24 year-old Meghan McCain was one of the few bright spots of her father John McCain’s presidential campaign last year, and she’s deeply concerned about what she sees as the Republican party’s lack of message for young people. (And personally, I think she’s right–although it’s not like the Democrats have all that many prominent young leaders in their camp, either.) Well, 44 year-old talk radio host Laura Ingraham has decided that a trenchant critique of Megan McCain’s ideas is beyond her, so she has resorted to name-calling, as in, McCain is “too plus sized to be a cast member on the television show The Real World.” Nice. Well, this is what you get when you advance the eminently sane argument that Ann Coulter is a nutter, not to mention an ineffective spokesperson for selling the G.O.P. to the younger generation: ” I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time. . . . if figureheads like Ann Coulter are turning me off, then they are definitely turning off other members of my generation as well. She. . . appeal[s] to the most extreme members of the Republican Party—but they are dying off, becoming less and less relevant to the party structure as a whole.”
McCain is correct–the G.O.P. has a major youth problem, and based on conversations with my students, jumping up and down about gay marriage and Bill Clinton’s sex life in the 1990s is, shall we say, not the way to go, my friends. The majority of people in their twenties don’t even understand, let along share, the animosity towards gay people and gay marriage that motivates the older end of the Republican base, and please recall–even 29 year-olds today were only eighteen when Clinton was impeached. For better or worse, they just don’t care about the signal event that made the careers of right-wing pundits like Ingraham and Coulter.
McCain responded to Ingraham’s insult with a well thought-out article asking, “after all this time and all the progress feminists have made, [why] is weight still such an issue? And in Laura’s case, why in the world would a woman raise it? Today, taking shots at a woman’s weight has become one of the last frontiers in socially accepted prejudice.” I’d say that taking shots at any ambitious or accomplished woman in general is still a “socially accepted prejudice,” and unfortunately, women can be just as aggressive in applying unfair and irrelevant standards to judge other women as men, and sometimes moreso. Let’s hope that McCain will be able to articulate a new vision for Republican women–maybe even a feminist one? Because Gen X Republican women like Coulter and Ingraham have always been more invested in self-promotion and putting on a particular kind of glamour that never meshed with how the majority of Republican women live their lives. I certainly don’t care that Coulter and Ingraham have never married or had children, and that they’ve made themselves ultra-thin and blond and camera-ready. That may be authentically who they are–but their images are more about advancing their own careers, not any particular policy positions and certainly not the fortunes of the G.O.P. (Ingraham’s Wikipedia page reports that she began the process of adopting a child in 2008–will Dr. Laura attack her for sending the message that fathers are irrelevant, since she remains unmarried?)
McCain’s problem with Coulter and Ingraham may be that she actually seems to care about the G.O.P. and not just self-promotion. Her family name gives her that luxury, of course, whereas Ingraham and Coulter are scrappers who have made it without family connections (so far as I know, anyway.) To conclude, here’s why Ingraham’s chosen line of attack against McCain is so truly pathetic: it reveals an obsession with just weight control, with a frenzy to shrink yourself down to a size that is sufficiently nonthreatening to men, to the media, and to the Washington establishment. Ingraham’s comment reminds me of all of the women I went to college with who had eating disorders: anorexics are the most boring people in the world, because they think and talk only about their weight, which is not only self-centered in extremis, it’s about the least interesting and least significant thing about oneself–irrelevant even in the tiniest of universes. And that’s a truly pathetic place for a well-educated woman in her forties to be: attacking a woman twenty years younger by calling her fat.
UPDATE: Check this out from The View today (via The Daily Beast):