Dialogue with Tom Blair
THE WIFE OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE John McCain, Cindy Hensley McCain is a native of Arizona and a longtime visitor to San Diego who owns a home on Coronado. She’s the chairman of her family’s business, Hensley & Company, one of the largest Anheuser-Bush distributors in the United States. She’s also a tireless volunteer, advocating for children’s healthcare needs around the globe through HALO, Operation Smile and CARE, USA. Her formal education includes an undergraduate degree in education and a master’s in special education from the University of Southern California. She’s the mother of four children, including an adopted daughter, and three stepchildren from John McCain’s first marriage.
TOM BLAIR: So, you’re one of those folks we San Diegans refer to fondly as Zonies.
CINDY MCCAIN: Well, we take it well.
TB: Probably few San Diegans know about your ties to our city, especially to Coronado, where you spend a lot of leisure time.
CM: Oh, yes, anytime I get a chance to.
TB: You have a home here.
CM: We have a place at Coronado Shores, right next to the Hotel del Coronado.
TB: When did you first start coming to Coronado?
CM: As a child. I think every good Arizonan heads out there when possible. My parents took me to the beach, where we had summer rentals. And I’ve spent a whole lot of time there. And then, three years ago, I had a stroke. That summer, I rented a place and stayed four months to recuperate. And I thought, Yeah, I like this okay, I’m going to buy something. And I did.
TB: And your recovery from the stroke was complete.
CM: Complete, yes. And our kids love the place in Coronado. All of a sudden, I’ve become very popular. But it’s great, because I see more of them now.
TB: It’s got to be a nice respite from the grueling presidential campaign trail. In John McCain’s case, the trail seems to have been years long. How many days out of each month do you see your husband now?
CM: Not many. Two or three, maybe.
TB: And how much campaigning do you do on the road?
CM: A fair amount. But I still have a daughter at home, and my other kids are all doing things there, too. I have to be responsible and able to handle the family issues. So I’m out campaigning, but I come home to Arizona to regroup, then head back out.
TB: The job description for first lady isn’t particularly well-defined.
CM: I don’t think I’ve seen any definition anywhere.
TB: Well, not many Americans would mistake Hillary Clinton’s style for Laura Bush’s style. How do you perceive yourself as first lady——more Hillary or more Laura?
CM: I think I perceive myself as just Cindy McCain. If I were so lucky to find myself in that position . . . as you know, I’m very involved in a lot of nonprofits, I volunteer overseas and do work there, and I would continue that. I’d also continue to get others involved, not only worldwide but on a local level.
TB: But not much politics.
CM: No. No, no, no. I’ve never been a political person. I would not attend cabinet meetings; I would not be a part of that process. That’s my husband’s job. But what I do is just as important. It’s just different.
TB: Most husbands and wives are politically compatible. But many also differ on some issues. Is there any issue you and your husband disagree on——even by degree?
CM: There are some issues, sure. My differences with John may have been more stylistic than anything else. But we’re fairly compatible on all the issues. I’m certainly not lockstep with him, but I don’t have any complaints at all. I like where he stands. He’s sought my advice on certain things——education, for one. And he always runs things by me. Whether he takes my advice or not, I’m not sure. Frankly, when he comes home, where he stands on the issues isn’t the first thing I want to talk about. We need to talk about the kids.
TB: Well, then, let’s talk about a domestic issue: What’s John McCain’s most annoying habit?
CM: He’s a remote-control freak. Once he gets hold of the remote control, forget it. If you want to watch something else, you’re out of luck. You’ve got to go someplace else.
TB: In other words, he’s a husband. What would John McCain say is your most annoying habit?
CM: I guess bringing home stray everything. Dogs . . . I love animals, so I’ll wind up bringing strays home. I think that probably bothers him more than he says.
TB: One of your husband’s Republican opponents for the nomination has been married three times. That’s an issue for some Americans. Your marriage to John McCain was the second time around, for him. Do you think that’s a problem, especially among the so-called “family values” wing of the GOP?
CM: I don’t think it’s an issue the way it once would have been. But quite honestly, I don’t know, because every part of the country is different. When you’re in the South, you hear one thing; when you’re in the North, you hear something else. I think it’s just a matter of who these guys are and what kind of a leader they’d be. What I look for——and I’m a voter——is whether the candidate was true to his beliefs and honest. Telling me not what I want to hear but what the truth is.
TB: You and your husband have three children together, and then one daughter, Bridget, you adopted after finding her during a mercy mission to Bangladesh.
CM: And three grandchildren.
TB: And then three children by John’s first marriage. Are any of them still at home?
CM: Bridget is 15 now; she’s still at home. Our 23-year-old, who just graduated from Columbia, has just moved back home. She’s not in the house; she’s in an apartment. And she’s going to be campaigning with her dad. And then our two boys are in the military.
TB: And is Bridget doing well?
CM: Bridget is doing great. She’s a typical teenager. She’s a good kid.
TB: That sort of sets up the next question. Finding Bridget was the result of your world travels promoting healthcare for children of the world. What specific causes would you champion as a first lady?
CM: I just returned, in fact, from an Operation Smile trip to Vietnam for cleft-palate surgery for children. What I would continue to champion, in addition to my personal causes, is getting people up off the sofa, getting them involved in their neighborhoods, their communities, their states or worldwide. Shut the game down on Saturday afternoon, get off the sofa, and let’s go do something positive. Give a couple hours a week, instead of sitting and beefing about it.
TB: You certainly live that. You’ve traveled the world doing something positive.
CM: What I do when an organization asks me to join a board, or get involved, I go and watch them in the field. The most important thing I want to see is not only if the money is there but how it’s used. Are they frugal? Is it going where it’s supposed to go, and not for parties to talk about the charity?
TB: Well, you’re a good business person. You’re chairman of the family business——which is dear to my heart——a distributor of Anheuser-Busch. How much time can you devote to business when you’re being a political wife, and mother, and traveling the world doing good works?
CM: You know, we live in a wonderful age of e-mail, and Internet and cell phones that work everywhere in the world, so I can devote as much time to business as I need to, no matter where I am in the world. And I do. Of course, I have a great group of people under me, so I have a company that runs well, but I can also do the things I want to do.
TB: By virtue of his position as a U.S. senator and presidential candidate, your husband has to deal almost daily with criticism. Sometimes it gets nasty. When that happens, how do you react? Do you have to fight the urge to strike back?
CM: I absolutely have to. I take it very personally when people do that. I’m in a terrible situation in that respect——any member of a political family is——because we sit and hear everything that goes on, and we can’t say anything. Sure there are days I want to fight back and say, “You’re not only wrong; you’re dead wrong.” But I can’t. It’s not appropriate, and I wouldn’t do that. And just about every other politician’s spouse does the same thing.
TB: Well, you may only have another year and a half of that. When the election’s over, do you think you might consider a Western White House in Coronado?
CM: Absolutely. I love Coronado. Listen, to me there’s nothing better than waking up and seeing the sun come up over the water on the bay there. And watching the Navy SEALs run up and down the beach. And walking along the beach and then watching the sun set over Point Loma. That’s a great way to live.