By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The GOP's identity crisis just got more interesting with the media splash of Meghan McCain, daughter of the senator who did not become president.
Young McCain, who began blogging during her father's presidential campaign, recently made waves at the Daily Beast when she picked a fight with conservative media mavens Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham.
This is enough sport to make the little dog laugh, to say nothing of the dish and the spoon.
McCain, just 24, is one smart cookie. In a matter of weeks, she has created a brand, presenting herself as a fresh face of her daddy's party and a voice for young conservatives. Strategically speaking, what better way to launch herself than to challenge the reigning diva herself, Miz Coulter?
Madonna, meet Britney.
McCain jammed traffic on Tina Brown's site with her charge that Coulter is bad for the party. In a voice that is sometimes, alas, reminiscent of a coed's tweet, she wrote: "I straight up don't understand this woman or her popularity. I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time."
Claiming that Coulter could be the poster woman for the "most extreme side of the Republican Party," McCain offered herself as the opposite. Bzzzzzt. Give that girl a talk show!
Indeed, McCain's generation is more moderate, especially on social issues. This isn't news. Yet, reaction from the more-established right has been a tad intolerant.
Among criticism now familiar to anyone who has dared contradict or question the GOP's wisdom is that Meghan McCain is a "useful idiot" to liberals who will use her to further diminish Republicans. Or that she is poking her father's party just to draw attention to herself.
'Tis a fact that McCain has suddenly surged as a popular talk show guest. This happens when one says something provocative in a town where 400 producers are trying to plug 10,000 talking-head spots. And of course, Coulter would never say or do anything provocative in the interest of self-promotion. Calling Al Gore a "total fag," or saying that Jews should be "perfected" by conversion to Christianity, could hardly be construed as anything but profoundly constructive.
Next, McCain went after Ingraham, who had parodied McCain on her radio show in a Valley-girl voice: "Okay, I was really hoping that I was going to get that role in 'The Real World,' but then I realized that, well, they don't like plus-sized models."
McCain fired back at the athletically trim Ingraham with a new blog posting: "Quit talking about my weight, Laura Ingraham."
Boom! McCain was on "The View" encouraging women to stop worrying so much about their bodies. In an inspired flourish, she suggested that Ingraham "kiss my fat [ahem]."
Well, if McCain doesn't make it in journalism, she has a future in marketing. She has learned, perhaps from a lifetime of observing political strategy, how and when to pick a fight. Trying to provoke Coulter (who so far has gamely ignored her) was shrewd. And engaging American women in solidarity against market-imposed body images was a stroke of genius.
Yes, of course, a 24-year-old political pundette doesn't find her way onto "Larry King Live" without a famous name. McCain is interesting because of who she is, not because of what she has accomplished. Liberals found young Ron Reagan equally riveting for the same reason.
On the other hand, McCain is also a successful blogger with a following. She has established a voice and an audience. And the GOP is, allegedly, hoping to expand its tent.
Moreover, thanks to the "Internets," as our former president liked to say, young people are gaining influence sooner than ever before. One of the smarter, slicker political Web sites, Scoop44, is produced, written and edited by high school and college students across the country. Its editor in chief, Alexander Heffner, is a 19-year-old undergraduate at Harvard.
As Heffner put it in a February interview, he and his colleagues belong to a generation that was galvanized by Barack Obama to take their civic responsibility seriously. Meghan McCain may be simply another manifestation of that call to engagement. And she isn't wrong on the substance of her charges.
The GOP's extreme voices are a turnoff, not just to young people but to millions of Americans who might otherwise be attracted to conservative principles. Who better to point that out than a young maverick named McCain?