By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Meghan McCain, who blogs about life inside her dad's presidential campaign, is not terribly interested in matters of policy, but she is acutely attuned to matters of footwear.
McCain is a political outsider with an insider's access, and on her Web site she notices the things political junkies never would, like the "really cute" shoes Chelsea Clinton wore when they met. She posts photographs of her own shoes and of the shoes she encounters on the trail, including those belonging to such fashion luminaries as Dick Armey and Henry Kissinger.
"Because I love shoes, and who doesn't want to know what kind of shoes Dr. Kissinger wears?" she writes on her blog.
We didn't know we wanted to know, but now that she mentions it, we kinda do. (Black loafers. Aha!)
"I don't understand why in this industry of politics, I am an airhead," says Sen. John McCain's daughter on a recent Sunday at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Ariz., not far from the McCain family's weekend home. She occasionally strokes the blond ponytail that lies over her shoulder like a mink stole. "I'm so sick of being called dumb because I like, you know, movies and music and fashion."
"She's really articulate," says her friend and fellow "blogette" Heather Brand, who's sitting nearby.
"Thanks!" McCain says with a joyful giggle.
"I think there are some people who are haters and they're like, 'Oh, she's not writing the blog,' " Brand says.
Who else could write about "town halling it" with such irrepressible sunniness? And who else cares that much about accessories? This is the campaign trail as it would look if it were covered in Us Weekly. On McCainBlogette.com, McCain, 23, takes a private tour of the White House with Laura Bush and reports that the place is "breathtaking" but could use some modern art. Perhaps a Warhol? she ventures.
She writes that her dad's new campaign bus is totally "pimped out," and she posts "10 Things You Don't Know About My Mom," revealing that Cindy McCain is a "huge" fan of the band Cream and that her favorite snacks are "Cheetos and salt and vinegar potato chips."
The preexisting paradigms for a candidate's daughter have been either (a) fluent on the issues and surrogating for the candidate, like Chelsea Clinton and Cate Edwards, or (b) staying as far as possible from public life and shuttering out the press, like the Bush twins during their dad's first run. Meghan McCain is upending both. She is a pop culture junkie sufficiently well versed in reality TV to know that her personal revelations need not make her vulnerable. Instead, they permit her to write her own script.
Politics is filled with "fake people," as McCain sees it. She's dedicated to revealing life behind the scenes, with a fizzy authenticity so infectious you almost forget what an ugly place the campaign trail can be. Politics seems fun!
"The blog is trying to keep it real, and trying to show how it really is, and I look like crap!" she says. "Like, the last post I was a mess, and I was like, 'Well, there's pictures of me on the Internet looking like a mess.' But I kind of like the purity of it."
"Like, the three of us, we're around each other 24 hours a day, and it's like, you know, she feels very comfortable with us," says her fellow "blogette" Shannon Bae, whose black hair is streaked with blond and who is frequently seen grinning and leaping in photos posted on the blog. "I think that's what makes her really accessible. Because, you know, people can smell [expletive]."
"Totally," McCain says.
So, on to the revelations: She told MTV she thinks Barack Obama is "sexy." She has a teeny tiny tattoo of a star on her foot. ("I have always been drawn to people with tattoos," she writes on her blog.) She's been known to drink beer on primary nights when she's really stressed out. She adores the stylings of the corset-wearing burlesque stripper Dita Von Teese, and she told GQ she thinks the uber-trashy bisexual hook-up show "A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila" is "hilarious!"
She went to Columbia University, where she studied art history, and interned at "Saturday Night Live" and Newsweek, where she wrote about stuff that wasn't terribly "serious." (" 'Snakes on a Plane' and makeup," she says.) Politics? Eh. She reads People on the campaign bus.
What's really meaningful to McCain is fashion. She dreams of being a designer, and she loved Chris March, the obese, effeminate contestant on Season 4 of "Project Runway," until he furnished several garments with . . .
"Human hair," she says with some disgust, and after that March was dead to her.
Today, Meghan McCain wears: a big sweater over a pair of leggings and a black cap tilted ever so slightly to the side. On her feet are an unusual pair of white Converse sneaker-boots that go all the way up her shins, purchased during a campaign layover in New Hampshire. While a sizable portion of the photographs McCain posts to her Web site involve her sleeping -- on buses, on planes and even on what appears to be a hotel concierge's desk -- she nevertheless always manages to look camera-ready.
She carries five pairs of shoes around with her and has, she says, "the biggest suitcase on the trail."
"He's nicknamed 'Mr. Lee,' " Bae says of that suitcase. "That's her Chinese manservant."
"I didn't create that," McCain says flatly. "And I don't like that nickname."
McCain and the other two "blogettes" spend a lot of time together: every day on the trail and sometimes nights, too, if they're sharing a hotel room. Bae, 32, a former cable producer, takes videos of Meghan McCain's adventures for the Web site (which she edits and often sets to dance music) and Brand, 30, a professional photographer and old friend of McCain's, takes pictures.
"We balance each other really well -- like, just our personalities," McCain says.
"Like, we would be the perfect person if we were all one person," Bae says.
Some time back, McCain posted to her Web site a detailed explanation of her campaign trail makeup regimen, including her approach to maximizing lash "density" by blending two brands of mascara, and her technique for priming lips with concealer before applying Benefit brand lip gloss.
"I just decided to do it 'cause a lot of girls were asking," she says. "And then I was dutifully punished on the Internet for writing about makeup." She starts to giggle. "But I got a lot of good response and Benefit actually sent me an e-mail being like, 'We love that you love Benefit!' Yeah. So, I was like, 'Yay.' "
There's a strategic genius to a blog like this, which features all these fun family snaps, including one of Meghan's mom, Cindy, sitting on a hotel bed in pink polka dot pajamas, while a stylist takes down her elaborate up-do. The public likes seeing what famous people wear to bed and what snacks they take with them. And the public votes.
There's a genius, too, to Meghan McCain's style of saying so much without divulging anything truly intimate -- a balancing act perfected by her dad on his Straight Talk Express. The more you talk, the more people start to feel as if they know you. The more you talk, the more you minimize the reverberations of any one thing you say.
Some things she doesn't want to say at all.
How did she and Heather Brand meet?
"Basically, I just did a photo shoot of Meghan," Brand says.
"Um, who did we meet up for?" Brand says, looking at McCain, and it's not clear if she doesn't remember or if she's being careful.
"It was for something that we don't talk about anymore because it didn't work out," McCain says. The blogettes steer the conversation into a discussion of how much they all like one another.
On the blog last month, after the New York Times reported on her dad's connection to a female lobbyist, McCain posted an entry called "Lucky Girl," in which she mused -- without ever mentioning the article -- that politics could be "dirty and cruel," and that she was grateful to have such "wonderful" parents and such "absolutely epic" friends.
The family of a prominent senator with presidential aspirations does not have the luxury of privacy. It's all in the public domain: There's sprightly, 96-year-old Roberta McCain, who not too long ago told C-SPAN that the Republican base was just going to have to hold "their nose" and vote for her son. There's the senator, 71, who famously spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. There's Cindy, 53, John McCain's second wife, who was addicted to prescription painkillers for several years when Meghan was a child, and who in 2004 suffered a stroke. There's Meghan's brother, Jack, in the Naval Academy, and her other brother, Jimmy, a Marine who has served in Iraq. There's her little sister, Bridget, whom the McCains adopted from Bangladesh as an infant, and who was, in Dad's 2000 presidential race, the object of a smear campaign insinuating that she was the product of an illicit union.
And here's Meghan, deflecting attention from all that by narrating only the happiest stories from the campaign trail, poking a finger in the eye of anyone who expected more seriousness and poise from the daughter of the presumptive Republican nominee -- or at least, less liberal use of the word "like."
"My mom is amazing," McCain says. "Like, especially in the beginning when we were getting a lot of negative response, she was just like, 'You know, there's gonna be haters, like, what you're doing is fantastic and me and your father love it.'"
The Web site is not affiliated with or funded by the McCain campaign, according to Meghan and a campaign spokeswoman. McCain says she didn't want to have to cede "creative control" to her dad's staff.
So how does she pay for it?
"We don't talk about it," McCain says firmly. " 'Cause, like, once I answer one question it leads to 50 others."
But, because she is the candidate's daughter, her press requests are routed through the campaign and, at one point, Brooke Buchanan, the McCain campaign's traveling spokeswoman, comes into the room to keep an eye on the interview.
"Hey, girls," Buchanan says. She perches on the arm of Bae's chair.
"Did you change your hair?" one of the blogettes asks her.
"I did," Buchanan says. "I actually just dried it."
"You look really pretty," someone says.
They talk about their mornings.
"We went on a hike," Bae says, referring to herself and Brand.
"I watched a vampire movie," McCain says. "I do not like hiking and nature."
Meghan does like: Her aviator sunglasses -- "a campaign essential!" And awarding lucky scribes her highest online honor, "best dressed reporter" of the week. And her dad, whose pre-debate makeup she supervises to make sure that his "walnut cheeks" are duly minimized.
McCain doesn't say much about her own politics, except that she's more socially liberal than her dad and that she voted for John Kerry in 2004 -- and by the way, she wishes people would "stop acting like they're outing me," 'cause she's been open about all that. Anyway, she says, it's her dad's beliefs that matter.
"I love my dad and I think he'd be an amazing leader," she says.
Neat trick. Just enough.
And not a smidgen more.