McCain’s First Wife
Steve Benen points to a Daily Mail piece about John McCain’s first wife, Carol, whom he divorced for a younger, more attractive, wealthier woman a few years after returning from Vietnam and wonders if there isn’t a double standard at work.
Now, I should clarify that as far as I’m concerned, McCain’s marital difficulties and adultery aren’t especially significant in this campaign, especially years later. I’m inclined to see a distinction made between public and private worlds. I defended Bill Clinton, and said his personal controversies had no bearing on his ability to be a good candidate and a good president, so I can’t very well turn around and say the opposite about McCain, no matter how badly he treated his first wife.
But therein lies the point: if Clinton’s personal history was a matter of tremendous national significance as a candidate and as a president, then it’s not unreasonable to wonder why McCain isn’t subjected to the same scrutiny. I’d prefer both issues are off the table, but I’m hard pressed to imagine why only Democratic presidential candidates’ personal lives are of interest in the context of a national campaign.
I’d note, first off, that there have been rumblings about McCain’s divorce for months. Indeed, Steve himself published a piece on the matter, which he links, in the Washington Monthly two years ago. So it’s not as if the story has gone unremarked.
As to the differential treatment between what McCain did in 1979 and what Bill Clinton did throughout the 1990s, I’d say the answer is easy: only one of them was a sitting president of the United States at the time of their transgressions. Indeed, only one of them was in public life.
Steve’s right, though, that Christian conservative leaders, who were so appalled by Clinton’s conduct, seem to have accepted bad behavior from Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and McCain. That’s mostly political opportunism, of course, although part of it’s likely personal. Bill Clinton simply rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and the fact that he seemed to get away with everything made the desire to get him all the more palpable. (Indeed, much the same has been true of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, with similar results.)
Ross Perot notwithstanding, I’m inclined to give McCain the benefit of the doubt in a way I wasn’t for Clinton and Gingrich. Partly, McCain has been, to the best of my knowledge, silent about the matter and it’s possible that there’s more to the story than that he came home to find that his wife wasn’t as fun and good looking as when he’d left. For another, to the extent that “growing apart” is a morally acceptable rationale for divorce, five years in a POW camp strikes me as a better reason than most for that happenstance.
I wouldn’t be shocked, though, if a pro-Obama 527 group produced some ad spots on this issue to see if it has any salience. Indeed, I’d be mildly shocked if they didn’t.