McCain talk opens door for moderate dialogue

Rachel Alexander

Credit: Halley McCormick

Meghan McCain, a self-described “black sheep of the Republican Party,” addressed a group of several hundred Whitman community members on the evening of Wednesday, April 11. McCain spoke about the challenges of being a socially liberal, fiscally conservative woman in today’s Republican Party.

“I’m pro-marriage equality, I believe in women’s rights and that’s what has set me apart from the rest of the party,” she said.

Instead of a lecture, the event was presented as a conversation. Assistant Professor of History Jacqueline Woodfork interviewed McCain for the first half of the event. The floor was then opened for questions from the audience.

Junior Hannah Holloran, the Whitman Events Board Co-Sponsorship chair, said the format of the event was designed to encourage a more open sharing of ideas.

“It’ll be more inviting for dialogue,” she said.

McCain’s statements drew a wide spectrum of reactions from the audience. Her comment that Mitt Romney needed to start reaching out to female voters drew murmurs and snaps of agreement. However, when she stated that she was opposed to universal healthcare, the atmosphere grew noticeably more tense.

Still, McCain kept things light with a combination of self-deprecating humor and frankness about the current state of the Republican Party.

Senior Kel Peyton, who identifies as a moderate Republican, said she appreciated McCain’s openness about her struggles as a social liberal within the party.

“I was really inspired by what she had to say because she’s someone else who’s negotiating that space,” said Peyton.

Peyton said that as a Republican, she often feels left out of dialogue on the Whitman campus, where a liberal political stance is usually taken for granted.

“Not a lot of people know I’m a Republican. I don’t really feel comfortable on this campus a lot of the time,” she said.

She hoped that McCain’s more moderate views enabled her to reach members of the Whitman community who might otherwise dismiss Republican views.

“I felt like she had some positive reactions and people really listened to what she had to say,” said Peyton. “There was a dialogue going on.”

Senior Geni Venable, who also attended a dinner with McCain, appreciated her recognition that Republicans need to be more progressive on social and women’s issues.

“She hit it right on the head when she said the way the Republican Party is addressing women’s issues and social issues, they’re not going to win elections,” said Venable.

McCain said that her political viewpoints often draw her criticism from others in her party, though she feels strongly that she’s on the right side of history. Ultimately, she believes the Republican Party needs to undergo a fundamental shift to stay relevant, especially to young voters.

“Times are changing. The party’s going to evolve, or it’s going to die,” she said.