Meghan McCain, whose father apparently ran for some political office at one time, certainly knows how to attract attention. Unfortunately, at least among doctrinaire Republicans, it’s generally of the wrong sort.
Her most recent outing was a speech delivered to the Log Cabin Republicans’ 2009 convention. In an occasionally rambling but hopeful address, Ms. McCain drew fire from the punditry for daring to give voice to an ugly truth which many party loyalists would rather not contemplate: if the ideological purists of the GOP — particularly the social conservatives — wish to thin the herd by driving all the RINOs from their midst, they are dooming the Republicans to a future as a regional party with little hope for electoral success on a national level.
She may be young and lacking a deep well of life experience from which to draw, but kids still do say the darnedest things. “What I am talking about tonight is what it means to be a new, progressive Republican. Now some will say I can’t do that. If you aren’t this and that, then you’re clearly a ‘Republican in Name Only,’ also affectionately known as a RINO.”
The rest of the speech makes it clear what she means by being “this and that.” To be fair to Meghan’s critics, her speech did indeed lend itself to some of the hyperbolic stereotypes of conservatives which portray them as rich, out of touch, angry, old, homophobic, racist white men who adore pollution and incinerate puppies in backyard burn barrels. But stereotypes only tend to find traction in our society if there is a flickering ember beneath all the smoke, and fire breathers willing to fan the flames.
For a brief glimpse at the reactions of the base to such a RINO, we need look no further than the nearly 700 comments left at a Hot Air post on Ms. McCain’s speech. Calls for party purity in the name of “true conservatism,” mixed with a cavalcade of insults and frankly offensive derision, drown out any reasoned discussion as to whether or not the young lady might have had a point.
Among the various stereotypes referenced above, Meghan drew the ire of many readers for one fairly innocuous sentence.: “I care about the environment.” This is an area where conservatism’s loudest cheerleaders have consistently managed to shoot the Republican Party in the foot and cede a great deal of real estate to the Democrats for no good reason.
It’s perfectly valid to make a rational, scientifically sustainable argument that the lion’s share of climate change may not be directly caused by the actions of man without making a mockery of everything relating to environmental issues. Yet any time a topic arises concerning carbon emissions, pollution, recycling, energy conservation, or green technology, we see our supporting peanut gallery showing up in droves with the same old hackneyed insults. “Enviro-zealots, hippies and tree huggers” are prominently on display in these discussions.
Dumping barge loads of compact florescent bulbs into the ocean is viewed by some “real conservatives” as a better statement than working to improve and clean up the technology. Since when did it become a badge of honor to leave every light in your house burning to no purpose — wasting not only electricity but the owner’s money — rather than taking part in an hour of energy conservation? Ideas like these are not coming from a handful of deranged, partisan nutcases, but from some of the most high-profile, respected voices in the conservative blogosphere. Is it any wonder, then, that stereotypes such as these take hold and wind up being rejected by a younger, more progressive generation of conservatives who are looking to carve out their own place in the Republican Party? Is Meghan McCain really that much of an abomination for pointing out the log in her own party’s eye before plucking the splinter from that of the Democrats?
Returning to our first quote and reaching the more general tone of Ms. McCain’s speech, she somewhat cheerfully called out the party faithful on the label which has come to signify the GOP’s shrinking tent: “Clearly a ‘Republican in Name Only,’ also affectionately known as a RINO.” It’s a fun phrase to toss around, isn’t it? And if you consider yourself to be the heart and soul of what remains of the conservative movement, you probably use it liberally. (Pun intended.)
Speaking as one who lived with that label for years in New York, I can tell you that it’s not really all that amusing. It carries with it the unspoken imprint of one who is neither needed nor wanted. It means that you will grudgingly accept our votes and, perhaps, the odd member of our tribe to bolster your numbers in the legislature, but our opinions will not be found in the platform. We will at best be treated like the mentally deficient uncle who you can’t officially disown but you fervently hope won’t show up in the photo from the family reunion. I can’t help but wonder if the 2008 GOP presidential candidate is feeling a bit of that sensation today.
The Hot Air comments referenced earlier in this column also contained some of the most damning evidence of this phenomenon, and they dealt specifically with John McCain rather than his highly opinionated daughter. He was belittled not only for losing the election, but for being a soft conservative. More than one reader declared that he wasn’t even “a real Republican.” Yes, Senator McCain lost the election, but it was fairly close given the conditions. Too many have forgotten not only the surging popularity of his opponent, but the perfect storm of anti-Republican sentiment brewing in a country facing difficult times under a president with an “R” after his name. Is there anyone left among even the most stalwart GOP base who thinks that a candidate like Sam Brownback could have pulled even 40% last November?
If so, I would submit that you have truly lost sight of the national mood and are allowing purist ideology to stand in the way of progress in the political arena. Rail all you like against Meghan McCain’s youth, her popularity with the liberal media, or her failure to conform to old-world, conservative doctrine. But she’s preaching to a new, younger choir in the evolving landscape of conservatism. You’d be well advised to listen.