I don’t know exactly how I escaped my Republican beginnings.  In the rural Midwest of the 1950s, my clan was largely supporting the GOP. Perhaps it was the conservatism of farmers, in general.   I remember my father saying the Democrats always got America into war  (Wilson — World War I; FDR — World War II; Truman –Korea) and that Republicans favored strong farm bills.  I never questioned it as a kid.

Thankfully, I came to my political maturity and senses  in the tumultuous 1960s when Democrats led the way in social justice legislation, particular civil rights laws, voting rights legislation, Medicare, the War on Poverty and more. (There was another war — Vietnam — on Kennedy’s and Johnson’s watches).   My college experiences, Peace Corps, Army and graduate school adventures and  a greater awareness of the way the world worked made being a Democrat the logical choice — and I have never looked back.  Now 40 or more years later, I think I would have to take a leave of my senses to support anything Republican with that party’s complete quest to dismantle America and turn it over to the rich, the powerful, and the corporate mobsters. Their obstructionist approach to law-making, siding with laws that marginalize women, minorities and gay people, take them out of the picture for my support at any level of government.  With a rogues gallery of Rove, Limbaugh, Arpaio, Pearce, Rumsfeld, Cheney, ad nauseum, I just say they present a formidable wall of destruction and pain.

So I just completed reading “America – You Sexy Bitch –  A Love Letter to Freedom,” co-written by comedian Michael Ian Black and Arizona’s own Meghan McCain, who has spent much of her adult life trying to bring the Republican Party around to some vestige of sanity. The unmuzzled daughter of Senator John McCain has proven to be brazen personality on cable news shows and blogs, including her own mccainblogette.com and as a contributor to the Daily Beast.  Her refreshing defense of gays and advocacy of same-gender marriage, legalization of marijuana and rejection of right-wing  politics bring her great disdain from much of the party.  I previously read her first book, “Dirty Sexy Politics,”  a memoir of her experiences in the 2008 McCain-Obama  presidential race.

So here we had two very smart, polar-opposite people who decided to team up last year for about a month or so and wend their way through America, talking to people and making some very specific stops in well-known places.   The book (Da Capo Press, 311 pages, $26) is part travelogue, part hard-opinion commentary.   Each chapter, set in the city of their visit, is structured so the two of them  go back and forth  for one or two or three pages at a time commenting on the surroundings, on the people interviewed and on mostly their own reactions to one another.  The reader quickly sees the demarcation of thinking between the two — two people seeing the same thing. What is clear, of course, is that each comes from distinct social-culture-economic-political upbringings. Their formative years were shaped by strikingly different experiences — Meghan on the knee of her five-term senator and war-hero father and blessed by  the Hensley beer distributor fortune.  Michael’s upbringing in New Jersey included never firing a gun, having a lesbian mother and getting immersed in and influenced by the liberal entertainment industry culture and settling in Connecticut. Together they write frankly on a slew of issues that have confronted the nation.

Their oddyssey starts out in Prescott and Sedona — Meghan’s stomping grounds — where Michael, the New Jersey/Connecticut unabashed liberal meets the McCain family and environs.  They move on to Las Vegas for steamy entertainment and drinking, plus talks with the hard-core workers on the strip.  Salt Lake City comes next where they check out Mormon ways.  They fly to Austin, Texas, the oddly progressive enclave of the Lone Star State, then get aboard an RV for the rest of the trip — New Orleans, Little Rock,  Branson, Mo., Memphis, Nashville, Fort Campbell, Ky., Cincinnati, Dearborn, Mich. (a look at Islam and Ford Motor Co.), Washington, D.C., and Michael’s home in Redding, Ct.    When they catch up with Sen. McCain in his office in Washington, Papa John is non-judgmental about his 27-year-old daughter traveling the country with a married man.  He also doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of the trip and the book itself. Michael and Meghan are accompanied throughout the trip by a competent female friend, Stephie “Nermal” Grobe, who handled logistics, served as a leavening agent and chaperone and added a third voice when one was needed.   One “Cousin John” drove the age-challenged RV with a stinking bathroom on the serpentine route to New England, typically sleeping in it at night while the other three had hotel rooms.

The book’s value lies in how deeply both Meghan and Michael hold their truths about America and in their struggle to explain what is right and wrong with it. There is a realization that heated debates, logic, reason and having truth on one’s side DON’T change minds.   They came to have deep respect for each other in spite of the hopelessness to convince each other of anything.   Meghan found herself the target of a lot of hostility that people have for Republicans when Michael’s wife held a welcome home party and invited their friends at the end of the trip.  Meghan’s unflappable courage to help bring some fresh air to the GOP will be fun watching in the years ahead.

“When we agreed to write this book,” Michael notes, ” Meghan and I had a simple premise:  That Americans have more in common than they don’t, and that even strangers with almost nothing in common could spend a month together talking about politics and still have a great time …  I do believe that America on balance, has made the world a better place, and I’m grateful to be an American citizen.”

Among Meghan’s numerous thoughtful comments is this: “There really are not too many bad things I can say about my childhood in Arizona. I was allowed to make my typical childhood mistakes without the prying eyes of reporters or other political families all around me. Most important, I truly believe there is something about growing up in the Wild West that has given me an independent perspective.”

Meghan McCain will be talking about the book and signing copies at 7 p.m. Monday Aug. 13 at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe.

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