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"It doesn't matter what's happening. Her position is, 'I am aggrieved.'"
Bridget Todd explains what she's learned from hate-following political pundit Meghan McCain
Here is the second segment from the latest episode of Follow Friday, in which There Are No Girls on the Internet host Bridget Todd talks about why she’s embarrassed to admit she follows “Bad Republican” author and former co-host of The View, Meghan McCain.
The button above will take you to our website, where you can hear/read about all four of Bridget’s follow recommendations from the new episode. And our backers on Patreon have exclusive access to a FIFTH follow rec from Bridget, and many more past guests:
ERIC: Bridget, I asked you to tell me about someone that you're embarrassed to admit you follow. And you said Meghan McCain, who is on Twitter and Instagram @MeghanMcCain. Meghan is one of those political figures who's always been on the periphery of my bubble. I've never really paid that much attention to her, but she's very famous.
She was the co-host of The View. She's been a pundit on Fox news and MSNBC. She's the author of several books, including Dirty Sexy Politics and Bad Republican. How did you start following Meghan McCain?
BRIDGET: Oh, Meghan McCain. Did I really put that?
ERIC: Yes, you did. I've got it in writing.
BRIDGET: I think I must have been writing this completely divorced from the understanding that I was going to be talking about it in a couple weeks. (laughter) I love to hate Meghan McCain. When her father was running for the presidency, that was when she popped up on my radar. And I'll never forget seeing this interview that she did on Bill Maher many years ago where she was asked by somebody, I can't remember who, "Do you think that the Obama administration blames the Bush administration too much for where we are as a country?" And she was like, "No, I don't think so."
Then whoever asked the question was like, "You're absolutely incorrect. They don't blame the Bush administration nearly enough." They had a whole list of things. And she was like, "Well, some of that was happening when I was a child, when I was nine years old."
That interview really sticks with me because, if you don't know, you could just say that. That one interview crystallized what I find so troublesome and problematic about a whole batch of political media, not right or left, but in general. If you're asked a question like that and you don't know the answer, it's OK to say, "Well, I don't know. Good question. I'm not sure." But the need to come up with a big, grandstand-y answer, only to — when it's mildly poked at — admit that you really have no idea what you're talking about…
For some reason, that interview sticks with me as a real illustration of a deep problem that we have in our discourse. For some reason, she came to represent a certain kind of political media that I really dislike and that I think is holding us back. But yet, I just can't quit it.
I follow her, I engage with her tweets, I've read part of her most recent book. People are always like, "If you hate her so much, why don't you unfollow her?" And that's a good question. Why don't I?
ERIC: What are some of the things that you like about following her? Is it because you agree with her on certain political issues, or is it something about how she has changed since that interview that keeps you coming back? How would you articulate that?
BRIDGET: That's a good question. I think why I hate-follow her — and I'm not sending her mean tweets or anything — but I think why I'm interested in her is that I do think she represents a kind of... how can I put this tastefully, or tactfully?
She's someone who, in a lot of ways, I could see myself not agreeing with, because we could not be less aligned. But in a certain way, I could see her being someone that I have a certain kind of respect for. We're of similar ages. I like the idea of women who are doing their own thing and are outspoken. Those are all things that, on paper, I should like.
And I think that when they come out of her, when it's her who is doing it, she has this way of reminding me that some things are obnoxious and it doesn't matter if I, on paper, should respect them.
It's hard to explain. I watched her a lot on The View because my mom is obsessed with The View. Whenever I'm home, mom and I would watch The View constantly. There's a vibe to her on The View especially, but also in her book and on Twitter, she kind of always has the position of "aggrieved." It doesn't matter what the conversation is. It doesn't matter what's happening. Her position is "I am aggrieved."
And honestly, it's a kind of cautionary tale for myself that that kind of stance doesn't move people. It's not compelling. And so, if you are trying to move people and find common ground and have conversations that are meaty and interesting, coming from a place of, "I am aggrieved" is never going to be the way to do it. And even on things where I could possibly see where you're coming from here, the stance of just grievance is not good.
I think that Meghan McCain is so interesting because … I've worked in the political space for a long time. And why I got into politics is because I'm a lefty progressive. When I was first getting into politics in college, during the Bush administration, I would be really active in my college, on campus and having these conversations with libertarians, Republicans, conservatives, and people that I did not agree with. But it felt substantive to talk about the ways that we disagreed and the things that we didn't have in common.
And even if we didn't agree, we were still talking about policy conversations that were of substance. I think there was this shift where now we're no longer doing that. One side is saying "two plus two is four," and the other side is saying "two plus two is applesauce." We're not even having the same conversation.
So I think Meghan McCain came about at a time where there weren't a lot of conservative voices that I felt were worth entertaining and that was a new thing for me. I don't agree with what they have to say, but I want all people to be saying things that are useful and thoughtful.
She came about at a time that was a really interesting time for conservative voices. So part of me feels like I should have respect for her, but every time she tweets, I'm like, "Ugh, terrible take again, Meghan." Every time I see her on The View, I'm like, "Ugh, another horrible take."
ERIC: "Terrible take, I'll see you tomorrow." I'm not super familiar with her politics, but whoever wrote her Wikipedia page was certainly emphasizing ways in which she has tried to push the Republican party to be more socially liberal. She's apparently, based on what I read, very pro-gay rights, which certainly is not the norm in her party. So there are ways in which she is, as she describes herself in the new book, a "bad Republican."
You were talking about talking with people who you disagreed with about policy and the fact that that conversation has basically gone away; just the disconnect between political parties right now. Do you think that individuals who don't work in politics, who are just run-on-the-mill voter, do they have a responsibility to be having those conversations, to be following people? Or is that something that should be left to policymakers and journalists and folks who are actively in the public conversation?
BRIDGET: What a good question. I'm not sure that I have a good answer. I feel like if you would've asked me this 10, 12 years ago, I might've said, "Sure, of course. Get to know people that have different attitudes than you."
I feel like the attitudes that we're discussing sometimes are so unserious. And I don't want to paint people with a wide brush. I don't mean that this is reflective of everybody, but I don't think it's necessarily going to be a fruitful use of your time to have a conversation with somebody who believes that Hillary Clinton is drinking baby's blood, or that Nancy Pelosi is in a dungeon somewhere with children.
I think that it's a real testament to how out of control some of our discourse has gotten. And the fact that people who are leaders of our political parties are saying these perspectives, and it's not just fringe extremists and people on the internet. I don't know that it is a good use of your time always to engage with people if their position is coming from a place of not believing that you are deserving of human rights, or believing something that is completely harmful and dangerous.
I wish I had a better answer to that question. I think it's a good question. I think that these days, I really yearn for what it used to feel like when I was 19 on my college campus having what felt like meaty, substantive debates with people who didn't agree with me. And even though I didn't agree with them, I felt like, we're both talking about policies; we're both bringing something to the table that we feel is meaningful. I yearn for those days because I got a lot out of that. That was really useful to my development, both as a political professional and as a person.
I worry sometimes that we're losing spaces where people can have those kinds of substantive conversation. These days, I don't feel like it would be useful advice to be like, "Yeah, go get out of your bubble." I feel like a lot of us are steeped in the attitudes and perspectives of people that we don't agree with all the time. I think you'd be hard pressed to find somebody who was truly in some kind of a liberal-only bubble.
ERIC: I'm a big proponent of curating your social media feeds pretty aggressively. I'm like, you should unfollow, you should mute, you should block, whatever you gotta do to maintain your sanity. And I'm thinking that my rubric for the people I follow is dehumanizing posts.
If someone is targeting someone for their gender, their sexuality, their race, or anything like that, I feel like that's the automatic, "I don't want to hear from you again." But I think that's also a really good point. We are all surrounded by people who have nuanced views on things. It's harder to do that for the people you know in real life. Maybe that's where the most productive conversations are going to happen. I don't know.
BRIDGET: I agree with you. I'm a huge curator. If somebody dehumanizes even a marginalized group that I'm not part of, I don't have time for it. I feel like we should no longer be coming from a place of trying to convince people that we are deserving of basic human dignity and respect. We're not doing that anymore.
So if you're not there, then bye. I don't have the time to catch you up to speed. That is your work. That is your ministry. I wish you luck, but do it away from me.
ERIC: Uh-huh. Well, anyway, that was Meghan McCain, who is on Twitter and Instagram @MeghanMcCain.