18 April 2009

Meghan McCain to Log Cabin Republicans

If Meghan McCain can keep talking truth to power within her own party, then I've got a lot of hope for the next wave of Republican figureheads, leaders, and--watch out--activists. Last month McCain asked Ann Coulter to explain some things, then a week later she took the fight to Laura Ingraham. Now, HuffPo's Sam Stein captures McCain's comments this evening to the Log Cabin Republicans, and the substance of her critique is pretty damn good:

"There are those who think we can win the White House and Congress back by being 'more' conservative. Worse, there are those who think we can win by changing nothing at all about what our party has become. They just want to wait for the other side to be perceived as worse than us. I think we're seeing a war brewing in the Republican Party. But it is not between us and Democrats. It is not between us and liberals. It is between the future and the past."

Emphasis mine. There's a tendency to assume that unpopularity simply saddles each party at some point, usually as a backlash to the party in, or just out of, power. Dems were seen as weak and ineffective coming off the Carter years. Then the Republican Party enjoyed a wave of enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan's charm and appeal. George H.W. Bush couldn't sustain that enthusiasm ("Read my lips" didn't go over as well as "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!"), and the pendulum swung the other way. And no sooner did Bill Clinton get into the White House than Dems lost popularity and took a thumping in the midterms. A few years go by and it's George W's turn, and wash, rinse, repeat. Meghan McCain seems to be here to say to her party "Hey, wake up! There's something going on in the country, and we can't assume that it'll just be our turn again if we sit around and wait for the other guys to screw up."

When McCain says war is brewing in the Republican party between the future and the past, what she means is that the grand old gentlemen who run the Grand Old Party have failed to connect with the most important new force in American politics: 18-25 year olds. (I suspect it's more like 18-40 year olds, but that's really just a hunch.) Democrats, on the other hand, clearly have connected with that young crop.

Democrats have gotten a young president with a Blackberry into the Oval Office, and they've excited what looks to be two generations worth of voters who still have the bulk of their voting years ahead of them. We could argue about whether Democrats really did this, or whether it's just the power of Obama, but I suspect Howard Dean has been enjoying the resurgence and renewed effectiveness of the DNC he helped turn around. Meanwhile, there is no one Republican figure who can excite a clear majority of Republican voters nationwide. And Republican politics among the states has become a clear race to the bottom.

McCain's got something to say about that, by the way:

"Simply embracing technology isn't going to fix our problem," she said. "Republicans using Twitter and Facebook isn't going to miraculously make people think we're cool again. Breaking free from obsolete positions and providing real solutions that don't divide our nation further will. That's why some in our party are scared. They sense the world around them is changing and they are unable to take the risk to jump free of what's keeping our party down."

Emphasis mine. Now, this might all be a part of a book tour for the young McCain, but I'm hoping it's something more. An interesting thing has happened in American politics since Barack Obama arrived on scene. We've finally got the right combination of appeal, charisma, and intelligence at the forefront of a national dialogue, and a leader who genuinely seems to enjoy a thoughtful and respectful debate. A lot of Republicans have responded simply by raising the volume. Meghan McCain sounds like she's ready to raise the bar. Here's hoping she can bring quality ideas to match her tone, and that she won't be destroyed by her own party.