It was a common theme at the 25th Annual Benefits Forum & Expo in Phoenix that no matter who wins the presidential election in November, changes are forthcoming for benefit plans and administration. According to political activist and commentator Meghan McCain, should President Barack Obama keep his job, changes will be coming for the Republican Party as well.

Speaking in her hometown on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11, McCain voiced support for the war in Afghanistan and urged health care reform unlike that currently underway. Citing the media flap over female contraception coverage and the furor over gay marriage as specific examples, McCain lamented the lack of civility in public discourse and said that in some ways the GOP doomed itself in 2008 when her father, Sen. John McCain, made an unsuccessful bid at the Oval Office.

“We had failed. We didn’t win the last election, and I thought I should say why,” the younger McCain said. “I think we need to start walking with the times while maintaining the ideals that the Republican Party was built on.”

The backlash to the self-described progressive Republican’s efforts to point out what she saw as flaws in the platform was immediate, public, personal and, McCain said, beneath the American people.

“Our generation must demand better,” she said. “Actually, everyone in this room should demand better; it doesn’t matter how old you are. I demand better. …

“I am a straight, proudly pro-life, NRA member, Christian Republican who is utterly determined to pass marriage equality in all states in this country, who believes in a strong national defense and, whether you like it or not, I do believe that climate change is very real.”

McCain was not coy about pointing out that negative attention from the far right helped make her a more prominent figure and launch her career as an MSNBC pundit, but she was disappointed by how the rancor distracted from the real issues. Similarly, she said, when Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke tried to petition Congress about having birth control on her health plan, the debate devolved into mudslinging and name-calling.

Both parties off track on health care

When asked Tuesday about the future of U.S. medicine, McCain said cooperation would be key.

“If there’s one thing I know when it comes to health care, I don’t think that either party has the right answer,” McCain said, calling the system “desperately broken.”

“A lot of people think Obamacare was a really good bill, and they really support it and think it’s fashioning a new era in American health care; I still worry about the cost of it,” she said. “I would love for all Americans to able to have the kind of quality health care that I have, I just don’t think that Obamacare is entirely logical considering the economic situation that we’re in.

“I don’t know what the answer is. If you’re referring to [vice presidential candidate Sen.] Paul Ryan and Medicare and all those things, I mean, it is way past my pay grade. I don’t know what the answers are and, honestly, Congress doesn’t either.”

The modern Republican Party is far too exclusionary and strict on purity and litmus tests, she said, driving its size down. Election Day 2012 will be a tremendous referendum the GOP, as much as one the Democrats in control, McCain said.

One front where conservatives are losing – and losing hard – is image, she maintained.

“On a strictly superficial PR level, they win it hands down,” McCain said. “And then it doesn’t help that this war on women has completely dominated the political narrative for the past, God, I guess you could say nine months to a year. And then [Rep.] Todd Akin just throwing everything into overdrive…

“This party is going to die unless we start trying to change it, and if it does, then a third party will rise up, and maybe that’s good for America.”

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