Students Clash with Meghan McCain
Tensions rose at a Gray Fund event in Vollum Lecture Hall during questions between students and columnist, author, and blogger Meghan McCain.
McCain, who writes for The Daily Beast and appears as a contributor on MSNBC, and is the daughter of Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, spoke at Reed Tuesday night promoting America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom, her third book, which she wrote with comedian Michael Ian Black. McCain is known for her support of the Republican Party and conservative fiscal policies, despite her progressive stances on social issues (except abortion, which she opposes except in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother). She has advocated gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, and environmental issues.
McCain gave a short talk on her career, the polarization of American political discourse, and the failure of the news media. She detailed how her father’s unsuccessful 2008 Presidential campaign got her engaged in politics, and she encouraged civil bipartisan discourse around emotional issues. But after the talk, the atmosphere in Vollum became a bit tense over questions.
Asked how she justifies prioritizing fiscal issues over “fundamental” rights in her choice of the Republican Party, McCain said the national deficit and joblessness “scare me more than the hypothetical thing of Roe v Wade being repealed.” She advocated balancing the budget and a flat tax – an income tax that would charge all taxpayers the same percentage regardless of their income – as the core fiscal values of the Republican Party.
“The wealthiest Americans shouldn’t be necessarily paying for everything,” she said, though she added, repeatedly, “I’m not a tax expert.”
“Spreading the wealth around, and the concept of that, scares me,” she said. She noted a belief that more progressive fiscal systems are “demagoging” success in America, saying, “all I know in the past four years my mother’s wealth is something I have felt embarrassed by for the first time in my life.”
Student Erica Maranowski pressed McCain on her stance on abortion. “Abortion makes me incredibly uncomfortable,” responded McCain, agitated. “I don’t want to talk to you about what you want to do with your body.”
She went on, “I don’t like talking about abortion; it’s the easiest way to get people to start fighting.”
In response to Maranowski’s question if her stance is an imposition of her own religious views on other Americans, McCain noted that she did not support the repeal of Roe v Wade said simply, “I believe what I believe.”
The conversation became the most tense over the final question, which was designated before it was asked as the last one. “The fact remains that people listen to what you have to say by the nature of you being on television or being an influential blogger,” said student Michael Zhao. He pressed her on how she reconciles this with her disavowal of expertise on fiscal issues. After an apparent initial misunderstanding, the question was restated by student Ariel Dooner: “How do you reconcile being very influential in what you’re saying and not being a tax expert with talking about taxes?
McCain, angered, was on the defensive, saying she did not discuss fiscal issues primarily in her writing, though she had cited them that night as her primary reason for being a Republican. “If what I’m saying isn’t good enough for you, go watch someone else, honey,” she concluded. She then went to Vollum Lounge for a book signing, but left early.
Dooner, who also asked McCain about the meaning of civility and the core values of the Republican Party, says she was unsatisfied with what she called McCain’s failure to live up to her own standards for political discourse. “Every outlet into a conversation was deflected,” she says. “She then concluded the entire meeting in a very theatrical, flamboyant, phony way… It was the antithesis of what she was preaching the entire time.”
Student Sammie Massey, who was also in attendance, says she felt the audience played a part in the tension as well. “I think people didn’t know how to take it,” she says. “People were treating it like they would a lecture in Poli-Sci or Hum or something, and really she is a media figure. That’s not a bad thing. Criticizing her judgements for being unfounded was itself a little unfair.”
“I support her trying to redraw the lines of the political Democratic-Republican binary,” says Maranowski, who asked the question about abortion. “When she got a little defensive, that wasn’t very productive towards having a conversation.”
However, Maranowski says, she recognizes it took backbone to face a roomful of likely political opponents. “I admire her coming and speaking,” she says.