America, You Sexy Bitch
A Love Letter to Freedom
Meghan McCain and Michael Ian Black
Da Capo Press: 309 pp., $26
The 2008 presidential campaign had many unexpected consequences: It spawned the
During Arizona Sen.
Afterward, having seen a presidential campaign from the inside, McCain thought she had something to say about politics. And for the last four years, she has been saying it — in a memoir, in a regular column in the Daily Beast and now on
Her latest book is a strangely conceived project that finds her, once again, traveling the country in an oversize vehicle with an older man. This time, however, the man is not her father and not nearly as old. He is snarky liberal comedian and actor Michael Ian Black, a married father of two who got stoned on
The result is the uneven political travelogue "America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom."
Black has a long and varied
The book opens with the unlikely pair meeting in San Diego at the home of Black's lesbian mother. Their cross-country journey was accomplished mostly in a stuffy RV with haphazard climate control. Driving was provided by "Cousin John," a distant relative of McCain's, and chaperoning by Black's road manager, Stephie. They stopped in 15 American cities, seeking common political ground in contrived setups.
They drank a lot, sweated a lot and argued politics a lot.
They slammed shots in Prescott, Ariz., and gawked at strippers in Las Vegas, which allowed McCain to ruminate in the manner of an undergraduate in a women's study class about whether stripping empowers or exploits. (Ambivalent. Naturally.) They visited the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, a cheesy
Taking turns in the text, each relates a version of the "adventures." McCain spends a good portion of her time wondering whether the trip was a mistake. She is given to inadvertently awkward pronouncements such as "I have had a love affair with the
As the (admittedly) privileged child of a rich, powerful family, McCain loathes that stereotype, even while feeding it. She writes that she was shocked at the blowback after abruptly canceling an appearance at a college in Pennsylvania during the tour for her 2009 campaign memoir, "Dirty Sexy Politics," and partying in Las Vegas instead because she'd just been dumped.
"You would have thought I was running for president and called in sick to Iowa," she whines. She left out what many news outlets reported at the time: That her rep said she canceled because of "unforeseen professional responsibilities." Her party animal tweets from Vegas gave her away.
Black worries about seeming like a liberal, gun-hating wimp alongside his pistol-loving, hard-drinking Republican companion. He is by far the more acute observer and better writer. And he should be. He's 13 years older than McCain, a fully formed adult on the cusp of midlife, more sure of his place in the world and far less moody than his then 26-year-old companion. (But, hey, he's an actor, so his self-absorption is right up there with hers.)
Their "relationship" starts out awkward, their first fight occasioned by Black's snorting response to McCain's sincere claim that "freedom isn't free" — an unsurprising cliché from a woman whose family has a proud military history and whose Navy pilot father spent more than five years in Hanoi as a prisoner of war.
Yet it's Black's observation, after meeting McCain's younger brother, Jimmy, that breathes some meaning into the stale slogan. Jimmy is a former Marine who was in
Because of McCain's family's prominence, some of her confessions are inherently entertaining. Unlike many Republicans, she roots for
She's unstinting in her hatred of
To no one's surprise, McCain and Black discover that people of different political stripes can get along if they spend time together and drink enough alcohol.
The book has a few sweet moments and minor revelations (Black discovers that Mormons are into genealogy so they can baptize the forebears who died before Mormonism existed). But mostly, the book is what you'd expect of a project that started with a sleeping pill and a tweet. As Black so aptly puts it early on: "This whole idea is a hot mess."