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John McCain’s charges of sexism against Barack Obama must ring mighty hollow to those who know him best, and we dare say his second wife Cindy would have an acerbic comment or two of her own if freed from all constraints.
The social culture of the Naval Academy at Annapolis shaped McCain. His own recollections of his less than stellar career there focus mainly on his drunken escapades and relentless sexual predations. He met his first wife, Carol, in Annapolis while he was hanging out with the group self-styled “the bad bunch”. She left her first husband for him, bringing her two children with her, soon becoming pregnant with Sidney.
On accounts of this period, McCain grew restive, had some affairs and became a fixture on the party circuit. At the end of 1966, he volunteered for active service as a bomber pilot in Vietnam. He was shot down ten months later, and spent the next five and half years as a prisoner of war.
Meanwhile Carol, a former fashion model, was bringing up their three children. During Christmas 1969, while visiting her parents’ house, Carol took her car to deliver presents, slid off the icy road, hit a tree, and was hurled through the windshield. Very badly hurt, she lay in the snow for several hours before being discovered.
The accident crushed her hip and mangled her legs so badly that surgeons had to remove large sections of her leg bones, shortening her by 5 inches and leaving her with a limp and in more or less permanent pain. She refused to send word to McCain, saying “he’s got enough problems.” Ross Perot stepped in to pay her medical bills.
McCain came home in 1973 and, according to friends, was “appalled” at his wife’s changed appearance. It wasn’t long before he sought comfort with others. His friend Robert Timberg says, “John started carousing and running around with women.” Through Perot, he met Ronald Reagan when the latter was governor of California, and both Ron and Nancy became particularly fond of Carol and put her on their payroll.
In 1979 McCain, in his early 40s, met the 25-year-old Cindy Hensley, an heiress to her father’s beer distribution empire in Phoenix. It was at a cocktail party in Honolulu. Cindy recalls, “He kind of chased me around the hors d’oeuvres table. I was trying to get something to eat, and I thought, ‘This guy’s kind of weird.’ I was kind of trying to get away from him.”
McCain pursued Hensley, inviting her to Washington, D.C. He embarked on an affair with Cindy and suddenly told a stunned Carol that he was leaving her. McCain began living with Cindy in January of 1980. He divorced Carol in April of that year and married Cindy a month later in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Biltmore hotel in Scottsdale.
Friends of Carol were disgusted by McCain’s conduct in dumping the wife who had kept the home fires burning through his time as a POW. The Reagans never forgave him and stood firmly by Carole. Nancy Reagan barely consented to endorse McCain this year. McCain recalls, “My divorce from Carol, whom the Reagans loved, caused a change in our relationship. Nancy was particularly upset with me and treated me on the few occasions we encountered each other after I came to Congress with a cool correctness that made her displeasure clear.”
In a story in the London Daily Mail, Sharon Churcher wrote on June 8 of this year:
“Ross Perot, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics. ‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory,’ he said.‘ After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona. And the rest is history.’”
Also quoted by Churcher is Ted Sampley, a Special Forces veteran:
“I’ve been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There’s something wrong with this guy. Let me tell you what it is – deceit. When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it. Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carole for something he thought was better. This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He is a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol.”
Cindy urged a return to Phoenix in part because many in John’s circle in Washington, D.C., gave them the cold shoulder. Not only did Cindy pony up for Carol’s medical care, but she staked McCain’s first congressional race in Arizona in 1982 because the Reagans leaned on the Republican National Committee to turn off the funding tap.
From now on, relations between John and Cindy McCain became remote: he mostly in Washington and she in Phoenix, living across the street from her parents. It was at this point she developed the initial business relationship with Charles Keating, the financier and anti-porn crusader, whose fraudulent operations with Lincoln Savings and Loan very nearly derailed McCain’s career after exposure of Keating’s lavish patronage of McCain as one of his protectors in Congress.
In 1986, Cindy and her father James invested $400,000 in a shopping center being developed by Keating. An indefatigable traveler, given to impulsive excursions around the world in his private jet, Keating took along Cindy and the children and, occasionally, John. Amid these voyages, Cindy developed with Keating the idea of financing the American Voluntary Medical Team (AVMT) to supply aid to disaster-struck areas. Keating, an ardent Catholic, also introduced Cindy to Mother Teresa. This relationship led to Cindy’s adoption of a baby born in Bangladesh. The adoption came as a complete surprise to McCain.
These trips and the relationship with Keating attracted the scrutiny of investigators probing McCain for ethical misconduct. Beleaguered by accusations that he had been shielding a top-rung corporate criminal, McCain appears to have blamed his wife for the political millstone Keating had become.
According to two emergency room physicians in Phoenix, interviewed by CounterPunch, it was at this time that Cindy McCain made her first appearance at a Phoenix hospital’s emergency room with bruising and marks – “black eye and scratches” – that were consistent with physical violence. There would be at least two more visits to the emergency room by Cindy, featuring similar injuries over the next five years – i.e., between 1988 and 1993.
Perhaps not coincidentally, this was the period during which Cindy developed an addiction to opiate painkillers, including Percocet and Vicodin. She was taking 20 pills a day, with a physician at AVMT writing illegal prescriptions. When one of the employees of AVMT discovered the illegal prescriptions and told the executive director, he was fired. He promptly alerted the Drug Enforcement Agency, which opened up an investigation. Cindy was rushed into a drug treatment center and went into a pretrial diversion program, thus escaping prosecution. She paid for the DEA’s investigation. She claimed she became addicted to painkillers because of back pain and the stress associated with Keating’s prosecution and conviction. Cindy’s addiction came as a shock to McCain. Her parents, who apparently had closer contact her, did notice and attempted some interventions.
A somewhat eerie insight into McCain’s psyche can be found in his version of an ape joke that was popular in the mid-1980s. The usual version ran along the following lines. A flight attendant is the sole survivor of a crash in the African forest. She meets an ape, who makes her his mistress. Eventually, she gets home and confides her experience to a friend, who exclaims, “That’s terrible.” “It is,” the flight attendant wails sadly. “He never calls, he never writes.”
McCain’s very violent version of this joke was reported in the Tucson Citizen, on October 27, 1986: “McCain: Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, ‘Where is that marvelous ape?’”
Relations between the couple became publicly acrid. In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” As Cliff Schecter tells it in his 2008 book The Real McCain, “McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, ‘At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.’ McCain’s excuse to three Arizona reporters who witnessed the scene (and who never mentioned the outburst at the time) was that it had been a long day.
In his book, Schecter also writes that an AP reporter “recounted to me seeing John McCain wander off into the Red Light District of Hanoi in 1996, when he was there to normalize relations with the Vietnamese,” and that “a few reporters told me that the McCains don’t really live together anymore, and that until the presidential campaign Cindy McCain was spending much of her time in San Diego with their daughter Bridgette, because her husband was just not Johnny-on-the-spot anymore.”
Cindy found San Diego agreeable, and John was almost always far, far away. In 2007, she was asked by San Diego Magazine, “When the election’s over, do you think you might consider a western White House in Coronado?” “Absolutely. I love Coronado. Listen, to me there’s nothing better than waking up and seeing the sun come up over the water on the bay there and watching the Navy SEALs run up and down the beach. That’s a great way to live.” “How many days a month do you see your husband now?” “Not many. Two or three, maybe.” CounterPunch noticed that in the early fall, when political circumstance brought briefly them together, Cindy had her arm in a sling and featured a bandaged wrist. The McCain campaign said it was repetitive handshaking disorder. Maybe. On the other hand, McCain publicly joked this summer about how “I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago.” (This was in Nevada, in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun.)
The year has been trying for Cindy. On February 21, the New York Times described at great length how, during his first White House run in 2000, McCain had developed a close relationship with a young blonde lobbyist Vicki Iseman. The couple had taken frequent flights together on corporate jets as she tried to convince him to favor the telecom companies she was lobbying for. His staffers were so vexed at the indiscreet association that they ordered her blocked from McCain’s office. During the tense press conference after the Times story, Cindy’s frozen face was widely noted. Her inner thoughts may perhaps have been directed toward the yoga instructor in San Diego, reckoned by some in the yoga community in that city to be a source of consolation to the Hensley beer heiress.