which, thank God, were often on target, I knew very little about campaigning,” she writes. Now 25, Meghan McCain looks back on the campaign as a valuable learning experience, one that exposed her “to the inner workings and culture of the Republican party,” and what she saw disturbs her: “The base has moved to the Far Right and, sadly, it seems to be dying there. Rather than the party of openness and individual freedom, it is now the party of limited message and less freedom.” In short, McCain believes that today’s Republican party is not hospitable to people like her: moderate Republicans “not conservative enough” for the party. Like father, like daughter?

Unfortunately, the beautiful and fashion-savvy McCain—who describes her personal style as “more like Gwen Stefani than Tricia Nixon Cox”—seems more interested in telling us about the outfits and hairstyles she donned for campaign events than how, exactly, she’d make over the Grand Old Party. But then again, this is not a campaign handbook; it’s a cheeky tale of a “diva who fell to Earth,” a story of how life on the campaign trail is never glamorous, even for the candidate’s daughter.

She recounts the gritty details: How she and her two girlfriends, who traveled with her and contributed to her blog (McCain Blogette), were always relegated to the dirtiest of the three campaign buses, how Secret Service agents were constantly confusing her with other blond staffers, and how her father’s own campaign managers ignored her. The mother of all disses came shortly after her father locked up the nomination. McCain and her mother, Cindy, went to the White House for a get-to-know-you lunch with Laura and Jenna Bush. The visit started off pleasantly enough until lunchtime came around, and McCain discovered there was no place setting for her.

In all my embarrassment .  .  . it didn’t occur to me how odd it was that Mrs. Bush or her social office didn’t simply enlarge the lunch table to include me, or at least make more of an effort to have me feel less weird.

Such slights, if that is what they are, result in an author who is very direct about whom she likes—the people of New Hampshire (they “couldn’t get enough of [my dad]”), Senator Joe Lieberman (“one of the kindest, friendliest, and funniest people I have ever met” and her pick for Dad’s vice president), campaign manager Rick Davis (“he believed in me”)—and whom she dislikes: Governor Mike Huckabee (an anti-gay “Republican I could never vote for”), campaign manager Steve Schmidt (a “tyrannical” and “bullying” latecomer), and “Mr. Burns, the Bus Roster Nazi” (self-important campaign staffer who kept assigning her to that smelly bus).

She writes about stealing Mitt Romney signs on the day of the New Hampshire primary, her ill-advised visit with image consultants in Los Angeles, as well as the campaign’s reaction to her even-more-ill-advised interview with GQ: “I was just twenty-three years old and had already won kudos for my blog, which I was funding entirely on my own, but suddenly the campaign was treating me like I was an irresponsible harlot who had released a sex tape with the president of Greenpeace.”

By now, readers will comprehend that it was most likely Miss McCain’s flubs, not her politics, that rubbed the campaign the wrong way. Nevertheless, she offers up an entertaining and candid analysis of the Palins. The arrival of Alaska’s first family at the campaign stirred up a range of emotions:

I was excited by the fact that [Sarah] was a woman .  .  . and what it meant, not just for me, but for the country and the world. .  .  . But when I looked over at Bristol, who was holding her baby brother, Trig, I remember thinking two things: That poor girl looks shell-shocked and why does she have a giant blanket covering her stomach?

The initial excitement and curiosity soon morphed into disillusionment when McCain began to see Sarah Palin as the antithesis of a team player: “From the minute Sarah arrived, the campaign began splitting apart. And rather than joining us, and our campaign, she seemed only to begin her own.”

McCain gets rather dramatic in her chapter on Election Day, especially when she equates her father’s defeat to the death of the Republican party. But no one can question the love and pride she feels for John McCain: Her stories of him as a kind, doting father who took her to see the The Little Mermaid seven times and taught her how to fish on a creek in Sedona bring the relationship to life.

Erin Montgomery is a writer in Washington.

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