The XX Factor

Cindy McCain Is Very Clearly Not a Candidate’s Wife Anymore

Making the rounds this morning i s a PSA in which Cindy McCain is one of several celebrities to condemn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  It’s placed in the context of bullying and the “It Gets Better” movement; in supporting this policy, says Cindy, “Our political and religious leaders tell LGBT youth they have no future.” The thing is, the political leader manning the barricades against letting gays serve openly in the military is her husband, John McCain.

What a difference two years makes. During the 2008 election, Cindy was the Stepford wife, demurely dressed, porcelain, undesiring of the spotlight. “Stiff” was the adjective perhaps most frequently applied to her; still,  in a New Yorker profile, Ariel Levy also pointed out the “peculiar defiance that is characteristic of Cindy-a woman who claims to pride herself on being traditional.” And: “The stories that Cindy McCain tells all tend to have the same elements: secrecy, unilateral action, revelation. She is a kind of blond Lucille Ball in these tales, always up to something, never wanting to be found out by Ricky.” But this is an open rebellion, one that undercuts a John McCain stance that, frankly, reads more like a desperate bid to remain politically relevant and important than anything else.

The first time I watched the ad, I didn’t recognize it as Cindy McCain. I thought overeager activists had confused the doll-like pearl-wearer with someone else. Gone is McCain’s sleek campaign chignon, and in its place is a sort of spiky short ‘do that makes her platinum blond hair and strikingly lined eyes look a little less Kappa Alpha Theta heiress and a little more Debbie Harry. I’m with Hanna that sometimes physical details are important and sometimes they’re not; this haircut strikes me as particularly telling. Compared with his earlier influence, her husband might be a lame duck (effectively if not technically-John McCain’s national candidate days are over), but that finally means that Cindy’s wings aren’t clipped.

Photograph of Cindy McCain by Frazer Harrison for Getty Images.