Meet Cindy, the Boss

In the midst of all the fierce “anti-Eastern-elite” rhetoric issuing forth from this past week’s Republican National Convention, there she stood: Cindy McCain, wife of the Republican presidential candidate, in a series of designer-name outfits with matching bejeweled accessories, part of her recent fashion move to “crisper, more contemporary dresses with richer colors.”

The irony there was unmistakable, and I’m hardly the first or the only one to comment on it. But I’d prefer to bring up the more impartial judgment of Le Monde writer Corine Lesnes (that’s a woman’s name) and her article At the McCain’s, she’s the boss.

Lesnes in fact objects to the “Barbie Republican” nickname some who are ideologically on the other side have tried to pin on Cindy McCain wife. “That is very unjust,” she writes; she didn’t need John McCain, since she already had her fortune before she even met him. Indeed, he owes his entire political career to her, she who got him a management job in her family’s beer-distribution company as he positioned himself for his first run for the House of Representatives from Arizona, and then with similar financial and material support from them on out (including use of her private airplane during the dark days of the McCain one year ago when campaign finances were scraping bottom).

Yes, where the Obama’s present a conventional American family – although Lesnes does not bring in the racial aspect – “the McCains are in a category apart,” and that is not even taking into account the 18-year difference in their ages. From its very start in 1980 their marriage has been on the basis of separate property, of which Cindy has always brought by far the greater amount. “As to their properties,” she writes, “how could one insist that the candidate would remember their number? Everything belongs to Cindy.” Also very revealing is her account of how Bridget joined the family: Cindy brought her back in 1991 from an orphanage in Bangladesh for medical treatment that she needed, deciding while returning on the airplane just decided to adopt her and present her husband with a fait accompli.

Shot Down in Parallel

It’s eerie to read the account Lesnes gives here about Cindy’s father, James Hensley, who himself was shot down and injured while on a military flight – in his case it was in a B-17 on a bombing mission in the Second World War, shot down over the English Channel – and, while he made it back to England without being captured, he then proceeded to divorce the wife who was in the US waiting for him to return, and promptly to marry another. The parallels with the experiences of her husband are evident, although John McCain presumably has no experience with the black-market alcohol sales and racetrack ownership that James Hensley resorted to before finally gaining his fortune with (above-board) beer distribution. Then there is the addiction to prescription pain-killers that she fell into in the early 1990s, resorting to gaining them illegally from the medical-assistance foundation she had organized, which behavior was finally revealed by an FBI investigation.

In all, there is too much there in the life of Cindy Hensley McCain to write her off as a “Barbie Republican,” or even as “Ms. Bud” (as in “Budweiser”) which Lesnes reveals is how the personalized license plates on her current Lexus read. A more-accurate characterization is probably that of a rock of moral and financial support for a long-time actor on the American political scene now going for broke.

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