[digg-reddit-me]As a general rule, I don’t think a candidate’s spouse should be a large factor in choosing a president. Most candidates ask that the media not target their wives directly for ad hominem attacks. Of course, the Republican attack machine constantly attacked and vilified Hillary Clinton and Teresa Heinz-Kerry, and now is doing the same for Michelle Obama. (I’m not sure I can think of a similar example of a Republican First Lady or potential First Lady who was attacked with the same viciousness or by anyone in the mainstream liberal movement. ) But the obvious double standard is not the point of this piece; the point is that Cindy McCain keeps injecting herself into the campaign with ad hominem attacks on Michelle Obama.
The first instance of this from back in February, in my judgment, could be forgiven – understood as a kind of knee-jerk or emotional response to Michelle Obama’s remarks. Michelle Obama mis-spoke and Cindy McCain immediately painted her as lacking patriotism:
Cindy McCain told the crowd I “am proud of my country. I don’t know about you, if you heard those words earlier — I am very proud of my country.”
I think Ms. McCain’s remarks on that occasion should be condemned, but that she as an individual could be given a pass – as her remarks followed so quickly upon Ms. Obama’s. They could be forgiven as a kind of mis-speaking similar to Michelle’s.
However, Ms. McCain’s remarks yesterday – many months after her earlier comments – repeat the same point again – which makes this attack on the Obamas’ patriotism seem to be part of some greater plan. Cindy McCain again trumpets her own patriotism and muses about how:
Everyone has their own experience. I don’t know why she said what she said, all I know is that I have always been proud of my country.
Clearly, she is suggesting that Michelle Obama may not love or be proud of America; but she is doing so indirectly. She is speaking in the way of those who self-consciously consider themselves to be “upper-class” – making her point by indirection and by omission. I don’t think I’m someone who is overly conscious of class – at least conscious of class in the American setting in which I’ve been raised. But this comment by Cindy McCain struck me as a perfect encapsulation of a common sort of “country club patriotism” – a mix of cattiness, entitlement, and a disdain for those “lesser”. As an heiress to many millions, Ms. McCain (along with Mr.) is among the class of super-rich – and she has been her entire life. Insulated from many of the challenges of the majority of Americans, she brags about loving the country in which she has always been one of the elite few. I would think even the most ungenerous individual would have some appreciation for the country that had given them as much as America has given Cindy McCain.
Michelle Obama, on the other hand, a descendant of slaves, was born poor but worked hard and assisted by affirmative action programs and through her own skill and determination, achieved a large measure of independent success. Yet she too has spoken eloquently about loving her country – a country that enabled her to achieve what she has despite the poverty in which she was born. This love of country that is informed by an intimate understanding of the harsher aspects of America is harder to understand and harder to convey than the Country Club Patriotism of those of whom America has given a great deal and demanded very little.
There is an aphorism about the rich man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. This sense of both accomplishment and entitlement are exactly what sets apart Country Club Patriotism from the run-of-the-mill Fourth of July and Apple Pie Patriotism and the traditionally liberal Critical Patriotism.
Cindy McCain’s comments are unbefitting a potential First Lady (or a potential President for that matter.) For her to have brought this up several times is outrageous. If Mr. McCain wants his wife to be spared the mud that will be inevitably flung about as these battle over who will succeed Mr. Bush, he should counsel his wife to try to refrain from slinging mud herself.