Cindy McCain – who was among the first people in the country to question Michelle Obama’s patriotism after Michelle’s poorly phrased comments in Wisconsin early this year – is now incredibly offended by Barack Obama’s suggestion that it is her husband’s fabulous wealth and opulent lifestyle that has made him less sensitive to the vast majority of Americans with only one home whose incomes have fallen despite the economy’s growth under the Bush administration. No – she apparently wants Obama to come up with another reason to explain away her husband’s doubling down on the economic policies of the Bush administration and calling for massive tax cuts for the biggest companies and the richest individuals while cutting taxes far less than Barack Obama would for 90% of Americans.1
To counter the suggestions that her fortune left her and John McCain out of touch, she defended her family’s fortune:
My father had nothing. He and my mother sold everything they had to raise $10,000. I’m proud of what my dad and my mother did and what they built and left me. And I intend to carry their legacy as long as I can.
(Added after watching the complete interview): My father is the American dream!
She really makes it sound like there must be an inspiring story behind how James Hensley’s net worth went from $10,000.00 to over $200,000,000.00. It brings to mind Richard O’Connor, who, in writing how the oil barons created their vast fortunes, paraphrased the great storyteller Balzac:
Behind every great fortune, there is a great crime.
The corollary would be that behind a large fortune is a decent amount of crime.
The story of Cindy McCain’s father, James Hensley, begins when he ditched his first wife for a younger woman after returning from World War II a hero (Sound familiar?). He got involved with a character named Kemper Marley who is variously described as a rancher, a businessman, a murder suspect, and a top figure in organized crime in Arizona. While working for Marley, James Hensley and his brother were convicted of the felony offenses of concealing black market liquor sales and conspiracy. Later Cindy’s father was charged with falsifying records to evade taxes – although these charges were dismissed, no doubt due to the diligent work of one of Arizona’s top defense lawyers, William Rehnquist.
After getting through these legal difficulties in the early 1950s, the brothers Hensley bought a horse track – with several mobsters as silent partners. Cindy’s father, though, was yearning for a measure of respectability, and sold his stake in the track in the mid-1950s. Luckily for James Hensley, he got out just a few months before a statewide scandal focused on the track, making life difficult for his brother and all of the other owners. Hensley’s brother continued at the track and eventually was sent to prison in the late 1960s after he sold his portion of the track to Marley and a mob-connected front.
Meanwhile, Cindy’s father had decided to start a beer distributorship:
According to the official founding myth, Jim launched his own beer distributorship, Hensley & Company, in 1955, with the help of a $10,000 loan. (Unaccounted for is how a cash-strapped ex-convict would have secured the exclusive right to distribute Budweiser in Phoenix.) The distributorship became Hensley’s first step in a long march to respectability.
By most accounts, Cindy’s father worked hard to make his distributorship a success. And as Arizona began to grow in the sixties boom with millions of people moving to the southwest, Hensley’s beer distributorship grew with it – leading to the fortune now estimated in the hundreds of millions which financed John McCain’s start in politics and the McCain’s opulent lifestyle.
To wrap up this story, Cindy McCain says her father had nothing; and through hard work, his fortune is now worth hundreds of millions. But untold is that this fortune is based on gambling and liquor, mobsters and political connections, working hard and cutting corners, and always staying one step ahead of scandal and conviction. Because of his crimes, his connections and his hard work, he was able to provide Cindy McCain with a life of luxury. When the young Cindy wrecked her Porsche, her father bought her a Mercedes Benz. When she became a teacher and was criticized for driving a car that was too flashy, her father bought her a second car to drive to school. And of course, Cindy can’t imagine, even now, how anyone can get around Arizona without a private plane.
It’s easy to see how someone who has led the life that Cindy McCain has can believe that a little bit of hard work will get you a few hundred million – and how someone who’s father bought her a second car to keep the other teachers from making fun of her luxury car could fail to sympathize with the average American having trouble paying all of their bills. It’s not impossible for someone living such an opulent lifestyle to understand and advocate for the middle class and the poor – look at Franklin Delano Roosevelt – but if you are instead are insisting on economic policies that benefit the richest individuals and the biggest corporations – it’s hard not to see a connection.
It’s a bit rich2 of Cindy McCain to defend herself and her husband by invoking how hard her father worked for his fortune. And it’s yet another demonstration of how “in touch” she is with the concerns of most Americans.
N.B. This post was written in the midst of an obviously contentious election campaign – one in which I had strongly considered supporting Senator John McCain – as I’ve detailed elsewhere – but after careful evaluation, had come to the conclusion that Barack Obama was the only candidate suited to our current challenges. While I stand by the content of the post, in retrospect, the tone is a bit overheated. I don’t especially care where her fortune came from. The Kennedy fortune is widely rumored to have come from similarly shady sources – and I don’t hold it against them. But in the context of a campaign in which Obama’s every contact with a questionable individual was the subject of advertisements and smears by the McCain campaign, I found it astounding that this rather close contact with unsavory characters was mentioned in passing but not explored.