Meghan and Cindy McCain on Hate Campaigns, Sexism in Politics, and the Tea Party

At the California Women’s Conference last night, Senator John McCain’s daughter Meghan and wife Cindy held a freewheeling conversation about the current state of politics in this country, and the need to get more women involved, especially younger women.

“I think for our generation it’s no longer an option not to be involved,” said Meghan. “Our generation is the first generation to look out into the future and not see a future that is as bright as the one my mother had. It’s scary. We’re being left with a national deficit that is quite literally bankrupting our grandchildren. It’s no longer an option.”

But Meghan is not a member of the Tea Party, and laughed about her recent appearance on Meet the Press, when she referred to Christine O’Donnell as a “nut job” (“Not the best way I could call her,” she laughed).

“I think unfortunately, what the Tea Party has done is you put these candidates up that are seemingly a national mockery,” she said. “As a woman, I take particular offense to it. We have lots of strong women out there that are more than capable of being kickass Senators. I don’t think Christine O’Donnell is one of them.”

Meghan’s political views are well known, thanks to her campaign blog, Daily Beast column, best-selling book and many television appearances. But Cindy McCain –- who gave very few interviews in 2008 -– was something of a blank slate to me.

It was easy to project my own preconceived notions on her, as a Pat Nixon-like political wife, standing quietly beside her husband in a “good Republican cloth coat.” Last night, Cindy McCain turned my prejudices around.

Cindy McCain, left, speaks with Meghan McCain at the Night of the Village as part of The Women's Conference in Long Beach California on October 25, 2010.  UPI/Lori Shepler Photo via Newscom

“In my opinion, there’s no room for hate anywhere in politics and I’m very frustrated with what’s going on right now, particularly with all these races now," said Cindy. “It’s as nasty as I’ve ever seen it in politics, and I go back to the days watching Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan settle issues that were very important to this country, over a cocktail in the White House. That may sound a little trite, but it’s absolutely the way it was done, and it was a very civilized, gentlemanly way to do it and I don’t mean –- not to make it sexist, but it was a good way to do things.”

Cindy and Meghan both discussed gender differences in politics, motherhood and how women are treated by the media.

“A lot of female candidates this season ... they’ll say I’m a mother first. You notice that male candidates don’t do that, or don’t have to do that,” Cindy said.

Meghan concurred: “I think it’s interesting it’s becoming such a big issue for women now with this candidacy that’s going on in Colorado; one candidate saying that because she’s a mother of six she’s more qualified than this other candidate who is not a mother. I think what’s interesting for my generation is motherhood and being a wife is a lot less emphasized. I’m 26 years old and I don’t really have a lot of that are married let alone have children, so for me it’s not a big deal.”

But Cindy thinks it is important.

“Motherhood gives you a certain perspective on life that other people don’t have, and I think it’s a very important perspective,” she said. “So I think as a candidate, I think it adds an extra dimension to the person that’s running and it gives them an opportunity to look at issues; particularly issues that affect the globe, and I’m talking about poverty, hunger, things that I obviously work a great deal with. I think it’s a very necessary perspective.”

Meghan was asked if she thought female candidates could be both smart and sexy.

“I really hate the idea that no matter what you feel like about women like Sarah Palin and Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton –- their looks come first in any kind of political discussion. ... This is something that I continue to fight against, especially with women’s body image. ... Should I be smart, can I be pretty, can I like makeup, do I need to tone it down? I hate this; it’s very archaic,” Meghan said.

While Cindy did not blame the patriarchy, she opined that “our traditional parties -– Republican and Democrat -– are controlled by men. And I personally find that a problem,for one,” she said.

“And number two, I’d like to see an opportunity for more women.”

Meghan thinks that some women in power are just as guilty of sexism as the men.

“The first time I ever spoke out really publicly, by myself, the first answer I got from another woman was that I was too fat to be making any comment, and that I was dumb and I was blonde,” she said.

“We as women have got to support each other and condemn women who think it’s ok to bully other women ... The hardest bullies and the most criticism I got has been from older women. And I just find that disheartening,” she said.

According to her Women’s Conference bio, Cindy McCain “works to increase awareness of international charity organizations…The HALO Trust, which removes the debris of war, United Nations World Food Programme and Operation Smile.” She and Meghan also made news last year by appearing with the Log Cabin Republicans in support of the NOH8 campaign.

“I really have to give it up to my mom for taking such a brave step so publicly,” said Meghan. “A lot of people kept giving her a lot of anger about us being so open about our stance on gay marriage and obviously it’s something that people find ironic because we’re both Republicans and we’re obviously both straight.”

Meghan seems to think that finding common ground in politics has been good for her relationship with her mother.

“It’s really become something that has bonded us even closer together. It’s been a nice platform for us to –- together on. So I think whatever you believe, it’s nice to sort of come together with your friends or your family and just find an issue you agree on.”

Donna Schwartz Mills blogs about life in Southern California at SoCal Mom and CBS Local Digital Los Angeles.

She is also a contributor to MOMocrats.

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