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
But did I have to make it so damn easy for them?
After all the money spent on my education, and hours studying at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, a Catholic girls school, and later at Columbia University, and after all the various social and political events that I had been privileged to attend, and brilliant people I’d been lucky enough to meet, you’d think that I could find a way to talk or dress like I’m not straight out of a mall in Scottsdale.
No offense, Scottsdale.
Well, you know what I mean.
PIECE WAS ONLY A SHORT PROFILE—AND WAS
going to run with a photograph of me. This didn’t seem so hard, or complicated. The writer, a small guy who described himself as “nebbish” during the interview, flew to Phoenix to interview me. We talked for about an hour, drove to lunch at Garduno’s Margarita Factory, and then we went bowling.
It seemed like my job was to provide him with as much information as possible, since he’d flown all the way to Arizona to see me, for God’s sake. I had no idea that it was unusual for a candidate’s daughter to be left alone for hours to gab with a feature writer. Nor did I expect that he would find a way to use every single semi-outrageous thing I said in order to make the piece as spicy and edgy as possible.
But if you are me, and you talk to somebody you like for four hours, you are going to wind up saying enough semi-outrageous things to fill up the entire issue of
too. Even worse, when the magazine called to arrange a photo shoot, and I was on the road, it didn’t occur to me that being photographed in my jeans and a black T-shirt on a hotel room bed with my computer on my lap and an open bottle of beer in my right hand, would make me look “slutty,” as one staffer put it, or like one of those troubled political family members who is sliding down the slippery slope to catastrophic embarrassment.
What was forgotten—and left in the reporter’s notepad and recorder—were hours of conversation about the campaign and my life outside of politics. The shreds of conversation that were used, babble and sputtering, became tantalizing nuggets. I made a remark that Barack Obama was “sexy,” said that I loved to watch a bisexual dating show on TV called
A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila
, and that I was a fan of the burlesque stripper Dita Von Teese.
A political gaffe is almost necessary in this kind of profile, apparently. I had unwittingly supplied that too. I said that I hoped Mike Huckabee wouldn’t be my dad’s running mate, and that he was better off running the evangelicals in the country instead.
Yes, I said all of those things. Mea culpa and all that. What is most noticeable is how painfully naïve I am in the interview, and how trusting. I thought the writer was just being really friendly and liked me, not just pretending that he did in order to manipulate me into providing juicy quotes. What a dope I was.
The cover of
said it all: “Is the White House ready for John McCain’s daughter?” And the article was entitled “Raising McCain,” a reference to the expression “raising Cain,” meaning to raise hell, raise the devil, and basically cause drama.
Well, that much was true. The reaction to the
article was crazy. It was like that scene in the movie
when Ron Livingston’s character gets inundated with e-mails and phone calls because he forgot to fill out his TPS report. Suddenly everyone in my path wanted to comment on my mistake and make sure I understood what I had done.
I was just twenty-three years old and had already won kudos for my blog, which I was funding entirely on my own, but suddenly the campaign was treating me like I was an irresponsible harlot who had released a sex tape with the president of Greenpeace.
When I look back on it now, it seems comical—as if my father wouldn’t become president because of a story in
about me. The overreaction was stunning. Even the word
was used to describe the damage that I had caused. The interview was deemed “scandalous” and the accompanying photo was DEFCON 5 for headquarters.
I thought the piece was perfectly fine, when I first read it. But after hearing the reaction, I quickly descended into shame and apologized to my parents. Most of all, I took a giant red pill and woke up to reality. Most journalists only care about pleasing their editors, making a name for themselves, and coming up with the juiciest possible story. Maybe the collapsing industry of publishing has made things even worse—and journalists feel greater pressure to create sensationalized material.
Here’s what I learned: Journalists do not care about the person being interviewed. And if they seem to, it’s an act. So whatever happens, don’t hug them good-bye.
The photograph still haunts me, not because I think I look that bad or trashy. It haunts me because I see a young girl, beautifully naïve and open and trusting, thinking that reporters are just people, just new friends.
I will never be that girl again.
First impressions are important. And the birth of my media persona wasn’t so wonderful. Thousands of people were introduced to John McCain’s daughter this way. I seemed to be a dummy with a big mouth and a beer bottle in her hand.
The funny thing is, I don’t even drink much.
But I guess I do have a big mouth.
or a month or longer after the
piece, there was a “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria” melody swirling around me, except it wasn’t a bunch of nuns singing. It was the Three Groomsmen of the Apocalypse, as I had begun to lovingly call Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis, and Mark Salter. Looking back, I’m sure everybody meant well and cared only about winning.
I needed to be fixed—improved upon or polished up—or sent to Siberia. That was the basic message. The list of things that were wrong with me was growing. My hairstyles and taste in clothing were two strikes against me. I just didn’t look anything like a Republican, which I was somewhat proud of. My tendency to swear was another.
Yes, I swear a lot. Especially if I am stressed out or hungry, which was, I have to admit, around the clock in those days. I apologize if I’ve become a huge disappointment in your eyes as a result of this confession, but if you could step inside the ramped-up environment of national politics, you’d know that foul language and swearing is as common on a presidential campaign as it is on a U.S. Navy battleship. Even so, the ease with which I tossed F-bombs seemed as big an issue for my father’s advisers as the economy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t a few meetings about it.
As far as the Three Groomsmen were concerned, I had become a political liability. Rather than helping my dad, I was informed that I was now hurting him.
When it comes to my dad, I’d do almost anything. If I could have morphed into another kind of daughter, I would have.
Toning down wasn’t easy. What I needed was motivation—and fortunately, it came, suddenly, out of the blue.
A carrot was dangled in front of my face. I think it was my mom, or somebody on her staff, who mentioned to me that the campaign honchos were thinking about having me introduce Mom at the Republican convention. This news made my heart leap, and I gasped with delight.
Speaking at the convention—a sea of people—millions of viewers all over the world. Me, on the convention stage. Me, introducing Mom.
I had never dreamed of an opportunity of this magnitude. Never in a million years. It was an incredible opportunity. Clearly it would be one of the most important and significant moments of my life.
My mom would love it too. She’d have a much easier time facing the convention crowd if I was there to introduce her, to give her a hug and cheer her on.
The prospect of this made me giddy, and each time I thought about it, my heart fluttered with excitement. More than anything, I wanted to be worthy and make everybody proud. I wanted to prove that everybody could put their faith in me—and not be disappointed. It was my big chance, let’s face it: Finally I would ascend to respectable daughter-of-hood.
Whatever it took, I was game. Whatever suggestions the Groomsmen had, I would follow them.
So when word came down from campaign headquarters that I should see a public speaking coach—a “media trainer”—and get a total overhaul by an image consultant, I didn’t say no.
IT WAS SUMMERTIME AND WARM, JULY, WHEN I FLEW
into Los Angeles for my big makeover. It was just a couple days, like media boot camp. The campaign had found a team of image consultants for me to see. It had also assigned a press secretary to my mom and me by then, a fantastic woman named Melissa Shuffield, who had worked in my dad’s senate office. Tall, dark-haired, and striking looking, Melissa and I hit it off immediately. She is five years older than I and, like a lot of people that I gravitate to, she has a dry sense of humor and a no-drama personality. Some people invite drama in their lives. Some people always reject it. Melissa’s equanimity was something that I would come to rely on and value in the rocky months ahead.
We drove to a large office space where two image consultants had set up business. It reminded me of Ari’s office on the TV show
, glassy and modern. There was a camera set up and a staging area with two director’s chairs, where I sat for “mock interviews” that were taped and analyzed.
Outside, there was a Zen roof deck with pillows and lots of Buddhas around, where we went for breaks.
The consultants were two middle-aged women. One of them was super-attractive in a very Los Angeles kind of way, with short blond hair and camera-ready features. She was perfectly nice but, to be honest, it’s hard to warm up to someone whose soul purpose is to analyze your “flaws.”
The second consultant was a bit older, less done-up, and seemed more mellow. I guess I liked her a little more because, when they analyzed my hair, she was a lot nicer about it.
I wore a black button-down shirt and jeans to the meeting, trying to look as benign and toned-down as possible. Maybe that’s why they began with my hair. The first consultant was highly critical. My hair was too blond and way too long. As soon as she started in, I had a paranoid fear that one of the Three Groomsmen had called beforehand and prepped her, because my “stripper” hair had been a subject of debate already on the campaign. The consultants actually referred to my hairstyle as “Brooke Hogan hair.”
I’m not kidding. And was this such a terrible thing? Last time I checked, Brooke Hogan was gorgeous. But the consultants thought my hairstyle made me look slutty, unprofessional, and like the daughter of a professional wrestler, rather than the direct descendant of two four-star admirals and a legendary war hero who was now running for president.
My hair made me look slutty? This had never crossed my mind before. I had had super-long blond hair as long as I can remember, ever since I had dyed my hair deep red my freshman year of high school and let it fade. Afterward, I went blonder and blonder. I was a fan of Gwen Stefani, Marilyn Monroe, and Madonna—and I’d loved the way Carolyn Bessette Kennedy wore her hair—so bleached out and shiny. Obviously, even in high school I wanted to stand out and never saw anything wrong with that.
My hair is my security blanket. When it looks good, I feel good. That’s true for lots of women. And I was attached to my long, bleached hair. But the image consultants clearly hated it—and changing my hair color and length became a priority.
I remember feeling self-conscious and kind of battered down, but trying to be good-natured about it. When I thought about the convention, just a month away, and introducing my mom (or my grandmother, as the campaign had recently mentioned), I agreed to allow the consultants to make an appointment with a salon in Beverly Hills where my hair would be fixed to become more appropriate and Republican looking.
If it meant less people on my ass, I would do it. I mean, it was only my hair, after all, and it would grow back.
Next, I sat down in front of the camera and gave a mock interview, which we watched later and analyzed. I was criticized for the way I talked. Apparently I have a scratchy Valley girl way of pronouncing things. I tried and tried to stop it and fix it. I was like Eliza Doolittle in
My Fair Lady
, sitting there with sentences to repeat, over and over. I failed every time. It was hard to drill all those
s out of me. So the consultants gave me “homework” to do—speaking exercises—to try to change that.
Also, I was a horrendous interview subject. I babbled on about things that I shouldn’t have and needed to be more specific. I practiced that too.
My wardrobe was the next subject. On the campaign, I wanted to look like me—and pretty much wore my basic wardrobe of a big sweater and leggings, sometimes a dark dress with purple tights and some wild shoes. I am a shoe addict and I love fashion. Underneath it all, I should probably be a Vegas showgirl because I love accessories—bows and sequins, baubles and bangles, anything kind of glittery and bright.
And I love wearing over-the-top clothes when I can. When I was fifteen, and my dad was running for president for the first time, I wore a big poofy pink furry jacket everywhere. I was a little rebel. One of the staffers coined it “The Courtney Love Jacket.” Looking back on it, it’s kind of crazy that a fifteen-year-old was walking around in a pink furry coat. But my parents have always encouraged me to be myself, and look the way I want. When I am old, I hope that I can look like the designer Betsey Johnson—still working it, still out there, and wearing whatever I want.
According to the image consultants, though, I just looked terrible. They made an appointment for us to go to Neiman Marcus and shop for new clothes.
HOW WAS A WOMAN IN POLITICS SUPPOSED TO LOOK? I’D
like to say that our audience is the general public, the man and woman on the street—the voters. In reality our audience is the media. And the media is very fickle. It can’t decide how it wants a woman in politics to look.
Our country may honor individuality, but when it comes to a political figure, what’s acceptable is narrow. How does a woman color inside the lines and still have her own personal style? It helps if the woman has pretty conventional taste to begin with—and can wear those clothes well. Aside from Jackie O and maybe Michelle Obama, I’m not sure if anyone has really mastered it yet.
I had already learned a few things by the time I got to the image consultant, though. Number one rule was not to show any skin—and to hide my boobs and body as much as possible. Early on, I was described in several articles as “voluptuous,” which troubled me. Why describe my body at all? But my physical appearance was mentioned time and time again on the blogosphere. It seemed to surprise people that I wasn’t dieting myself into oblivion or hiring a star personal trainer to get me ab’ed and muscled out. But I didn’t want to diet and I didn’t want to spend hours a day in a gym. And I didn’t want to start looking less like a woman. I liked the way I was.
But for a woman in politics, revealing things that make you a woman is a total negative. No boobs. No ass. Not much leg. Bare arms, like Michelle Obama’s, become a huge story.
If my brothers, Jack and Jimmy, had been working on the campaign, instead of me, would their appearance have been an issue? Would they have to hide their muscles and tattoos? Would the Groomsmen tell them to see an image consultant? And if they swore on the campaign bus, would anybody have noticed?
There’s a double standard and I don’t like it.
IN LOS ANGELES, UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF THE CONSULTANTS
, my hair was chopped off to above my shoulders and their stylist put lowlights in my hair that looked like streaks of gray. I hated it immediately. But I swallowed my distress and didn’t say anything, and wanted very much to embrace my new look. I made a few jokes that I had a “Fox News anchorwoman cut” but otherwise played along.
At Neiman Marcus, I got pantsuits. The consultants had made it clear, pretty much, that anybody in a pantsuit was brilliant and a woman in leggings and sweaters looked like a porn star. I didn’t want to start wearing suits. But, again, I agreed. And with a little effort, I was able to find some edgy, fun suits that were cut well. I also discovered that in a pantsuit, it was easier to hide my ever-growing waist and ass. Ha!
And a few weeks later, I got a bill for thousands of dollars—the fee for the meeting with the image consultants and all their advice, not including the clothes I bought. Looking back, I am embarrassed that I went along with this and spent all that money of my own. It might have been one of the worst financial decisions I’ve made. But it taught me a lot about being true to myself, what I think is pretty, and what makes me happy in life.
I am happy being myself.
And I was happy to undo all the damage too. As soon as I returned to the campaign, I freaked out and had Piper dye my hair back to its old bleach-blond color. And I asked her to redo the haircut to something a bit edgier.
As far as my clothes, I continued to wear some suits and I might have toned down a bit too. Nothing else really changed. I still wore what I wanted. If anything, due to my newly conservative wardrobe, I began wearing more sparkly jewelry and Lucite bracelets and earrings. And while waiting for my hair to grow out, I began curling it and putting a little bow on the side, a look that I sort of stole from singer Katy Perry.
Little girls began showing up at my campaign events with the same look—curls with a bow on the side. It was so sweet. And I thought it was ironic that a look that I created in order to placate the Three Groomsmen became my “signature” campaign style. But as soon as the election was over, I never wore my hair like that again. It brought back too many memories. But I still have a giant box of all those bows in my closet at home.
I don’t want to change. That’s what I learned.
The Groomsmen were off my back, in any case. That’s how it seemed. What I didn’t realize was that they had a much bigger fish to fry. They were flying up to Wasilla, Alaska, and interviewing the governor there. They’d need to worry about how she looked too.