The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Is McCain rich?
Tom Smith

Senator McCain recently embarrassed himself by being unable to remember how many houses he had.  Most of us cannot sympathize with somebody who answers this question with something like "uh, five?" since we consider ourselves lucky to have one and aren't likely to forget so manageable a unit.  But this doesn't, strictly speaking, make McCain rich.

It is not McCain who is rich, but his wife, Cynthia, the heiress to a large Budweiser distributorship fortune.  Marrying money is not the most manly way to become rich, popular though it may be among politicians.  The most manly way to become rich is to build your own empire in some gritty industry, such as deep ocean exploitation using massive explosives.  But, if you are going to marry your fortune, marrying a beer distribution heiress is a fairly respectable way to go, manhood wise.  And it's Budweiser, not some art beer.  Possibly as a naval aviator and POW, McCain did not need to prove himself in any other way.

Mrs. McCain's ancestors built their beer empire in the rough and tumble, bare fisted, frontier town sort of way, which is to say the beer distribution involved a lot of illegal activity and sometimes people wound up dead, but nothin ever got pinned on nobody.  This was all in Arizona, so it was like the Kennedy saga, with less humidity.  With time and motion, money, like water, is cleansed, and now Mrs. McCain is a pillar of numerous charitable pursuits.  She is the one who owns the houses and the Senator had to sign a pre-nup before he married her.  Depending on the terms of that agreement, she could push him over the side any time, and he would be looking at some serious life-style downsizing.  So in fact, he is not rich at all, just married to a very wealthy woman.  That's probably not the answer he's looking for though.

Marriage and John McCain have an interesting history and not a very jolly one, as everyone knows.  While he was boxed up busy being tortured by his North Vietnamese hoteliers, his first wife, a swimming suit model from Philadelphia, was in a very serious auto accident (she skidded into a telephone pole off an icy road) in which she broke numerous bones including her pelvis, and ruptured her spleen.  When the surgeons finally managed to reassemble her, she had lost inter alia four inches of height.  Marriage is for better  or for worse, but for shorter is something one does not anticipate.  When McCain came back from Vietnam, he was the worse for wear also, and some years and infidelities later, McCain found the rich and beautiful current Mrs. McCain and the former Mrs. McCain passed into history.  She is said to be remarkably unbitter.

Marriage is for better or for worse, but I'm not sure what purpose the 'for better' language serves.  I don't know of a case where a husband says, "you were 350 lbs when I married you and ugly enough to stop a train, but now you're a babe.  I want out."   In my case, I married my lovely wife Jeanne because she was a cute blond, and I figured it was not that important that I was so much smarter than she.  Within about 18 months I had discovered that she was in fact smarter than I, in the IQ, SAT sense, and most others besides, which has turned out to be both better and worse.  Perhaps that is what is meant.  Marriage will be better and worse than you expect. 

Obama is not that rich but he acts like he is, which may be the important thing.  He's not as rich as he thinks he is.  What impresses me is that apparently you can buy a mansion in Hyde Park for $1.65 million.  For that you would be lucky to get a house with two bathrooms in La Jolla.  Perhaps Obama should move to La Jolla where he could genuinely be of the people.  While most people in La Jolla may vote for Obama, if he lived there, he would risk often being asked to park somebody's car or tote their golf bag.  Personally, I would find that irritating.  He has made millions of dollars writing two autobiographies, though he is but 47.  Given his output regarding his relatively uneventful life, up to the time before his candidacy, if Obama actually becomes President, he will have to write  perhaps dozens of books to do himself justice.  Then he might really become rich, and all of us will have those books to look forward to.

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