The XX Factor

Cindy Folds

Who got to Cindy McCain? On Thursday, in a much publicized video, she criticized her husband’s beloved “don’t ask, don’t tell.” On Friday, she tweeted that she supported it. Now we’re all confused. Let’s follow the trail of bread crumbs and see if we can’t find our way home.

Earlier this year, the Arizona senator’s publicity-shy wife followed her daughter Meghan’s lead, appearing in a photo campaign with duct tape over her mouth to protest Prop 8 , California’s anti-same-sex-marriage legislation. Last week, as Noreen noted , Cindy appeared with other celebrities in a video for the same group, NOH8, tying gay bullying to legislative policies that restrict and diminish the lives of gay people. “Our political and religious leaders tell LGBT youth that they have no future,” she says in the video. “They can’t serve our country openly.”

The widespread reaction was wow, considering that McCain’s husband, the senior GOP member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, is doing everything he can to block repeal of DADT. And then the next day Cindy tweeted this: “I fully support the NOH8 campaign and all it stands for and am proud to be a part of it. But I stand by my husband’s stance on DADT.”

Huh? That’s like saying you are proud to support Barack Obama and that you’re giving all your money to Sarah Palin. The two statements are mutually exclusive.

One blog calls McCain a “liar, ” but the truth about Cindy McCain has always been more nuanced-hers is a delicate dance between public life and private beliefs, between duty to her husband and to herself, between what things are and what she wishes they could be. As a New Yorker profile of her noted , “She often leaves out a detail or two, omissions that change the shade of the story.”

McCain has long been avowedly uncomfortable on the public stage. She didn’t want her husband to run for president (“You can see the toe marks in the sand where I was brought on board,” she once said ) but in time she gave in. It seems likely her participation in the NOH8 campaign was at least partly due to the influence of Meghan, who has been pushing for the inclusion of the gay community’s interests within the Republican platform. But Cindy’s video statements increased the political pressure on her husband, not to mention exposing the seams in a marriage of two independent people who live most of the year thousands of miles apart.

And that’s that. Once again, it seems, Cindy McCain gave in. The photo of the senator’s wife with duct tape over her mouth is now even more apt.

Photograph of Cindy McCain by Laura Segall for Getty Images.