I know I shouldn’t.
I really have no business feeling sympathy for a wealthy, pretty, well-connected recent Columbia grad who’s already been given a political blog by Tina Brown, who’s already been paid a reported high six figures to write on the future of the Republican party, and who, despite it all, was foolish enough to go on “The Colbert Report” on Monday night and call herself “a 24-year-old pro-sex woman.”
I should, like the rest of the blogosphere, be mocking and disdaining her. And yet, instead, I feel a pitying sort of sadness. This in some measure has to do with the not-altogether-incomprehensible fact that, every time I followed a link to a story or video clip showing Meghan’s face on Tuesday, my eyes mysteriously converted her image into a picture of Kim Bauer.
I had Kim Bauer on the brain, of course, because Monday night also brought the tear-jerking season finale of Fox’s “24.”
(“Are you crying?” I had asked my husband, Max, hopefully as Kim, grown up and competent now, refused to bid her father, Jack, a final good-bye.
“No,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I sent a searching look in his direction.
“Too bad,” I said. “I could have gotten a column out of it.”)
I had been thinking just how far Kim had come from her early, ever-blundering, one-idiotic-move-after-another days, when Max and I used literally to shout, “Get off the screen!” at her, for fear of the terrible harm she was sure to bring to her ever-more-martyred dad. It was a terrifying thing when, in season three, she entered the hallowed halls of C.T.U. She was just so obviously unready to follow in her father’s footsteps.
Which brings us back to Meghan.
I’d been struggling over the weekend to come up with a proper definition of the expression “sitting duck” for my daughter Emilie. Had Meghan’s performance come to my attention earlier (and had the video clip been appropriate for a 9-year-old), it could have served as a perfect example.
You can’t, after all, go on national TV, all perky and blonde and blushing and young, and endowed with a soapbox years before you’ve paid your dues and, while talking about how Republicans should reposition themselves on sex, say, “I would never wanna practice anything I didn’t preach.” Even with the best of intentions. Even if your larger point — that the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists whose modern-day Puritanism is for many young people a major bummer — is a perfectly good one.
You can’t afford to tweet about licking Stephen Colbert’s face, or to call the Republicans “an awesome party to be part of,” as though the party of Lincoln were some kind of super-fun co-ed fraternity.
You can’t do these things because they’re just stupid and, when you’re already a sitting duck, particularly one who at some point in her career could very well rise to make a valuable contribution, you just can’t afford to look stupid.
You can’t because you end up sounding like a much younger, much dumber (which you’re not), much less savvy (which you are) version of Sarah Palin — whose candidacy was the one topic that you declared, smile dimming, off-limits to Colbert.
In fact, you end up sounding like Bristol.
Poor Bristol Palin, who literally brings tears to my eyes if I allow myself to think about her for too long, is on the cover of the new People magazine. She’s there with a big smile, and her new baby, and her sad eyes, and a quotation — “If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex. Trust me. Nobody.” — that is now making the laugh rounds and mercifully bringing the Meghan McCain snark cycle to an end.
The public prominence of Bristol Palin, Meghan McCain’s erstwhile opponent in the young Republican sex wars, raises the same problem for me: What is this 18-year-old, who recently became a “teen ambassador” promoting abstinence for the Candie’s Foundation, doing speaking out on anything?
By what perverse excesses of opportunity are these far-from-ready-for-prime-time young women being empowered to embarrass themselves on the national stage?
There’s been a lot of talk for years now about how the Internet has ushered in a new age of greater democratization. Of politics, fund-raising, punditry — as McCain’s blog on the Daily Beast, where she is in the company of people like Christopher Buckley and Stanley Crouch, so clearly testifies. But while it is undoubtedly good to hear new voices, it is not so good to hear them engage in mall-rat-style catfights.
(Laura Ingraham, in faux-Meghan voice, on her radio show: “I was really hoping that I was going to get that role in the ‘Real World,’ but then I realized that, well, they don’t like plus-sized models.”
Meghan, on her blog: “Ingraham is more than 20 years older than I and has been a political pundit for longer, almost, than I have been alive … .”)
I do feel sorry for Meghan, the 2007 college grad who ought to be facing the kinds of barriers to public self-expression that used to push smart, ambitious and untested young people like her into graduate school or entry-level jobs. Given the chance to mature, she might well emerge some day, not as a publicly-declared “size 8,” but as a woman of substance. I also feel sorry for Bristol — who’s been given every possible opportunity to embarrass herself, but no real chance to remake her life.
I almost feel sorry for the Republicans, desperate as they must be to pretty up their reputation.
But not really.