It has to be strange to be Meghan McCain. At 24 years old, this blonde bloggette is straddling adulthood, and noticeably hungry and plumped up for life's next chapter. Gone is the irresponsibility of youth, the fun parties and the stupid mistakes. Now is a time for positive change. Enter her father, needing help in achieving a personal goal. Say, that could work. But what if this same father is also the editorial figurehead for the continued murder of hundreds of thousands of people. What to do? Miss McCain, who previously interned at Saturday Night Live, appears to have addressed this moral conflict with the funniest joke possible: She's gone completely mad and has made a satirical child's book in tribute.
My Dad, John McCain is one of a series of three titles produced by Simon & Schuster, who also offer the humorously named Dreams Taking Flight on Hillary Clinton (whoops), and Son of Promise, Child of Hope on Barack Obama. All three titles are sycophantic and equally repulsive for their own reasons, but My Dad, John McCain is the star of the bunch: it's the only one to rise from puff piece to the level of genuinely manipulative campaign literature, as the author and political subject are directly connected by flesh and blood.
And what a fleshy piece of tribute this book is. Draped in poorly chosen blood-red endpapers and comprised of fairy tale prose that portrays John McCain as a man of the soil, we are given the odd parable of the man who struggles and survives. There is no mention of the moral consequences of his own bullheaded behavior that drives him into such circumstances. The message here is that there are no victims, ever. Other, of course, than John McCain himself.
There are certainly some great jokes, though. In fact, of all the worldwide lampooning on John McCain's crumbling mental state, I'm surprised to say Meghan McCain has managed one of the funnier moments of mean humor. In a fine example of juxtaposition, the first page of text states that part of the book's proceeds will go to "the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund", who, we are told, "is an organization that aids military personnel who have suffered severe traumatic brain injuries while serving our nation". Who could they be referring to?
Directly following this announcement, we see a full-page framed portrait of McCain and daughter, both smiling with a sort of medicated detachment. This juxtaposition of brain-damaged copy and dopey image can't be funnier, and to that I say well done Miss McCain. You had me at hello.
A tasteless joke not worth avoiding: On this same first page we're informed the following about the artwork: "THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE RENDERED IN GRAPHITE ON BRISTOL BOARD"
To which one must ask: Is there anything Sarah Palin's daughter won't lay down for?
Now, let's not mince words here and just be up front: My Dad, John McCain is a pit of unreadable garbage. Any good material that could have been found within has been ironed out by committee (it reeks of editing, and re-editing) leaving flavorless particle board for content. There will be no Alec Baldwin phonecalls found in here. Instead the party line message is re-stated over and over, page after page in crayon and graphite: John McCain took one in the groin for five years at the Hanoi Hilton and, like a whiny baby, therefore deserves to lead the country. I'm reminded of an old Marx Brother's joke from A Night at the Opera, where Chico famously retorts: "I'd'a give a shit about your fucking war injury if you didn't bring it up every damn day. It's been forty years. Now pass'a the peas and shut the fuck up."
Okay I'm making that quote up. But the sentiment remains. Is John McCain running for President of Vietnam Vets, or is he running for President of the U.S? Meghan's book seems to assert he's running on a pro-war policy from 1968. And such blind fawning of the past is not without its ironies. Following the brain injury introduction, a page illustrated with marbles and a wooden duck toy tells us:
"MY DAD WAS BORN IN PANAMA, ON A NAVY BASE. FOR HIM AND HIS FAMILY, THE NAVY WAS HOME. MY DAD'S FATHER AND HIS GRANDFATHER WERE BOTH NAVY ADMIRALS. IN FACT, OUR ANCESTORS HAVE FOUGHT FOR THEIR COUNTRY IN EVERY AMERICAN WAR SINCE THE REVOLUTION."
Nothing, short of the co-opting of bearded hippy Abraham Lincoln, is funnier to me, than seeing Republican war leaders reference the longhaired hippies of the American Revolution. We have a good example of how much John McCain and the Republican Party value American Revolution. It was last month's Republican National Convention, which included Bush Doctrine tactics to smash non-violent protest before it occurred, as well as arresting journalists and bystanders, and terrifying no-knock midnight raids into people's homes. The very concept that Republicans view the American Revolution with a kind of religious revelry, but don't understand what it means to be an American (a permanent responsibility to continually challenge government) is baffling and extremely depressing.
Following the duck and marbles page, we are introduced to John McCain, football player. Once again the victim theme is played out in full: "MY FATHER'S FAMILY MOVED FROM BASE TO BASE, WHICH MEANT HE SWITCHED SCHOOLS ALL THE TIME." (poor him)
From this, we are proudly told he is stupid and clumsy:
"HE WASN'T A VERY GOOD STUDENT. HE BROKE A LOT OF RULES."
"BUT" explaining this all away, "HE LIKED FOOTBALL AND WRESTLING."
Soon, after a few illustrations of shoes and a gold pen, we turn the page to see John McCain's three plane crashes. To view these pages without explanatory text is entertaining: 1) Swimming away from a sinking plane, 2) Hosing down another plane, this time engulfed in flames and 3) Parachuting from a plane as it spirals toward the Vietnam jungle. To which the obvious is surmised: He should have stuck with football.
Following the Keystone Cop Exploding Plane Sequence, the John McCain story shifts into its Oscar winning role of deathcamp prisoner. A stark coat of "We're Serious Now" is painted on My Dad, John McCain, as we see Meghan's father sitting on the floor of a Vietnamese prison.
A sepia and green tone covers most of the page, and with no toy ducks to be found Meghan's narration reports, holding back tears: " MY DAD AND THE OTHER PRISONERS WERE TREATED BADLY. HE DIDN'T GET THE RIGHT KIND OF MEDICAL CARE FOR HIS BROKEN BONES, AND THE FOOD WAS REALLY BAD--ONCE HE FOUND A CHICKEN FOOT IN HIS LUNCH."
How do you think the chicken felt?
I did love this anecdote, however: "BUT THE PRISONERS DID THINGS TO MAKE THEMSELVES FEEL BETTER. ONE GUY SEWED THE AMERICAN FLAG INSIDE HIS PAJAMAS. EVERY DAY THEY RECITED THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE."
This bit, truly, is funny as shit. What, did they salute that guy's ass? And please no flag raising jokes.
Despite his stated religious leanings, John McCain has never forgiven the Vietnamese. In a February 2000 interview, he said, very much on record: "I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live."
Do you agree with John McCain's anti-gook stance on the issues?
FREE TO NIXON / ELIMINATING THE FIRST WIFE
The book quickly cascades from one single page of unending torture to a page of freedom and accolade, with McCain back in the States. Among the kitchen table debris of a cup of coffee and a newspaper we see McCain's war medals strewn willy nilly. Unframed and included in this collage is the photo of McCain famously shaking Nixon's hand. One can imagine this scene to have come from real-life, and that if we were to pull back the camera slightly we'd see John McCain there with his first wife, both having endured torturous years apart (him, a vet, her, suffering from an auto accident) Now reunited, each the other's most important person, they enjoy a lover's embrace that transcends time. Could have been a beautiful page. But, no people are shown. Instead, our postwar text is just:
"FINALLY, THE WAR ENDED AND MY DAD WAS SET FREE."
And there we are, in 1973. No mention of anyone other than John -- which really seems to be how he likes it. But it's 1973, and he's home and safe. Phew. I'm sure he'll be hugging his old friends and family soon, catching up...
A flip of the page then reveals the meanest joke of the entire book:
"AFTER HE GOT HOME, MY DAD MET AND MARRIED MY MOM, CINDY. THEY HAD ME IN 1984, AND THEN CAME MY BROTHERS, JACK AND JIMMY."
What! Again, What? No reference at all to the first marriage. And suddenly we're in 1984? Outrageous. They completely censored out the first wife. It's a hilariously strange reading moment to experience, and I mean this for anyone even lightly aware of John McCain's history. My reaction was just to laugh for a moment or two - and I realize this is a child's book - but this really isn't a child's book. What's the real whitewash here? And more importantly, who is this book really intended for?
NOT FOR KIDS
Let's be honest for a moment and openly admit this is not the sort of boring crap a kid is interested in reading. It states a reading age of 5-10 on the inside cover flap, but do we really believe this? I remember being 5-10 (1979-1984), and have very little memory of being an active participant in giving ten rat shits about Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale, any of them. Is this a book to enlighten a non-voting ten year old, or, more deceptively, is this the sort of dumbed-down trash meant for a voting parent. And, if not, why choose to censor divorce from a story but INCLUDE much heavier topics like brain injuries, internment camps and broken bones that don't heal correctly? Why does this book have any violence at all, unless it's there to shape McCain's cried-for-our-sins image to voting age readers? The fact is, many adults can barely read above a fourth grade level, and much of this book is intended like a bullseye for their consumption.
Even if this stuff does land in the lap of a family: the very act of reading this book to a child (short of a guaranteed sleep aid) does produce a psychological connection to the material you wouldn't have otherwise. You're reading it to your child as a lesson, after all, probably emotionally inflecting as you read aloud. This book conditions its intended speaker, as much as it influences the intended audience.
Sure, I am aware this is just Simon & Schuster banking a touch on politics - but by including the McCain campaign in the production of the thing they are openly now participants in that weird world of campaign subversion. I personally find this stuff fun as hell, obviously (see site's archive) but it's always funny to see this sort of stuff from a major book conglomerate. It's also interesting that in a year where both politicians have insisted family is off limits, the McCain campaign has thrown a daughter directly into the front line of battle.
Anyway, I'm disappointed Simon & Schuster didn't put forth more effort to reach across party lines to properly sell us a complete set of nonpartisan baby voices. Is Chelsea Clinton not in Meghan's ripe age group? Sure, Chelsea's a little older (28) but My Mom, Hillary Clinton should have been been given every effort at being realized. Malia and Natasha's Our Dad, Obama, is missing as well.
Don't all these candidates have daughters prepared and ready to give us the real dirt on their parents, as Meghan has so bravely demonstrated here?