Meghan McCain reflects: The insane, emotional toll campaigns take on families

Sen. John McCain and his daughter Meghan McCain react to the crowd as they arrive at a rally in Henderson Nev.,  Monday, Nov. 3, 2008, during his...
Sen. John McCain and his daughter Meghan McCain react to the crowd as they arrive at a rally in Henderson Nev., Monday, Nov. 3, 2008, during his...
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The time between the final presidential debate in 2008 and the two weeks before Election Day were the most intense of my entire life.

It is difficult to put into words what the energy of a presidential campaign feels like with only two weeks left, and in my case in 2008, possibly watch your father become the leader of the free world. The intensity and the chaos is unlike any other I have ever experienced, and probably ever will again. It’s like waiting for a birth, or a death, or a hurricane to hit. As much as one can prepare for such life changing events, ultimately you just brace yourself as much as possible for what your life is going to look like in the aftermath.

Like the last presidential election against President Obama, this one continues to be as much about the cold, hard reality of the issues facing America, as it is about the utterly superficial.

The pink dresses and nail polish that both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama choose to wear, and of course how much both dresses cost makes as much news as the discussions that take place during the debates.

All of the Romney brothers have been repeatedly lampooned on Saturday Night Live as dorky, awkward, robots. Josh Romney has become a very popular meme that has been blasted across the internet. What did Josh do? He sat next to his mother at the Hofstra University debate looking tense and stone faced, which was interpreted somewhere between looking like a serial killer and a Marvel Comics villain.

Welcome to American presidential politics. Most of this stuff is out of the control of the campaign. Unfortunately, the American public seems to waste a lot of energy concentrating on these superficial topics.

As the daughter of the last cycle’s Republican nominee, the superficialities were one of the hardest parts of the entire experience. As far as the mainstream media seems to be concerned no family will ever be “cool” enough when pitted against President Obama and his family, and apparently, especially Mitt Romney’s. It appeared to me that the media went out of its way to paint both my father and Romney as so uncool that they should not have even dared an attempt at running against President Obama.

Should the election be about all of this and who is superficially “cool” enough? Of course not, but unfortunately, some of the election does.

It was incredibly frustrating for me to sit back and watch, because so much of the candidate stereotyping was so far off from the father I know and love. It was told to me over and over again, “Meghan, it’s just politics, this is part of the game.” Yet it was always difficult for me and, for the rest of my family, to attempt to separate the two things. It continues to be frustrating to watch the same thing happen to Mitt Romney.

For a family member of a politician, the political is personal no matter which way you approach it. I know at this point in time four years ago, my father’s presidential campaign was a close-knit family. We had all been living and traveling with one another for as long as two years. Day in, day out: all of you fighting for the very same cause you all believed in.

In this final eleventh hour of the 2012 campaign, the pundits and commentators on both sides start to get desperate and anxious. Things will be said, accused, and dissected in a way that only the American media can. Despite it all, there is no other option for the family of both candidates than to keep the game face on. Even if it is your own father and mother you are watching get torn apart by the hyenas of the 24-hour news cycle, you have to sit back and brace yourself in the best way you can.

It is easy for the American public to feel so removed and jaded from the two-year presidential race that we forget all of this is happening to real people, and all that is said and done during this race will leave a permanent impact on their lives one way or another.

I believe that what is now demanded of candidates, and their families, seeking the highest U.S. office is nothing short of insanity. Do not misunderstand me. The opportunity to have a front row seat to American history is the gift of a lifetime. I will always cherish the time I spent on the road with my father and his campaign, but there is a price every family pays. The campaign process created an emotional toll that I have yet to experience at any other time in my life.

As I watched President Obama and Gov. Romney trade barbs last night from the comfort of my living room, all I could think of was I do not envy Ann Romney, or any member of her family tonight.

Meghan McCain reflects: The insane, emotional toll campaigns take on families