McCain, Republicans and Family Values
There has been some talk of late about the possibility that Arizona Senator and expected Republican presidential nominee John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, one Vicki Iseman, during his 2000 campaign for the nomination. The New York Times recently reported that the senator’s own staff members at that time were convinced of the relationship. Mr. McCain’s denial was terse, if less than convincing. Standing beside wife number 2, and clearly showing his age in contrast to his glamorous wife, eighteen years his junior, he said: "Obviously I’m very disappointed in the article. It’s not true."
Cindy McCain was quick to support her husband in a rather bizarre statement.
"my children and I not only trust my husband, but know that he would never do anything to not only disappoint our family, but more importantly, disappoint the people of America."
Mr. McCain’s children by his first marriage may not be so quick to assert that the senator ‘would never do anything to disappoint’ their family. No doubt they were ‘disappointed’ when he divorced their mother and one month later married the young and beautiful heiress, Cindy Hensley. Regardless of whether or not Mr. McCain did have an affair with Ms. Iseman, it is doubtful that Mrs. McCain is as confident in his fidelity as she will publicly state. He lied to Carol to be with Cindy; is it unreasonable to think he might have lied to Cindy to be with Vicki?
The U.S. voter has a fickle relationship with adultery; candidate Bill Clinton was elected president despite admissions of, as he put it, causing pain in his marriage. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace just days after he was caught with high paid prostitutes. GOP hero Newt Gingrich was elected and reelected despite the disgraceful way he treated current wives when leaving them for their successors. Serial polygamist Rudolph Giuliani spent millions of dollars in his quest to win the Republican nomination, but was hardly given any positive notice by the voter; even his own children wouldn’t endorse him.
Gail Collins of the New York Times has decreed that the day of the humiliated spouse being coerced to stand beside her (at least publicly) repentant husband must end. We have seen enough of the dazed wives showing support for their unfaithful husbands, and there is no longer any point to it.
However, this is not universally true; the scenario sometimes plays out quite differently. Mr. Giuliani, while still mayor of NY and prior to his disastrous and embarrassing campaign for the Republican nomination, announced at a press conference that he was divorcing wife number 2 in order to make room for her successor. That he chose to announce this to the incumbent Mrs. Giuliani at the same time the rest of the world learned of it cannot be seen as particularly chivalrous.
Many of these are members of the self-proclaimed party of ‘family values;’ it just seems a little bizarre that the men at least get to choose and change families at will. One must believe that Mr. McCain is devoted to his family, at least the second one (This, of course, assumes that the alleged interlude with Ms. Iseman did not occur, and was merely a collective figment of the combined imaginations of his closest advisors back in 2000). Can anyone doubt Mr. Giuliani’s devotion to Mrs. Giuliani number 3? Why, he interrupts press conferences to take calls from her! True devotion indeed! The fact that his relationship with her has caused a rift between himself and his children by Number 2 is unimportant; they are ‘old’ family; he has moved on.
Mr. Gingrich, co-author of the so-called Republican Revolution, allegedly advised one wife (one has difficulty remembering which one it was) of his decision to put her out to pasture so he could move on while she was in a hospital bed recovering from cancer. Another was traded in for a newer model somewhat less ignominiously, but traded in nonetheless. He was, in fact, bedding her successor while condemning the infidelity of then President Clinton.
Adultery, family betrayal and other such episodes of life are never justifiable; but when combined with open hypocrisy they render the perpetrator even slimier than he or she would otherwise be. Condemning an (again, at least publicly) repentant Mr. Clinton from the adulterous bed only adds insult to injury.
The term ‘family values’ has been used and abused long enough. How does paying lip service to the sacred bonds of matrimony while violating them encourage ‘family values?’ What, one asks, is the point of protecting the sanctity of life if society and the government ignore that life once it departs the womb? How does depriving people of health care, which most of the world’s governments provide as a basic right, support ‘family values?’ How does one support families by sending mothers, father, husbands, wives, sons and daughters to suffer and die in an imperial, immoral war? How are family values encouraged and cherished when the family member returns from war with injuries and is either ignored or thrown into hospitals that would have been potent fodder for the exposés of Charles Dickens 150 years ago? What do we say about ‘family values’ when families in Iraq and Afghanistan are bombed and when Iraqi sons, brothers and fathers are torn from their homes in the middle of the night?
A popular bumper sticker once proclaimed that the ‘Christian right is neither.’ Can we not come up with something equally as clever in this situation? ‘Hate is not a family value’ is a good one that has made the rounds, but Republicans seem to feel completely comfortable and justified hating feminists, gays, Iraqis and sick people. And, for good measure, let’s throw in Mormons (recall that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, dangerous in his own right, was shunned by many in the GOP because of his religious beliefs) and African-Americans. And poor people. And those unpleasant people who carry signs seeking equal rights for feminists, gays, Iraqis, sick people, Mormons, African-Americans and the poor. So it appears that the inclusive tent of the Republican Party only has room for wealthy white males. Luckily for the GOP, those people are generally rich enough to buy them their elections.
The Republicans have picked a worthy representative in Mr. McCain; adultery with an heiress, continued war-mongering and an enthusiastic willingness to ignore the needs of poor Americans and use their tax dollars to kill Iraqis. The U.S. voter, thanks to the offices of the good senator, will have the opportunity in November of effectively reelecting Mr. Bush, thereby continuing a long American tradition of ignoring the needy and vulnerable for the benefit of the powerful and rich.
A person awakening from a 40-year sleep might think such a thing impossible. Surely the American voter is too bright and too well-educated to ever elect a Bush clone. A glimpse at the 2000 election might give our recent sleeper pause; the election was close and Mr. Bush only became president by Supreme Court appointment. But while learning of the 2004 election, when the voters actually elected Mr. Bush, our friend will once more become comatose; the shock will be more than he could bear.
We can only hope that we will not all wake up the day after the election with a shock that is more than we can bear; while the U.S. voter is not being offered much of a choice, the Republican Party promises more of the same while the Democratic candidates at least speak of change. Illinois Senator Barack Obama may lack the experience to navigate the complexities of Washington’s political realities; New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton knows those complexities inside and out but may be too firmly entrenched in established politics to want to work very hard for significant change. Despite those risks, either would be a refreshing relief from what the U.S. and the world have suffered from since January of 2001.
The world awaits election day no less anxiously than the U.S. Whether or not the hatred the world has for America, and the suffering America causes at home and abroad, continue unabated is a decision for the U.S. voter to make. Based on history, there is little to assure the world that the right decision will be made.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘