John McCain, Maverick? No, Media Myth

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[Elections 2008: The Big Story]


A recent incisive article in the August 7, 2008 issue of Marketplace, titled "Why McCain would be a mediocre president," authored by no less a public media observer and analyst than Rex Nutting, the Washington Bureau Chief of Marketplace, the Wall Street Journal Digital Service, points up a fundamental potential national political disaster waiting to happen in the 2008 American Presidential elections.

That ominous potential disaster, which increasingly threatens to become American reality with each passing day as we inch ever closer and closer to the elections in November, is basically the general notion or assumption - in deed, the mythology - that centers around the purported automatic fitness and "qualification" of just one of the two principal candidates vying for the job of the President, namely, Sen. John McCain.

It is a current political mythology which has, so far, been propounded and propagated, wittingly or unwittingly, by the mainstream American press and media and the pundits, but is so far unchallenged, unverified, and unproven.

For so long, the American mainstream press and media have almost totally been sold a titillating but yet false bill of goods on the supposed "automatic qualification" of Sen. John McCain to be President of the United States, and to be the Commander-in-Chief "from day one."

We are told, over and over again by many in the Media, that McCain is already thoroughly "vetted," that he "has passed the Commander-in-Chief test," and, lately, we're told that the 2008 Presidential election is merely "a referendum on Barack Obama" in that, it is claimed, John McCain has been "thoroughly vetted" and that Obama is not.

On the nightly TV "News Hour" program on Channel 13, David Brook (he’s also a N.Y. Times columnist) and Mark Shield, the weekly commentators on the program who are otherwise among the most commonsensical and learned political analysts in such matters, have been among such better known national opinion-makers who have propagated this apparent mythology concerning the McCain-Obama candidacies.

So far, this highly fundamental media-inspired assumption - this mere mythology - has gone largely unquestioned and been automatically accepted by the unsuspecting American general public as essentially the "Gospel truth" - a matter that is already fully verified and confirmed and not subject to any error, contradiction, or even questioning.

It is as if it is already an absolute, assured and incontrovertible "given" that the Republican candidate John McCain has the guaranteed "right stuff" to make a good, even an excellent and successful, President of the United States, if elected into that office. But is he, really?

Unfortunately, upon even a more than cursory analysis of the relevant facts, it becomes immediately clear that the answer to that critical question is a resounding no; that, in short, that proposition is merely a myth.

The general “assumption seems to be that McCain's years of experience in the military and in Congress of course give him the background and tools he'd need in the White House," says Rex Nutting in his recent Market Watch path-breaking piece. "But that begs another question: Is McCain fit to lead America?"

Nutting aptly notes that "That question hasn't been asked," quite apparently by his colleagues of the Press and Media, "nor has it been answered." 
In deed, in point of fact, according to many credible experts, many cogent reasons abound for which it is simply a mere unproven and tested mythology to assume that the particular background that is attributable to John McCain in the military and in Congress, actually assures, automatically or otherwise, that McCain is immediately qualified to be a good President fit to lead America, or that he will necessarily be up to the job if placed in the White House. The following are some of the main reasons.
ACTUALLY MADE: Poor Records in the Naval Academy and the Military. Just like the present President Bush who rode his own father's legacy to get to the White House, John McCain, it is said "got his first career breaks from the connections and money of his family, not from hard work."

Starting from his days in the Annapolis Naval Academy, John McCain did so poorly there that as the cadet who placed almost dead last in his class; he might ordinarily have promptly been flunked out and not be commissioned. Nevertheless, because of his connections because he was the son and grandson of Navy admirals, McCain was still retained and was commissioned as a Navy pilot. Next, while his military service as an American Navy pilot is often touted as the stuff of his legend and his great service to America (and there is no denying or diminution of that) McCain's personal performance in the Navy was not particularly a stellar or distinguished one. In deed, it was, again, a poor performance: he crashed three planes in the course of his service, and then failed to evade a North Vietnamese missile that destroyed his plane. In deed, according to several expert analyses on this, one primary reason why McCain choose, on his own volition, to leave the military after his release from his 5 years in the Vietnam prison camp (and to pursue an earlier unlikely political career, in stead), was because McCain knew that his "weak military record meant he'd never make admiral, so he turned his sights to a career in politics," in the words of Rex Nutting.

2. OWES HIS ELAVATION IN POLITICS TO CONNECTIONS, NOT PERSONAL QUALIFICATIONS: What the credible record shows, is that to the extent that McCain rose in politics and made any attainments over the years, it has been primarily owing to McCain's connections. Before McCain married his present wife, Cindy, in 1980 (he had divorced his previous wife only to marry Cindy within just one month); McCain was then earning some $50,000 or so per year as a naval officer.

However, immediately after his marriage to Cindy, McCain moved with his new bride to Arizona, the location of his new father-in-law's multi-billion dollar beer distribution empire. And there, his new multi-millionaire father-in-law, Jim Hensley, gave him a job and introduced him to local businessmen and political powerbrokers, and it was those people that smoothed McCain's political path to Washington, in the House of Representatives and Senate. It was through the help of his new wife's wealth, his new father-in-law's business connections, and some powerful friends that he had made as a lobbyist for the Navy, that McCain became elected with such unusual rapidity to Congress in 1982 (to a district that he never resided in until the day the seat opened up), and then only five years later, succeeded Barry Goldwater as a U.S. senator.
"Even his own campaign doesn't trumpet his successes” in Congress wrote Rex Nutting of Market Watch, "probably because the few victories he's had still rankle Republicans." Nutting notes, for example, that McCain's McCain-Feingold campaign finance law has not resulted in significantly reducing the role of money in politics; that he failed to get a big tobacco bill through the Senate; that he's failed to change the way Congress spends money in that his bill to give the president a line-item veto was declared unconstitutional, and that the system of pork and earmarks that McCain often rails about as his life mission to end, continues today unabated. That he failed to reform the immigration system, and that even in a period from 2005 to mid-2007 when no primary elections were being conducted to justify a candidate's absence from the Senate, no senator missed more roll-call votes other than McCain, except Tim Johnson, who was absent for known health reasons. 

4. What the credible record will show on McCain, upon actual examination, are the following: that McCain is shallow as a leadership material. Even he himself expressly stated that he doesn't understand or know much about the economic issues, and while he says he wants to reduce global warming, he then goes on to propose ideas that would stimulate -- not reduce -- demand for fossil fuels, such a offshore drilling; and that to date, McCain is yet to articulate any broad leadership goals or vision for America as to why he wants to be president. "So far, his campaign theme has mostly been 'McCain: He's None of the Above'," says Rex Nutting, and "In the general election, he's emphasized that he's not that treasonous dreamer."; and that McCain has not demonstrated any practical political skill of leadership.

For example, though often touted as a political "maverick," observers note that, upon examination, it will be found that actually McCain has never been able to bring more than a handful of his fellow Republicans in Congress along with him to support issues such as campaign finance reform or immigration, and that except for a few exceptions such as John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, the Democrats have never warmed to him on major issues. Yet, the simple fact is that were McCain to be elected President, in order to achieve anything as president, he would have to win over two hostile parties: the Democrats and the Republicans.
John McCain and his present political campaign for the Presidency of the United States have been artfully built essentially around the image of a selfless, principled war hero whose quest for the office represents not so much a battle for the presidency, but, in the words of one recent analyst, Sharon Churcher, "a crusade to rescue the nation’s tarnished reputation." On the moral plane, John McCain's claim to legitimacy and being qualified to be President, essentially rests on two pivots - first, on his dogged efforts to illustrate his supposed moral stand and fiber by portraying his five years of harsh confinement as a war prisoner in Vietnam, and secondly, on his efforts to portray himself as something of the consummate American family man passionately committed to the "true American family values." As part of this charade, McCain would frequently bring up his beautiful blonde wife, Cindy, for warm tributes as a beloved wife and mother to whom he is deeply devoted and committed.

But, even here - in deed, particularly here - the credible evidence available is that the actual life and history of McCain shows precisely the opposite reality.

First, there is the history of John McCain as a confirmed womanizer and playboy dating back to his youth and his Cadet days in the Annapolis Naval Academy. In his young days at the Annapolis U.S. Naval Academy before he later married Carol at age 28, McCain's primary interest was described as "women" by one recent account. The account sated that McCain's "conquests ranged from a knife-wielding floozy nicknamed ‘Marie, the Flame of Florida’ to a tobacco heiress.”  And, in line with his let’s-have-a-good-time, playboy lifestyle, the young McCain hung out with a group of young officers nick-named the "Bad Bunch."

And, secondly, there is the well-documented history of a series of cheatings and extra-marital affairs by McCain on his first wife, Carol, after he came back from the Vietnam war.

Simply put, the credible record is that John McCain, upon returning from Vietnam to find his wife Cindy severely injured in a car accident, embarked on a series of cheatings on his wife several times with several different women, before he eventually left her for the much younger, richer Cindy.

McCain's own public statements about how and why he divorced Carol and married Cindy Hensley, directly conflict with the public record. In his 2002 memoir, "Worth the Fighting For," McCain wrote that he had separated from Carol McCain in February 1980 before he began dating Cindy Hensley. But that account has been contradicted by a recent report by the Los Angeles Times also republished in the July 11 2008 issue of

The newspaper report states that, contrary to the claim by McCain that he received a license to marry his second wife about a month before a judge granted his divorce from Carol McCain in April 1980, McCain's divorce petition and other court documents show that he and Carol had lived together until January 7, 1980. In deed, McCain himself has acknowledged that he was legally married to Carol when he began seeing Cindy; he has claimed the two were separated. Nevertheless, McCain has acknowledged that he had girlfriends during this time, without going into any details.

So far, the closest McCain has come publicly to admitting his infidelity, according to Robert Timberg, his biographer and fellow Annapolis graduate, is that after the marriage fell apart, McCain later reportedly told him that he had engaged in a series of extra-marital "dalliances."

How does the woman at the center of all this, Carol McCain, the former wife of Mr. McCain's, explain it? Carol emphatically says, "I have no bitterness" towards McCain. "My accident is well recorded," she adds, "but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce. My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25." 

But Robert Timberg, the fellow Annapolis graduate and writer of "The Nightingale’s Song," a bestselling biography of McCain, has this explanation about why the McCains’ marriage had frayed: "John started carousing and running around with women,’ said Timberg.
In recent times, what is increasingly heard among keen political observers about John McCain, is almost the same complain. The general complaint is that John McCain seems to have drastically changed lately, and that he lacks core, lasting principles and does things merely on the basis of what is immediately politically expedient. As Rex Nutting put it, true, John McCain has in nearly 30 years or so in national politics "honed a reputation as a guy who'll say the truth regardless of the political consequences. But McCain has [now] crashed the Straight Talk Express." Nutting adds that "on almost every issue where he took a principled stand against the Republican line -- taxes, immigration, oil drilling, the Religious Right -- he's changed his views."

At the very core of the charge about McCain's lack of principle, is the common offense and complaint about John McCain's treatment of his then wife, Carol, while he secretly romanced Cindy Lou Hensley and tried to get rid of Carol in order to marry the far younger, more attractive, richer and more connected Cindy. By and large, from the facts available, one vivid picture that emerges from the records, is a John McCain, the politician and self-centered womanizer who, mainly for financial and political connection reasons, effectively abandoned his crippled wife, Carol, and "married up" to Cindy, a much younger and much richer former rodeo beauty queen 18 years younger than Carol and a heiress to a lucrative Arizona beer distributorship.

The facts concerning this have been well-documented and amply confirmed by many first-hand participants in the events. (See, for example, the following for some of the most recent accounts: "McCain's broken marriage and fractured Reagan friendships," Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2008; and Mail Online, "The Wife U.S. Republican John McCain callously left behind," by Sharon Churcher, June 8, 2008,

In 1979 – while still married to Carol – John McCain met the then Cindy Lou Hensley, the scion of an Arizona beer distributing family fortune, at a Honolulu cocktail party in Hawaii, and over the next six months, he spent almost every available minute pursuing her, flying around the country to see her. Then, with such an unusual speed and rapidity rarely before seen, McCain pushed for a divorce from Carol while he secretly romanced his new dream girl, Cindy, and had barely obtained the divorce from Carol when he wed Cindy the next year, just one month later. Thereupon, McCain promptly retired from his purportedly beloved U.S. Navy in 1981 and, then, aided thereafter by his new wife's fortune from her family's beer distribution business, McCain launched his political career, making an uncommon successful run for the US House the following year, in almost a record time. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate within merely 5 years in 1986.

It was McCain's treatment of his first wife, Carol, that has most riled many observers and participants ever since, as the most telling manifestation of his lack of human principle and compassion. Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, is quoted as saying: "I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and 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 Carol for something he thought was better."

Sampley adds: "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 [who had let McCain have his divorce and didn't fight him]."
H. Ross Perot, the multi-billionaire Texas businessman, advocate of prisoners of war and political crusader who was later to run for the presidency, who reportedly was the one who paid Carol's medical care bills for all those years of her surgeries and medical treatments, is now said to "believe that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man [John McCain] who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics."  Perot adds, "McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory. 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."

The bottom line: Time for the media—and to wake up. The Central question:

How then did we come to this current pervasive “popular” mythology that John McCain has actually been "fully vetted" already by the American electorate and that he has actually "passed the test" to be President were he to be elected to that sacred office? Just where is the credible evidence or proof of that conclusion or assumption? And when, where and how, was that evidence or proof ever presented to the American people? Lest the American people become swindled once again into yet another national political deceit and disaster in this epochal 2008 election, as they had been swindled into in Iraq by the main stream press and media that was largely in slumber only to wake up to the actual truth only when it was already too late, the American Press and Media had better snapped out, very quickly, of the ongoing mythology of the "automatic qualification" of Sen. John McCain to be a good, worthy or competent President of the United States. 

And, get into doing their duty - the duty and responsibility of objectively investigating, verifying, asking the hard but necessary questions, and demanding answers.



Benjamin Anosike, PhD, acclaimed author of several dozens of legal and political texts, is a New York based legal expert and unaffiliated independent commentator, and frequent writer on legal and public affairs.

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