Tuesday, September 16, 2008

American Hero?

September 16, 2008

BY MARY MITCHELL Sun-Times Columnist

Suppose Barack Obama had dumped a crippled wife and married a beer heiress one month after the divorce.

Do you really think he wouldn't have been tripped up by such a scandalous past?

The Republicans would have had a field day mocking his character.

But John McCain's tawdry personal history is rarely mentioned.

Carol, McCain's first wife, wasn't even a comma in the video presentation about McCain's life that was shown to millions of viewers during the Republican convention.

But it was Carol who was left behind to take care of the couple's three children while McCain served his country.

And it was Carol who stuck with McCain during his long incarceration in a Vietnam prison camp.

If McCain is a war hero, then Carol is a war heroine.

Yet she was written off when McCain fell in love with a younger woman.

When McCain returned from Vietnam, he discovered that his wife, a former swimsuit model, had been seriously injured in an automobile accident.

"My accident is well recorded," Carol said in a rare interview with the Daily Mail.

"I had 23 operations. I am 5 inches shorter than I used to be, and I was in the hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn't the reason for my divorce," she said.

"My marriage ended because John McCain didn't want to be 40; he wanted to be 25. You know that happens . . . it just does," she said.

McCain has taken the blame for the divorce, saying the marriage collapsed because of his own "selfishness and immaturity."

"The blame was entirely mine," he wrote in a memoir.

Under normal circumstances, I'd say you shouldn't hold something that happened 35 years ago against someone.

Except, McCain has argued his case for leading the nation based in part on heroic acts that took place four decades ago.

It is worth noting that the same man who endured suffering in a Hanoi prison is the same man who dumped his crippled wife and ran off with a woman 17 years his junior.

Now McCain is being packaged as an authentic American hero.

But what hero could stand to see the wife of his youth and the mother of three of his children written out of his life's narrative as McCain has done?

Worse yet, now that the white female vote is proving to be pivotal, McCain has suddenly had a change of heart.

After 20 months of ignoring his ex-wife's role in shaping his narrative, while campaigning in Jacksonville, Fla., on Monday, McCain thanked Floridians for looking after her while he was a POW.

"I hope you know that in the years I was away in prison, the people of Orange Park, Florida, took care of my wife and family," he said.

"My children had about 50,000 parents while I was gone, and I'm very grateful," he said.

Though sentimental, his words were calculated to woo female voters.

But it may be too late for that.

Many of these women have walked in Carol's shoes.

They have loved men when their lives were low only to be cast aside when their spouses' stars began to rise.

A lot of voters may not be aware that McCain was married before. Like Cindy McCain's pill-popping and her troubles with the DEA, McCain's abandonment of his first marriage has been shrouded in secrecy.

Part of the reason for that is Carol McCain keeps a low profile and is not bitter.

"He is a good guy," she told the Mail. "We are still good friends. He is the best man for president."

But Ross Perot, a family friend and the man who paid Carol's medical bills, had a different take.

"McCain is the classic opportunist," he told the interviewer. ''After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona."

Ironically, McCain is depending on working-class women who are much like his first wife to put him over the top in this election.

I hope those women will remember Carol.

Join Mary Mitchell at www.suntimes.com for a live chat on community matters today at 3 P.M.

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