For blatantly partisan reasons, I hope that H. Ross Perot makes a big stink out of the story of McCain’s first wife. From what I understand of the wingnut mind, the people already wary of McCain will feel vindicated about using his POW status against him as evidence that he’s not a real man, especially since his wife got into a terrible car accident while he was gone and Perot, a big POW advocate, paid for her medical bills. As Glenn Greenwald amply demonstrated in his book Great American Hypocrites, given the choice between a real war hero/veteran and one who plays pretend like George W. Bush or John Wayne, wingnuts will pick the latter every time. Pretend war heroes give you that juice of manly courage without all the messy realities. Real veterans are often regarded with suspicion, since it’s assumed that having actually seen the reality of war, they might not be gung-ho about pretending it’s a cross between a Hollywood movie and a sports event. Look at what’s happened with McCain. Even though he’s been a loyal asshole and supported torture, he’s gotten a reputation as someone “weak”, because he’s actually been tortured, and it’s assumed he’s lost his taste for it. None of this applies to the larger population of Americans, though, who do think of genuine military service as an asset.
I’m skeptical (as I think Nick is) that the whole story of what happened after McCain got back from Vietnam will hurt McCain in the “family values” department. If he was a woman, well yeah. Dumping the first spouse for one that has the money and connections to start your political career—and who looks better on your arm as a trophy—who you then denigrate with gendered insults would pretty much be the end of that woman’s career in politics. But since the phrase “family values” is a euphemism for “patriarchy”, I can expect this whole story of McCain’s adulteries and his trading the old model wife for a new, better-functioning one will not hurt him with the “family values” set. Most of those who are wary of him are wary because they think he’s secretly pro-choice or something. And with some of the “family values” set, McCain will be more likeable because he knows how to put a bitch into her place.
But Nick’s right that people like Ross Douthat are dedicated with stated values that are more even-handed and demanding of male responsibility. God knows the maudlin nature of this Daily Mail article implies that part of the price men pay for their “right” to rule over women is responsibility for the care and feeding of the disabled first wife, and I can see that requirement troubling the naive Douthats of the world. But this will be their trial by fire. Real patriarchs have to learn to do the two-step. 1) Advocate male responsibility and 2) make excuses for men who don’t live up to that standard. Blaming women is always a good start, which is why there’s so much examining of rape victims for accidental seductive behaviors that let their attackers completely off the hook. Blaming Carol McCain for the end of their marriage isn’t going to work, I think—her children were so vocal in their anger about McCain courting his next wife during his marriage to his first one, to make sure that he was spared that unfortunate single period where your laundry doesn’t just do itself—so I expect there to be some shifting responsibility to liberals to explain why we’re making an issue out of this at all.
Which I guess is fair. I can’t really think that the solution to John McCain’s unhappy marriage was to stay in it. What for? Is this the 19th century? It’s not like Carol McCain is a fallen woman who has to beg for scraps because she’s unmarriageable and destitute. I just don’t think that sticking by unhappy marriages is ever much of a solution.
That said, his repeated adulteries and blatant trophy wife-seeking are good things to make hay over, especially since he’s running as Mr. Family Values. There’s something really pathetic about the fact that he couldn’t leave his wife fair and square before he started dating again. Dating is so much easier with a wife at home, I suppose. I know when I was dating, I could have used someone to manage my social calendar and housework. The pleasure will be in watching the “family values” set doing the hypocrisy dance over this.