Authors: Meghan McCain
Tags: #Autobiography, #Political Science, #Political, #General, #Biography & Autobiography, #United States, #Biography, #Essays, #Biography And Autobiography, #Language Arts & Disciplines, #Journalism, #Presidents, #Editors; Journalists; Publishers, #Political Ideologies, #Politics and government, #Current Events, #Politics, #Conservatism & Liberalism, #Election, #Political Ideologies - Conservatism & Liberalism, #Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- ), #2001-2009, #2008, #U.S. - Contemporary Politics
As soon as he pulled away, we sped back to our hotel, where I tracked down Piper Baker, my mom’s hairstylist. Piper and I look alike. We really do. Well, sort of. I had a plan. If the police traced the car to our campaign, could Piper say that she stole the signs and not me?
Good ol’ Piper. She was game. “So long as your mom doesn’t fire me,” she said.
“No, no, no. That will never happen,” I promised.
Then I went to Joe Donahue, a campaign aide who is like a brother to me, and a longtime friend of my dad’s, and made a full confession. I had to tell somebody what had happened. “I could get arrested, Joe,” I kept saying. “I could. I could. What should I do?”
“You’ll be okay,” he kept answering, over and over. And he was right. The state troopers didn’t come.
But I guess I should admit that, as the campaign wore on, this wasn’t the only time Piper came in handy as my stunt double. I am amazed how many journalists thought she was me, let alone supporters and volunteers. Looking back on it, though, I think it would have been pretty damn funny to get arrested for stealing signs on election day, although I’m not sure my parents would have bailed me out.
AT 8:15 THAT NIGHT, I WAS IN MY DAD’S PRIVATE HOTEL
room with my family and a few journalists when his victory was declared. The room exploded in cheers and screams. All the noise in the world seemed like silence to me, compared to the way I felt inside. I used to say that I wanted a tattoo that said “Live Free or Die” on my arm. My feelings of relief and gratitude—love—for the people of New Hampshire were suddenly too great to keep in. I cried and hugged everyone in sight.
Just six months before, our campaign had been broke, understaffed, and declared dead. To win now seemed nothing short of a miracle.
Victory of this kind is hard to describe, but once you’ve experienced it, and been part of an underdog operation that comes from behind and rushes to triumph, you know why people devote their lives to politics, to fighting for issues they believe in, to the exhilarating battle of wits and skill and experience that make up a presidential campaign. I felt so buoyant, alive, and filled with a wild sense of accomplishment and reward.
The slate had been cleaned. My dad was now the front-runner. The happiness I felt was breathtaking. But underneath, there was sadness, too. Because I sensed that it was the last night of the good old campaign days—the small towns, the snowy landscape, the feeling of being surrounded by goodwill and peace.
As the months passed, and we kept winning—twenty-two primaries in two months—we used to half-jokingly say, “I miss New Hampshire.” For a while, we talked about putting that phrase on a T-shirt. We didn’t. But the feeling never went away.
et me begin this story about going to the White House to meet former First Lady Laura Bush and former First Daughter Jenna, by admitting that I have always had insecurities about being an inadequate daughter-of. I am always afraid that people expect me to be milder, quieter, and more composed, like the other daughters-of.
Being a daughter-of is a weird little club, if you think about it. And membership comes with a weird little celebrity. Your parents are in the limelight, and like it. But this doesn’t mean you will too. It is hard to tell how the other daughters-of are dealing with this, because many of them seem to be kind of shut down. Since your entire job in public life is standing, waving, and wearing the right clothes, you can become a permanent cardboard figure, I guess, like a princess doll. And since the world can be focused on you, and fascinated, maybe it seems safer to say nothing.
I might be the only member of the club who doesn’t have a problem talking like this. So many of the other daughters-of are shy and private, but that’s essentially the exact opposite of who I am. And it is one reason why, when I’m around other daughters-of, I feel like the odd girl out, like the zebra in a room full of leopards. I look different too. I like to wear my hair super-long and as blond as possible. And sometimes, I admit, I get carried away with makeup. My personal style can come off a little more like Gwen Stefani than Tricia Nixon Cox.
I always have wanted a group of daughters-of to get together and lock the door, share experiences and secrets. But I don’t think there is really any chance of that happening. The others are so composed and discreet—and almost seem to be waiting for somebody to peel them a grape.
WHEN I FOUND OUT THAT MY MOM AND I WERE INVITED
to go to the White House for lunch I immediately became anxious. To be honest, it wasn’t thoughts about the South Carolina primary in 2000 that got me in a state. My first concern was totally my wardrobe.
I had been on the road for two weeks at the time my mom got the invitation—and there was nothing clean left in my suitcase. I was at the point in my campaign laundry cycle where I was rewearing bras and leggings, a gross necessity when you are living out of a suitcase for days at a time. I love how the words “I’m on the road” sound so sexy and alluring when they are coming out of a woman’s mouth, and sometimes when I said it myself, I felt like Penny Lane, the super-cool girl on the bus in
But the realities of road life weren’t so glamorous.
To begin with, I was hanging out with old Republican men with hygiene deficiencies, not rock stars. And rather than wearing a big fur coat and bell bottoms, I was lugging around a suitcase of stained tops and grungy purple tights.
What the hell do I wear to the White House?
Just two days before, my dad had won the Republican primaries in Ohio, Texas, Vermont, and Rhode Island—and had locked up the party nomination. He was going to the White House himself to be endorsed by the president, a final burying-of-all-remaining-hatchets ceremony in the Rose Garden.
The next day, my mom and I were invited for lunch there. It was pitched as a “get-to-know-you” visit, a passing of the torch sort of thing. After all, it was no longer unimaginable that we’d be living there in less than a year. For me, it was exciting to have a chance to see it, finally, up close. I had only been there once, when I was ten or eleven, on a public tour during the Clinton years. But I’d never seen the residence before.
I was really excited to meet Laura and Jenna Bush too. Jenna always seemed so fun, from everything I had read about her. She had recently become engaged and there had been a number of stories about it. She seemed to be turning into a less private daughter-of, somebody who was becoming more comfortable with attention and publicity. When I thought of meeting her, I imagined us sitting down in a private corner of the White House residence together, sharing tales and swapping brand names of our favorite blush. I envisioned a totally girly moment, to be honest. I have always wanted to bond with another daughter-of, and have one for a friend.
Shopping in a hurry has never been one of my strengths. I wind up with the wrong things, inevitably. After rushing around Georgetown in a frenzy, desperate to find something appropriate, I decided on a black, knee-length Diane von Furstenberg dress with a black sash around the waist and a little black cotton jacket/poncho to go over it. I also found a pair of patent leather round-toe Tory Burch shoes with black glitter on the heel to spice up the outfit a bit.
I couldn’t go wrong with that, I thought. Black is my favorite color—my signature, if you will. And Diane von Furstenberg seems to work in literally every social setting I can imagine—from a night in a crummy bar to a trip to the White House.
The next morning, I woke up early and got started on my hair. I asked Piper, my mom’s hairdresser, to braid my hair into three rows flat on my head. I was aiming for a fusion of African cornrows and a crazy blond look that Piper and I had devised earlier in the year. Cornrows really worked on the road, in any case. It was a great way to have my hair out of my face, and pulled up, but not too old or serious looking.
Shannon and Heather were coming along, and we had called the First Lady’s office and had been told that they could bring their cameras—which seemed so cool of the White House. But about thirty minutes before we left the hotel, my mom’s assistant got another phone call. No cameras allowed.
Fine, I thought. And I understood that cameras may seem intrusive. It irritated me at the same time—these last-minute changes were a daily problem on the campaign. We were allowed access, and then, at the last minute, we’d get a call saying we weren’t. I hated the drama, and the indecisiveness.
We all piled into one of those giant SUVs that the Secret Service used to drive my parents around. My mom looked really pretty in a gray suit with her hair pulled half up and half down. She always knows exactly what to wear, and how to pull an outfit together and make it look seamless. It’s a talent that I wish I had.
Another thing about my mom: No matter what I’m wearing, she always says I look great.
NOW, I DON’T CARE WHO YOU ARE, OR HOW LUXURIOUS
and rarified your background is, the White House is spectacular. Just driving through the gates makes you giddy, it just does. The lawns are a perfect green with perfect hedges. The building is huge and white and spectacularly beautiful. It doesn’t seem real. It looks like a movie set or a palace.
At one of the side entrances, our car was met by the First Family’s small dogs who were scrambling around. When I knelt down to pet one, the dog growled at me. It should have been a warning sign of things to come.
First impressions count for a lot. We were met by a White House aide, who greeted us and shook everyone’s hand but Shannon’s. Was this an accident? I don’t know. But it was very uncomfortable, for us, anyway, that the one minority standing in line with all of us didn’t get welcomed or greeted, as though she wasn’t a real guest. Maybe because Shannon looks really young she was consciously, or unconsciously, deemed unworthy. But I immediately felt bad about it, and sorry that I couldn’t step in and say something. To say something would have made it worse.
We were led down a long corridor and then up in an elevator to the East Wing, I believe, but it was all so beautiful and surreal I can’t remember exactly where we were. The elevator was wooden on the inside, and very elegant. I looked over at Shannon and giggled when she mouthed the words, “what the fuck?” I knew that she was referring to the fact that she wasn’t greeted. But soon enough, the doors opened.
Now, the White House, although gorgeous and stunning, is a lot smaller inside than I imagined. Looking at the exterior of the building, you would expect the spaces inside to be soaring. But instead, it feels cozy and intimate. We entered a room with a big oval window where the sun shined in and flooded a giant plush couch with warm light. The glossy wooden floors creaked when I walked on them, and there were beautiful old colonial paintings on the walls, and giant tapestries. Sitting on the big tables were enormous bouquets of yellow roses, and their amazing fragrance filled the room. It was just surreal and wonderful.
While Heather and Shannon talked with an aide, my mom and I sat down on the big cushy couch and waited.
Laura Bush arrived, greeted us in her cool but warm way. She was wearing black slacks, a black sweater, and black ballet flats, and looked very nice, but much more casual than I expected. From television and magazine pieces about her, I had come to assume she wore a bright red pantsuit and full face of camera-ready makeup wherever she went. Also, the surroundings of the White House are so grand and formal, it was a little disorienting to see her so relaxed. But here, she was in her own home, after all.
At night, did she walk around in sweatpants? Thinking about this was like being at Disneyland and wondering what happened when all the tourists are gone. It made me giggle. In my mind, even at nighttime at the White House, people should be wearing giant silk robes and golden slippers. Anything else would spoil the mood.
We all sat down and made small talk. I don’t remember what we talked about, it was chitchat—about being from Texas and Arizona, campaigning, the Republican Party . . . nothing incredibly memorable. I am not sure what I expected, maybe just a more friendly and inclusive person, full of warmth, the way her voice sounds on TV. But being sensitive and instinctual, I pick up on vibes, body language, and body signals to an excruciating degree. And there was no doubt in my mind that, for Mrs. Bush, this was just one more meeting she had to take during the day. I tried not to take it personally, and I’m sure my mom didn’t either.
Jenna showed up soon enough, just back from a shopping trip. I was surprised by how petite she is, short and very thin. She wore long slacks, a gray quarter-length sweater, a long jacket, and ballet slippers. Head to toe, she was just beautiful and casually elegant. And suddenly it was hard not to feel a little bit stupid in my glitter heels and cornrows. What was I thinking?
Jenna was very friendly and we slipped quickly into small talk, not really banter. Henry Hager, her fiancé—now her husband—was with her, an extremely tall guy with a smooth look and manner, pretty much what you’d expect from a Maryland tobacco heir. Then the First Lady and Jenna took us on a short tour of the White House.
The Lincoln Bedroom, while not enormous, is really beautiful—all wood, an old bed, big windows, and it is amazing when you are inside it to imagine Abraham Lincoln really sleeping there. It had just been refurbished, and recently photographed for a magazine, so every detail was perfect and breathtaking. I have a pretty sizable fascination with Abraham Lincoln that borders on worship, and I felt overwhelmed, suddenly. He is my favorite president. I had a funny time-traveling feeling: “I’m standing in the Lincoln freaking bedroom!!!”
Jenna took us to see her bedroom, which conjoined the one that her sister, Barbara, used. I was shocked at how small it was—really, it was the size of a dorm room, and pretty unremarkable, on the order of a charming room in an old bed-and-breakfast inn. On the wall, I remember there was a creepy painting of two celestial babies—twins—that scared me. I zeroed in on a super-small flat-screen television, but aside from that, I didn’t have one single feeling of excitement that someday, maybe in less than a year, this could be my bedroom. But since I wasn’t planning on living with my parents, anyway, I wondered how I’d break the news to Bridget.
It was time for lunch, and this is where my White House visit becomes a little strange. Apparently there had been some miscommunication between the First Lady’s office and my mother’s personal assistant, because, in fact, the actual invitation for lunch was extended to my mother only—and not me.
Standing there, I was suddenly so embarrassed that I didn’t know what to say, except, “That’s fine, fine, okay, whatever.” The sort of thing anybody would say under those circumstances. I sputtered out some jokes, but it was impossible to not feel like my very presence was somehow now a big problem. “Sorry, I’m a White House party crasher!” I wanted to say. But in all my embarrassment, and self-focus, it didn’t occur to me how odd it was that Mrs. Bush or her social office didn’t simply enlarge the lunch table to include me, or at least make more of an effort to have me feel less weird.
An aide of Mrs. Bush’s was standing by, and suggested that Jenna and I have lunch in something that she called “the White House mess.” I thought that sounded cool, some crazy “mess hall” in the White House—and imagined a big, army-style cafeteria with plastic trays and good chocolate pudding in swirly goblets, maybe even that fake whipped cream. And maybe there, I imagined, Jenna and I could have our girls’ gabfest, and gossip more freely about the hilarious demands of being a daughter-of.
?” Jenna asked dismissively. “What’s that? I’ve never heard of it.”
She laughed nervously and I could see she wasn’t happy.
Now, if you are me and you have serious insecurities about not being refined enough, elegant enough, or basically quiet and calm enough to have a place within the small circle of political daughters-of, this was my nightmare. Somehow, by just showing up, I had irritated Jenna and put Mrs. Bush and her staff in an uncomfortable position of wondering what to do about me, where to put me, and how to feed me.
Jenna and Henry bowed out of any lunch plans, as quickly as possible, and began to say their good-byes. They were in the middle of planning their wedding, after all, and had things to do. There was a brief conversation about the sick stuff that people post on the Internet, and I made a quip about these things being written by “guys who live in their mothers’ basements and have nothing else to do.” I was happy when Jenna and Henry laughed at that, and the air became less heavy in the room.
Mrs. Bush’s aide kindly stepped in, and offered to take me to lunch with Shannon and Heather. The aide was perfectly nice and pleasant, but her entire conversation was about her new Smart Car and how excited she was to own one. She seemed so thrilled with herself and delighted by her new car—and talked incessantly about the joys of her new vehicle as we made a long journey outside the building and down sets of stairs to another wing of the White House.