NPR logo Who is Cindy McCain?

Who is Cindy McCain?

Cindy McCain, on the fourth night of the Republican National Convention.

Cindy McCain, on the fourth night of the Republican National Convention. Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Addiction. Wealth. Secrecy. Orphan babies. This is the stuff soap operas, err, presidential campaigns are made of. At least in the case of Cindy McCain. We've seen her on the campaign trail for over a year now, standing proudly by her husband Sen. John McCain's side, waving to the crowds, donning an expensive wardrobe in bold colors.* She's given speeches with anecdotes about surprising John with an orphan from Bangladesh, and about her charity work abroad. But what do we really know about Cindy McCain, the person? In an article for The New Yorker, author and journalist Ariel Levy takes us inside the McCain camp, and gives us a glimpse at Cindy McCain's privileged background, self-reliant personality, history of addiction, and relationship with her husband and children. If you have questions about Cindy McCain — about her background or style of campaigning — leave them here.

* Most notably, an Oscar de la Renta number, with diamonds and pearls, that totaled $300,000.



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Cindy is also "the other, younger woman" who John McCain dropped his first wife for. Tell us a little about that. Not too much. But it is important since the GOP is th eparty of "family values".

Sent by JUDY | 2:26 PM | 9-11-2008

I have to say that some of Cindy McCain's story outright angers me. The story of the adoption of Bridget is often held up as a example of how wonderful and giving she is. I beg to differ. Now don't get me wrong--I'm glad that Bridget got the medical care that she needed. But according to the Newsweek profile on Cindy McCain, a Bangladeshi official refused to sign the visa paperwork saying, " We can do surgery on this child." "Frustrated, Cindy slammed her fist on the table. 'Then do it! What are you wating for?' The official, stunned, simply signed the papers." (Newsweek, 6/30/08, pg. 24)
The only reason she got away with this was due to her husband's position and her own wealth. If a "regular" American woman had behaved like this, she would most likely have been shut away in a prison for threatening a government official.
There are many, many individuals who would dearly love to adopt, or adopt internationally. In several instances, those individuals would be rejected based on age of spouse or family medical conditions (most adoption agencies exclude couples if one spouse is over 50--which John McCain was in 1991). For other couples, the large fees required put their dream out of reach.
This isn't a story of a noble example; it's the story of pampered self-indulgence.

Sent by ellen | 2:50 PM | 9-11-2008

Why does the media not bring up Cindy's half sister and how she is treated by Cindy and her father's will? The media would not be this kind to Michelle Obama.

Sent by Tom | 2:52 PM | 9-11-2008

Isn't Cindy is off limits as a family member. Isn't that the wishes of Barack Obama? Cindy has no intention of talking to, or looking in the eye of someone who doesn't like her and will spin anything she says to make her look bad. Can you blame her?

Sent by John | 3:00 PM | 9-11-2008

These days, it is incredibly difficult to trust ANYTHING that comes out of the mouth of a politician looking to get elected or re-elected. Their wives are no exception. I don't buy Cindy McCain as being a traditional mother or altruistic charity queen anymore that I buy John McCain being portrayed as a "Maverick" who will clean up the mess made by the Bush Administration.
Bridget was probably adopted as a tool to boost the McCain image rather than for compassionate reasons. And McCain is a product of the Military Industrial Complex whom he won't serious challenge if he gets elected. In this case, the images they want to project just don't hold up under serious scrutiny.

Sent by BSim | 3:19 PM | 9-11-2008

Talk about a pig in lipstick. Levy can find something to turn someones life into a "soap opera". No wonder why one wouldn't want to have eye contact with her. You wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig likes it. Shame on you Neil & Talk of Nation for giving her 5 min of fame at your expense.

Sent by bruce | 3:22 PM | 9-11-2008

Cindy McCain's "pampered self-indulgence" led to a vastly better life for her daughter, Bridget. Bring on pampered self-indulgence" like that! Ariel Levy and Neil Conan need to find more worthy targets for their contempt than this private, probably socially shy woman who has been thrust into the spotlight and who would prefer traveling around the world providing surgery for children otherwise condemned to lives of ostracism and ridicule . As she has said, she is not the candidate, and how much money she has is no one's business.

Sent by Laura | 3:22 PM | 9-11-2008

The John and Cindy McCain relationship started on a foundation of adultry.
That makes John McCain an adulterer I do believe - with a very high divorce rate in the USA I am guessing adultry and divorce are the "small town values" we all hear about.

Or, is it that saying one thing, and doing another" is a small town value.

But really -when Mccain negotiates with China and Russia how far will, "I was a POW" and "Don't be sexist" take him. Remember, Rissian and China are the countries that had North Vietnam keep him in the cage, and they are indifferent to Amercan Media's spin.

Sent by Christopher M. Brown | 3:23 PM | 9-11-2008

As an adoptive parent, I was struck by Cindy's apparent "instant" international adoption. It took me a year to complete the paperwork necessary to adopt my daughter (born in China) and almost another year before I went to China to meet her and bring her home. These celebrity adoptions may lift up adoption as a way of building families, but they certainly aren't realistic.

Sent by Jeanne Lischer | 3:29 PM | 9-11-2008

Whoa!!! The media,NPR included, and the Democratic hierarchy[including Caroline Kennedy?!?] couldn't wait to get Hillary out of the race and anoint a candidate who had mastered the caucus process but who is, in the eyes of many Democrats and independents, not experienced enough to be president. Now, when it looks as if they really messed up, everything but the kitchen sink is being thrown at the Republican candidates and their families. I had thought that after 8 years of Bush, i'd never vote for another Republican, but now....

Sent by Laura | 3:40 PM | 9-11-2008

I would like to comment on Cindy McCain's reference to herself as an "only child", being in a similar situation myself. Ariel Levy implied that there was something "loaded" in Cindy's reference to herself in this way, when she in fact is not technically an only child, as she has two half-sisters. I, too, have two half-siblings -- my mother's children from a previous marriage. They were teenagers when I was born and both left home when I was 5. They rarely returned for visits. Although I am not "technically" an only child, and I know my mother does not think of me as an only child (although I was my father's only child), I have always felt my childhood was that of an only child rather than that of a youngest child. I have very few memories of my older siblings in the home and almost no shared experiences with them. If I refer to myself as an only child is not out of some wish to deny the existence of my older half-siblings, but is rather a reflection of how I perceive my childhood. I would imagine that Cindy's perception of her childhood is similar, hence her reference to herself as an only child. And her reference to herself as a "single parent" probably stems from a similar perception, with her husband away in DC for much of the time while she raised the kids in AZ.

As for her adoption of Bridget -- it makes no difference what her motives might or might not have been. If Bridget has enjoyed a better, more comfortable, more privileged life with the McCains than she would have had otherwise (not to mention that she got the surgery she needed) how can you try to twist that into a negative? Many others of the rich and famous do this all the time. And if Bridget's adoption went much smoother and faster because of Cindy McCain's money, well, unfortunately that is the real world. Money greases many wheels.......

Sent by Michele | 4:13 PM | 9-11-2008

Because the McCains and their political spiners claiming their campaign stands for family values, I feel this report is important and reflective of the realty of the McCain family. Not acknowledging a half sister during a talk for their father's funeral was indigative of this family having no values at all.

Sent by Kathy | 4:21 PM | 9-11-2008

I have continued to listen to NPR despite my growing concerns about the really one sided, and absolutely derisive, stories I have been hearing in recent months. Ariel Levy was outrightly rude and sarcastic about everything having to do with Cindy McCain, from the color of her suits, to the appearance of her eyes, to the conclusion that Cindy McCain doesn't really want to be on the campaign trail with her Husband. She derides Cindy's adoption of her daughter, her land mine removal projects and every thing about this woman. Is that news? In what way is this helpful or informative to your listeners? This was a childish, petty story, far below the level of journalism I once expected to hear on NPR.

Sent by Carolyn Crook | 5:11 PM | 9-11-2008

Was listening to the show today and the segment on Cindy McCain came on and the woman noted the adoption of the McCains daughter Brigett and that no one simply shows up with a child and tells their spouse he/she is now ours. I and the person with me busted out laughing and noted 'that writer doesn't know us and our friends'.

Fact is there are those of us who have brought home in some way a child who ended up being adopted. In my case it has been seven boys whom my husband met when I first brought each of them home. We have friends whose husbands or wives have returned from African, Central America, Asia with a child, whom they had agreed to adopt because of special needs. But the fact is, I bet Cindy and John, like Ron and I, had an agreement or understanding that stuff happens and life changes, so be open to the adventure.

Also want to note I am adopted and the couple who adopted me had a son who was graduating from high school when they got me. He and I, both consider ourselves to be only children since neither of us had another sibling in the home growing up. And I think since Cindy's Mom only had Cindy that yes, Cindy is an only child.

And as for the snide comment the author made about Cindy being a 'single parent', I have many friends whose husbands work in various fields that required weeks and months away from home who JOKE about being 'single moms'. Geez cant some elite media folks take a damn joke?

Sent by MotherLodeBeth | 5:47 PM | 9-11-2008

I just wonder why Bridget wasn't on the cover of People magazine with Megan and the Palin kids. I also wonder why Bridget get 1/2 as much money (in the will) as the biological kids.

Sent by Mama Rose | 10:08 PM | 9-11-2008

Listening to Levy was painful at best. A journalist for the New Yorker? ~ the vocabulary describing the candidate's wife never elevated beyond "weird" and "strange". The information was caustic and a waste of time. Step it up Talk of the Nation - do not waste my drive time!

Sent by Carolyn | 10:08 PM | 9-11-2008

The New Yorker article was very interesting and I thank TOTN for bringing it to my attention. The issue about being an only child seemed like an non-issue to me until I realized that Kathleen Portalski visited her father almost every day in the months before his death. Now really--it seems cold as ice to not mention her at the funeral.

Interesting that Cindy McCain's father met her mother when he was still married. And more interesting (to me, that is) that, according to Cindy, the McCains were not even truthful with each other about their own ages until their wedding announcement was published in the paper.

I do think Cindy's wealth should be an issue, especially since it was her plane that flew the candidate all over the country during the primaries.

Sent by Robin | 11:00 PM | 9-11-2008

It seems interesting to me that as soon as Cindy McCains drug addiction was brought up the interview ended abruptly. I was on hold and ready to ask about the charity that she reportedly stole drugs from. As well as her connections to the Savings and Loan scandal in the 1980's, I believe she was some sort of bookkeeper in the Keating 5 affair.
Why is it that Sen. Obama's wife is fair game and Cindy is not.

Sent by Drew | 11:28 PM | 9-11-2008

I listened to a little of this today and was struck by the difference between this particular take on Cindy McCain's marriage and an interview/article on Michelle Obama in Vanity Fair, "First Lady in Waiting," late in 2007 (December issue). In this piece today about McCain, the author speaks suspiciously and somewhat contemptuously of the McCain's marriage, noting that Cindy McCain has brought the McCain children up substantially on her own in Arizona, while John McCain lives primarily in Washington because of his job. I was surprised the author seemed to find that suspicious, as if that compromises the McCain's "family values." By comparison, from the Vanity Fair piece, Michelle Obama notes as well that she has been essentially a single parent while her husband has pursued his political career, and that for years it made her very angry, but that she finally learned to deal with it by surrounding herself with other family to help out. They have both noted that she continues to live in Chicago with their children while Barack Obama lives primarily in Washinton. I find it ironic that in the case of the McCains such an arrangement is derided, while in the Obama's situation nobody bats an eye.

Sent by Colleen Devlin | 11:37 PM | 9-11-2008

If NPR really is screening these comments then 'talk about a pig in lipstick' should have been left out.

I felt better about Cindy McCain after the convention; before that I never saw her smile. She has a winning smile. But her speech, with her tones of victimization or ...something, I don't know; whatever it was it was phony.( John McCain's tones, going down with every phrase, seem depressed, and it is depressing to listen to him; the way he speaks is indeed phony-sounding. )

Cindy McCain's dress -- did you say it cost $300,000? Dollars? This is unconscionable, when you think of all the people who could benefit from this money. How much does she give to charity, do we know? This could buy a house in many areas, with no loan involved. Does the woman have absolutely no care for anyone but herself?

She showed herself, at the convention, with her little girl dress, her phony tones, her smiling and bowing and taking it as a compliment when they introduced her as a 'adoptive mother', as a very insecure woman. The expensive dresses (which styles are totally lost on me) and expensive face lifting seem like someone who has a very dissatisfied sex life. (Yes, I am an expert; a therapist for 25 years.) And now she has to watch her husband feel and lean against another younger woman whom he seems gaga over. But maybe the jealousy will jump-start the marriage.

Sent by Hannah | 12:46 AM | 9-12-2008

The Cindy McCain story by Levy was so biased as to be laughable. Why wasn't it concluded with the statement- "I'm Barack Obama and I appove this message."
I can just imagine the warm and glowing story Ms. Levy would do about Michelle Obama. Your contempt for the McCain canidacy is as clear as a pane of glass.

Sent by Buzz | 7:27 AM | 9-12-2008

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Carolyn. I have been listening to NPR for the past 10 years not because I agree with their political leanings, but because I enjoy the news magazine format and the human interest stories, which I don't get from my local radio station. However, I am wondering more and more if it is worth it. Yesterday's piece on Cindy McCain was a perfect example. Ariel Levy's gossipy, catty piece didn't deserve even the 5 minutes NPR gave it .....

Sent by Michele | 12:26 PM | 9-12-2008

I would like to know if the personal story of adopting an over-seas special needs child and Mrs. McCain's work on other issues of health and bomb removal effected her husband's policy decisions. Did Sen. McCain support our governmnet in any efforts to help with those issues? Is there a record of his political power and influence being used in areas linked to his wife's interests in international volunteerism? That information would make this a policy discussion rather than a biography piece.

Sent by Alyssa | 1:58 PM | 9-12-2008

I posted a lenghthy comment on Thursday but it must have been edited by someone who didnt like what I had to say about the author or NPR.

Sent by MotherLodeBeth | 4:27 PM | 9-12-2008

As an adoptive parent who has read quite a lot about adoption laws I am puzzled by the process used by the McCains to adopt their daughter from Bangladesh.
As you can easily find out on the Dhaka US Embassy web-site (
"Actual adoption of children is not permitted under Bangladesh law. However, Bangladesh law does permit its own citizens to apply for guardianship of children. At that time, a U.S.-Bangladeshi dual citizen who has obtained guardianship of a Bangladeshi child could apply for an immigrant visa for that child to go to the U.S. Under Bangladesh law, the 1982 Guardianship and Wards Amendments Ordinances prohibit granting guardianship of Bangladeshi children to non-Bangladeshi parents. "
In summary Bridget was brought to this country against the laws of the country where she was born! Not only, the immigration visa process for an adopted child is quite complex and a petition must be filed BEFORE the child can enter the country. Another law that apparently has not been respected! And what about John McCain not even knowing his wife was coming back with a little girl? Shouldn't adoption be a choice the couple make together?
Children are not pets you bring home and ask: "can we keep it?"

Sent by Anto | 11:43 PM | 9-12-2008

During John McCain's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he spoke about the sacrifice of spouses who have waited at the home front for the return of their loved ones, giving in the process several examples. I found it notable that he did not mention the sacrifices of his own wife and children at that time, in his examples -- the wife who waited for him while he was a prisoner in Vietnam. The wife whom he found, when he returned, had gained weight because of an auto accident. The wife who he then cheated on by having numerous adulterous affairs. Who he dumped in favor of his younger, richer current wife, Cindy McCain, who he begain dating while still living with first wife Carol.
Cindy McCain was "the other woman". If McCain wins election, she will be our first "First Lady Home-Wrecker" (as far as I know). The Republicans pride themselves as the party of family and moral values, and this doesn't bother them? If this had been part of Barack Obama's back story, wouldn't the Republicans be plastering all the details in their attack ads?

I know that the Obama Campaign wishes to stay above this kind of personal detail, saying its not an issue. But, actually, it is an issue. John McCain (and Sarah Palin) have been telling lies in their speeches and ads -- multiple sources point this out. If you think about John McCain's history of cheating on his wife -- which certainly must have included multiple lies/excuses told to her to cover up his affairs -- we can then see a pattern of lying within McCain's character. If McCain is willing to lie to the American people to get elected, then, why wouldn't he be willing to lie to us all, once in the White House?
We have endured nearly eight years of of White House that feels it can lie and conceal from Congress, the Press, and the American people. McCain's history of lying -- to his first wife, and now in his election campaign, signals that he would not hesitate to lie to us all, once in the White House. After all the messes that Bush and Cheney's lies have brought us to, do we really need still more of the same?

Sent by Doug Wheeler | 9:01 PM | 9-18-2008