Cindy, the people’s First Lady
Presidential wannabe John McCain’s wife invokes comparisons with Princess Diana’s tragic life story
Cindy McCain is hovering over the final weeks of the American election campaign like the ghost of the Princess of Wales, recast as a character in the 1970s potboiler Valley of the Dolls. There is something terribly unhappy about the woman who might yet become First Lady.
With the numbers running against John McCain - the 72-year-old Vietnam vet is exhausted and crabbier than ever, his arms filled with pain and his tongue tart - the New York Times ran a profile of Cindy, suggesting emotional distance while recalling her old pill-popping habits.
McCain immediately called out the lawyers and threatened a lawsuit, complaining that the liberal Times was never as rude about Michelle Obama, and failed to devote equal "investigative assets" to tracking down Barack Obama's old marijuana dealer. (He must have had one, McCain argued, because he has admitted to smoking dope.)
Cindy, 54, who has lived a separate life for at least five days a week for more than 20 years, is doing her duty to the hilt as the old boy makes his last stab at a lifetime's ambition. But the problem is that she looks like she is doing her duty, and that doing her duty is not really a lifestyle that comes easily.
After all, Cindy is famously the one with so many houses that her husband lost count - seven, it turned out - paid for out of the money inherited from her daddy, owner of one of the nation's largest 'make-mine-a-Bud' beer distributors.
She confided to the British press that she saw herself as Princess Di, and that the 'fairy tale princess' would be her role model in the White House. In other words, Cindy is trying to see herself as gracious consort to her older man, while carving her own identity as the People's First Lady for philanthropy.
You could swap the heads on the photographs. It is no coincidence that when Cindy, on inheriting the family firm, decided to set up her own charity, it was the American Voluntary Medical Team (AVMT). She was following Princess Di's footsteps into the crusade to ban land mines, and to Mother Theresa's orphanage in Calcutta, where she adopted Bridget, then just three months old, in 1991.
Cindy has been getting thinner, too, and although she cannot claim the princess' height, she has adopted her willowy stance, sky-blue dresses, carefully tinted hair, and that wounded look as she gazes at her husband.
Charity, sadly, could save neither lady. Cindy used her foundation as a source of prescription painkillers. Like the heroines of Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, Cindy was a roaring drug addict, popping 'housewives' little helpers' to deal with the pain of being married to McCain.
Her parents staged an 'intervention' and sent her off to rehab in 1992. But a year later, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the national drug squad, busted her for stealing dope from her own emergency medical teams, and she was lucky to get away with a community service sentence. McCain divorced his first wife, Carol (left), for her after they met at a party on a US Navy base in Hawaii in 1979. But Cindy felt rejected by Washington - she was viewed as a home-wrecker - and moved back to the family mansion in Arizona.
She still loathes Washington, and regards the idea of moving into the nation's top salon with mixed feelings. The New York Times suggested "Mrs McCain's marriage has been defined by her husband's ambition", and that as First Lady she could at least exact revenge for the snubs of nearly 30 years ago.
Vaulting ambition marred by misery gives Cindy McCain something in common with her royal role model - but it offers bleak prospects for Americans in need of cheering up. ·
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