Meghan McCain speaks at Bowker Auditorium
Meghan McCain – the daughter of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain – spoke at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday about the future of the Republican Party, stressing themes of inclusiveness and civility as vital for the party’s future.
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McCain’s speech, titled “Redefining Republican: no labels, no boxes, no stereotypes,” was sponsored by the UMass Republican Club. “I’m not saying to abandon the core ideas [of Republicanism],” said McCain. “I’m asking the Republican Party not to be so stubborn and closed minded.”
There are some ideas that McCain believes do not comply with the more conservative elements of the party, her advocacy for gay marriage being an example. McCain said that a person like her who believes in socially progressive ideas is still a valuable voice in the Republican Party.
McCain’s speech lasted 17 minutes. The majority of her time was spent after her speech taking questions from the audience on everything from health care to John McCain’s campaign to the importance of broadening the Republican image.
McCain’s talk started with a clip of her on the Colbert Report back in May where – in his normal archconservative character – Colbert joked, “by the end of this interview we are going to make you a Republican.”
There was some bitterness however, when McCain was asked to answer why she called herself a Republican.
“It’s very insulting for me to have to go down this litmus test of detail, by detail, by detail. I can give you three reasons right now: health care, the war in Iraq, and I’m very pro life.”
For the upcoming presidential race in 2012, McCain thought that the Republican Party would either go socially conservative – with a nominee like Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas – or more fiscally conservative with someone like Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
There was a combination in McCain’s talk of discussing the future of the Republican Party and her experience as the daughter of John McCain. A member of the audience asked her about her views on torture, her reply came, not out of a hard and fast policy line, but of a more personal nature.
“My dad couldn’t pick me up as a kid or teach me how to ride a bike,” she said, trying to demonstrate that, after her father was tortured for five years in Vietnam, she thought that torture was never acceptable. “It’s what separates us from the terrorists.”
McCain has received criticism from members of her party that have at times been personal in nature. She cited some who had “complained about the way my ass looked in a pair of jeans,” as an example of what is wrong with the way debate is carried out in politics.
According to McCain, her treatment has not gotten any better lately now that Barack Obama is president. “Republicans and Democrats seem to be even less able to get along with each other,” she said, citing Joe Wilson yelling, “You lie!” at President Obama during an address to a joint session of Congress.
She linked the theme of civility back to her own ability to be a member of the party that would not receive criticism for supporting policies like gay marriage or well-funded sex education in schools. McCain said that “if we bring back civility into politics, it won’t be so hard to be like me.”
McCain voted for John Kerry for President in the 2004 election and said that one of her political idols was Barry Goldwater.
UMass students have protested some previous speakers that have been sponsored by the Republican Club. Don Feder spoke at UMass last spring about his thoughts on the faults in hate crime laws. He stopped speaking after he was yelled at by a number of people who attended his talk. Meghan McCain did not garner any protest and her talk went along uninterrupted.
Bowker Auditorium – the location of McCain’s speech – was about half full to see McCain’s presentation that was open to the public, free of charge.
Derek Khana, President of the UMass Republican Club, opened for McCain at the conclusion of the Colbert Report clip. His remarks centered around McCain’s important perspective – as an insider to her father’s campaign and not an elected official – that gave her the opportunity to speak honestly and compellingly about the Republican Party’s future.
“[McCain] understands the political necessities of tomorrow,” said Khana.
Failing to see how more government control in health care would be a positive, McCain dismissed the ideas that are being proposed by Democrats in the often-contentious health care debate.
The future tended to be the most important theme of her talk. McCain spoke of the importance of using the Internet and engaging young people in the future of politics. “Being a Republican is not the coolest thing right now,” she said. “The older generation is just going to have to starting making room.”
McCain has two brothers who are serving in the military. When asked by a member of the audience whether or not, knowing what we know now, we should have gone to war in Iraq she replied, “I don’t think it matters [why we went in].” She is supportive of the efforts of the United States in that country.
At just 24 years old, McCain graduated from Columbia University in 2007 and spoke of her time on the campaign trail – learning the ins and outs of politics and the process – citing it as her version of graduate school. Through her experience, McCain provided small stories of the campaign trail and her experiences meeting some of the most interesting political operatives in the nation. Facts that were previously not widely known – such as her father’s fear that Ron Paul might pull off something spectacular in the New Hampshire primary – gave a rare first hand glimpse into John McCain’s 2008 run for President.
Questions were put forward, inquiring into her views on one issue compared to another, but the main focus of her speech was not so much on specific issues like health care and gay marriage, but on the overall direction of the Republican Party.
“I don’t believe I’m the lone spokesperson in the room,” she said of the future of the party. She spoke about the importance of young people in the political process.
“[The] youth felt they really truly mattered [in 2008] and they delivered,” she said. “Only for the wrong guy.”
Mike Phillis can be reached at email@example.com.