As every unmarried male reviewer of Dirty Sexy Politics must do, I have to consider the effect that writing a bad review will have on my chances of ever taking Meghan McCain out to dinner. But even considering the consequences, this is an honest review.
It was a disappointing read. Not without a saving grace, but disappointing nonetheless. I had expected a certain type of book – untold stories of political treachery, a fuller hashing of McCain’s intriguing worldview – but it seemed clear from the beginning that the book was meant for the very audience that would be least likely to read the book.
From its tone and style, Dirty Sexy Politics’ intended audience was clearly apolitical, teenage girls. McCain speaks to the reader as if he or she doesn’t know anything about politics. Iowa has a caucus! Do you know what ‘talking points’ are?
Without a background in fashion and the female experience, it is nearly impossible for a politically interested, male twenty-something to empathize with most of McCain’s stories.
What are ‘Theory dresses’? Why do Palin’s “cool pair of red patent leather peep-toe shoes” create a favorable first impression? Why is there a rule about how one can’t wear cotton and linen together? I couldn’t sympathize with her supposed faux pas, and her writing style just doesn’t make those feelings accessible.
McCain comes off as an emotional, Bridget Jones type. She even has an alter ego – Meggie Mac – who is “there for me in clutch moments”. She cries for hours after Gawker first mocked her campaign blog. She talks about style as much as she talks politics (“my personal style can come off a little more like Gwen Stefani than Tricia Nixon Cox”). And despite the title, the book is stunningly devoid of salacious material. In the very first chapter, McCain insists that she was “celibate as a nun” throughout the campaign.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the people whom McCain most appeals to are crucial to the long-term prospects of the Republican Party. I’ve had the chance to see her address a college crowd – she’s charismatic, hilarious and easily captures the attention of the crowd. But very little of that comes through in this book.
That said, there are some moderately interesting moments in the book: stealing Romney signs on the day of the New Hampshire primary; the disturbing amounts of elephant paraphernalia in her Arizona home (sculptures, paintings, picture frames, wall hangings, wallpaper, statuettes); going to the White House for lunch only to find out she wasn’t really invited.
Meghan McCain tries to make the case that the Republican Party needs to modernize, but expresses it poorly. “Looking ahead, at 2012 and 2016, I wondered what would happen to the party when the old people died off and the base consisted entirely of the Christian Right,” writes McCain.
But the Republican Party is less concerned about social and moral issues now than it has been in quite some time. Even with the throes of Prop 8, the conservative movement’s animating concerns are fiscal. At this moment, the threat she identifies seems rather innocuous in the context of tea party dogmatism.
McCain is right, however, when she says that an exclusive Republican Party has much to lose, and that the movement is headed in the wrong direction:
“Somehow, being a Republican isn’t a political decision anymore. It is a lifestyle choice. You have to look one way, think one way, and act one way. Wear the uniform! Embrace groupthink! And for goodness’ sake, no strangers allowed! Somehow it is wrong to consider modern life and the complications and innovations and changes the last thirty years have brought.”
A Republican Party without McCain’s voice will find itself mired in old people and older ideas. “Wake up to new technology,” writes McCain. “A new generation of Americans… has more complicated views about church than it does about gays or premarital sex. This is why the party needs to wake up to gay marriage being a civil rights issue.”
Putting the quality of the writing aside, her outlook for the Republican Party could grow to be quite powerful among younger voters. Her message of inclusivity makes it possible for her to reach out to those who might otherwise have not given the Republican Party a second look. “It is bad enough to find yourself put in a box by your opposition,” she says. “But when a political party starts putting itself in a box, it is not a box. It is a coffin.”
Dirty Sexy Politics is not a work of art – but it’s not meant to be. It reaches out to an audience that I am not a part of, yes, but it has an important message that should resonate with those who care about the future of the Republican Party. The GOP needs to grow to accept new vantage points, new ideas, and new voices – and that includes those of Meghan McCain.
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