High Risk

My lovely wife’s father was a navy pilot. It’s a hard charging life, and we used to refer to Paul as being “high-mileage” for his age. When he died a few years ago, he was alone. He had been married three times, all three unions ending in divorce. He alternated between being immensely charming and intensely paranoid.

He was a character in the most vivid sense of the word. A classic, mid 20th century “man’s man” — a gun owner, a heavy drinker and womanizer with a high-risk, adrenaline-driven career flying jets off of an aircraft carrier. He would not blink in the face of adversity. He was reactionary and opinionated. He was endlessly fascinating to me, because he was so different from my own father.

Paul also had a tender streak in him that was irrepressible. Sitting at our Christmas dinner table in Palo Alto several years ago, he remarked to the large gathering of my extended family how touched and grateful he was for being included in our celebration. Then as tears formed in his eyes, he related his memory of sharing a Christmas meal with shipmates on an aircraft carrier, and of singing carols at the table in the mess. We sang a song or two at his urging, and he just smiled and cried as he listened and sang along. It was one of the most moving and memorable Christmas dinners I’ve ever shared.

Paul was an enigmatic character. At once appealing and a little frightening. You never knew when he was telling the truth. In his last years he was a frail and frightened old man who needed companionship and care, so on some level, the truth didn’t matter. He was a man we loved, and he needed us. He like to spin tall tales from time to time.

John McCain and my father-in-law have a lot in common. They belong to a brotherhood of adrenaline junkie pilots who loved living on the edge. They played fast and loose with their lives, and expected those around them to accept those risks. Relationships, for them, are subject to the same kind of expectations of risk and reward as their career.

McCain, like my father-in-law, likes the ladies. His first wife, Carol, was a tall, beautiful swimsuit model. Form your own opinion about his current wife, Cindy. Before marrying Carol, he was a “player:”

McCain hung out with a group of young officers who called themselves the ‘Bad Bunch’.

His primary interest was women and his conquests ranged from a knife-wielding floozy nicknamed ‘Marie, the Flame of Florida’ to a tobacco heiress. [London Daily Mail]

After his Bad Bunch years, and after marrying Carol, he volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam. Refer to the McCain campaign for the full story on his years as a POW. During the time he was being held captive, his wife suffered a tragic car accident that left her nearly unable to walk. Several surgeries (paid for by H. Ross Perot) restored some of her mobility, but left her inches shorter than before the accident. The accident significantly changed her appearance — she was no longer the svelt, willowy beauty that McCain had married.

After his release from Vietnam, McCain found it impossible to honor his marriage vows to his wife. He acknowledges that he had affairs during the years between 1973 and 1980 when he finally divorced Carol. A month after the divorce, he married Cindy.

Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, said: ‘I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is – deceit.

‘When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it.

‘Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.

‘This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He is a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol.’ [ibid.]

My father-in-law was, perhaps, no less guilty than McCain in this regard. But despite Paul’s shortcomings and indiscretion, he knew he had my unconditional forgiveness. That bond of forgiveness made our relationship fruitful. Ours was not a relationship built on complete transparency, it was a relationship that acknowledged the darkness he knew and wished not to share. Paul had no illusions about himself. He acknowledged his indiscretions and his failure. He shared with me in a private moment that he was sorry for the pain he had caused his children, and that he knew his failure as a father was built on his inability to honor his marriage vows. But he was not a totally trustable person. And a relationship with him carried some risk. I could forgive him, but I couldn’t fully trust him.

It’s easy to see why people would be taken in by John McCain. Like Paul, he has lived a high-mileage life. He has a certain brusk charm, and seems unrestrained by any “elite” sense of mannered civility. He, too, is a vivd character. We give him a pass for not wanting to be completely transparent about the dark recesses of his experience as a POW, because, frankly, most of us are uncomfortable hearing about the kind of experience he suffered. But unlike my father-in-law, who admitted to feeling unworthy of kindness and love in the last years of his life, John McCain is willing to cynically exploit our sense of gratitude for his service to our country, and to deceive us, just as he deceived the woman he married.

Ross Perot, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics.

‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory,’ he said.

‘After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona. And the rest is history.’ [ibid.]

For me, forgiveness is not optional. I can’t forgive Anna’s father and withhold forgiveness from John McCain. I have been wrong in my life, and done things that are hurtful, and deceptive. And I hope to be forgiven by others. So it would be hypocritical and uncharitable of me not to say that John McCain has my complete and unconditional forgiveness for the wrong he has done in his life. But like my father in law, a relationship with John McCain comes with a high risk. The risk is that he cannot be trusted. Forgiven? Yes. Trusted? No.

Posted 18 September 2008 by Mark ·