As McCain's campaign becomes increasingly dirty and smear-filled, I figured it was time to air out the negative personal differences between the two candidates (because McCain seems to want to focus on Obama's early adulthood rather than the impending economic meltdown facing this country). Neither candidate is a choir boy, though neither candidate is the devil that some make them out to be. Both have skeletons in the closet, but given Obama's limited time in Washington, he has yet to build the political network involving lobbyists and underworld figures on Capitol Hill.
Let's begin with Obama. Most know of his unique childhood, so I will not go over it again. Let's just hit the controversial topics. One thing that came up was that he spent time at a madrassa (an Islamic school) in Indonesia. This was later debunked as a typical smear from the Clinton campaign (which we know was headed by someone who wanted to point to Obama's "otherness"). Another allegation that has arisen is that Obama is good friends with recently convicted felon Anthony "Tony" Rezko. Rezko is currently in negotiations with prosecutors as he nears facing the music for his corruption charges with the Illinois governor's office. It appears that Rezko may begin snitching on his connections in the Illinois state government. The main connection between Obama and Rezko is a land deal that went down in Chicago in which the the pair bought adjoining lots in a Chicago neighborhood. The issue was that the two lots had to close on the same day, and when Obama mentioned the deal to Rezko, he wanted to help and agreed to buy the adjacent lot so that they could close on the same day. Rezko's wife then sold Obama 1/6 of their over $600,000 lot for a little over $100,000. That deal went down after allegations of Rezko's corruption came out. Some have pointed to the fact that Obama paid less-than-market price for the house and that the lot that Rezko purchased was sold at full price. This is because of the subdivision the owners decided to undertake and the offers standing on the two lots. Obama has since regretted that he did the deal with Rezko to buy the small parcel of land from the adjacent lot to the house. It was, in all appearances, a dumb thing to do.
Other Obama relationships have been called out. To begin with, there was the Jeremiah Wright scandal. I've discussed Wright a good deal and don't want to have to rehash everything about it. Obama went to a church in Chicago where a pastor named Jeremiah Wright, who has connections to other powerful Democrats of recent memory, preached. The two became close and Obama continued to attend his sermons. Some of Wright's sermons (which, it appears, Obama did not attend) were very controversial in nature, talking about things like America's active role in racism. The following got the most attention, when Wright infamously said, "God damn America":
Then there is Bill Ayers. An ex-radical who helped co-found the Weather Underground - a domestic group deemed terrorists by the U.S. government. The Weather Underground's activities included bombing such venerable places as a Pentagon toilet and a statue in Chicago. Their most famous bombing was an accident - the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion that killed three Weather Underground members who were making a bomb. Beyond that, no Weather Underground bomb killed a person, though robbery of a Brinks armored car in New York (a joint venture between WU members and the Black Liberation Army, but with no involvement of Ayers himself) resulted in the death of two cops and a Brinks employee. Ayers says that after the townhouse explosion, he wanted no human casualties (which the Weather Underground seems to have stuck to for the most part).
So where does Obama fit in? Well, he was a wee child when Ayers was running around the country blowing up toilets. They connected much later in life, when they served on the same board for educational reform and lived in the same Chicago neighborhood. Ayers and his wife, another former Weather Undergrounder, hosted a coffee at which State Senator Alice J. Palmer introduced Obama to Democratic friends as her replacement while she spearheaded a run for Congress. Apparently it was one of several small neighborhood gatherings that Obama attended in his lead-up to beginning his campaign, so to say that his political career was launched in Ayers' home, as some McCain ads would like you to believe, is a little ridiculous.
As a sort of an epilogue, today Ayers teaches education at the University of Illinois, was never convicted for any of his activities in the '60s and '70s (thanks to COINTELPRO and the incompetence of federal law enforcement) and has a doctorate of education from Columbia. His wife teaches law at Northwestern. In short, they are a bunch of ex-hippies who have been forced into the mainstream.
Obama's drug use has also been recently brought back into the picture. In his book, Obama admits to experimenting with drugs as a young man while in college. For some reason, a McCain campaign surrogate has put it upon himself to bring up this dead issue. So Obama smoked some weed in college. He said he did a little blow, too, which is stupid (to do it, not to be honest about it). But this is over 20 years ago. Obama saw the errors of his ways, stopped, and made something of himself. But by opening this subject up, the McCain campaign opens the door to talk about Cindy McCain (who herself opened the door to talk about her in the context of the campaign when she came out and attacked Obama). More on that later.
Onto McCain. I wrote up a long post about his past activities (here), but I will brush up on some of them for the sake of knowledge. McCain comes from a distinguished military family, his grandfather was an eccentric four-star admiral and his father was also a four-star admiral in the Navy. McCain followed in their footsteps, joining the Navy and fighting in Vietnam when he was famously captured by the VC and held for years as a POW. John McCain retired from the Navy as a captain and entered politics. Beginning as a U.S. Representative for Arizona and becoming a Senator for the same state.
When McCain went to Vietnam, he was married to model Carol Shepp. While McCain was a POW in Vietnam, Ms. Shepp was in a car accident that left her badly injured. When McCain returned from Vietnam their relationship was very different from when he had left. After his return, he began having extramarital affairs, culminating in an affair with Cindy Hensley. The two began a relationship and got married about a year after meeting. McCain hurriedly got his first marriage to Carol Shepp dissolved before marrying Hensley. Hensley is the daughter of Jim Hensley, the founder of Hensley and Co., the third largest Anheuser-Busch distributor in the country (out of around 800) and is currently the chair of the company and estimated to be worth $100 million. While a bit has been made of Jim Hensley's underworld connections and felon status, McCain's involvement in the social aspect of Jim Hensley's affairs is tangential at best. His father-in-law, however, certainly helped with campaign funding.
When McCain became a senator, he got involved with some of the wrong people. Before McCain claimed to be a Washington outsider, he was sucked into being a Washington insider. The Keating Five scandal left McCain officially unscathed, but would hang over him as a dark cloud for the rest of his Congressional career and presidential campaigns. The story can be read here and you can watch the following video produced by the Obama campaign (though, as a warning, this video seems to be a bit over-dramatic):
As mentioned earlier, given John McCain's wife Cindy's desire to enter the campaign limelight by attacking Obama, we cannot leave her personal life untouched (note the title of this post). There's no easy way to say this and any way someone says it is going to sound brash and harsh, but unfortunately it is a reality. Cindy McCain is a drug addict. Back in 1994 the story about her addiction first broke, but the story went deeper than a mere addiction. It turns out that Cindy had been stealing from her own charity, American Voluntary Medical Team, a charity Cindy set up to provide better health care for third world populations - specifically war-torn areas. The DEA got involved, but the McCains cut a deal with the feds and Cindy avoided jail time. The doctor who wrote her false prescriptions for the drugs (Percocet and Vicodin) ended up losing his medical license. This whole dark period of Cindy McCain's life makes me scratch my head when Frank Keating (no relation to the Keating Five), a co-chair of McCain's campaign, brings up Obama's recreational drug use, when McCain's own wife is an addict.
These are the facts as I see them for both candidates. McCain has the advantage of having run a close primary campaign against Karl Rove in 2000, meaning that a lot of his personal dirty laundry was aired during that bitterly fought campaign. Therefore, some in the media see no point in rehashing McCain's personal issues because they assume that the populace already knows about McCain from 2000. The problem with that is while Obama's ties to Ayers and Wright are highlighted by the McCain campaign (and echoed in the media), things like the Keating Five and McCain's infidelity get brushed over because they were explored in 2000. But McCain, being a Christian, should know Matthew 7:1-2, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Peace.
Photos - McCain at Tuesday's debate (www.washingtonpost.com), Tony Rezko in June at a federal courthouse in Chicago (www.ap.google.com), Bill Ayers in 2000 (www.swamppolitics.com), John and Cindy McCain in 1998 (www.chicagotribune.com)