If you're looking for a first lady, you've got one in Cindy McCain. But John McCain would be well served by a more audible wife on the campaign trail.
Without the red carpet, New York Times front-page treatment given to Michelle Obama when she recently co-hosted "The View," and without buying into false grievances, Mrs. McCain demonstrates that she understands what's at stake during this election.
That's the signal she sent ABC's Kate Snow in an interview with "Good Morning America." Understated and direct, Mrs. McCain refuses to let the Obama campaign use pretty White House/Black Market dresses to obscure the differences between the two choices this November.
During the GMA interview, the wife of the Republican presidential nominee gave a healthy answer when asked why women should vote for her husband -- an answer devoid of the usual silly-girl gender politics that pretend that women are looking for something wholly different in the voting booth than men. Mrs. McCain said, "Supporting our troops the way he does, supporting our young men and women right now who are serving so gallantly is very pro-woman because every mother, every wife, sister, aunt feels the way I have felt." She continued, "The things that he does doesn't make him any more pro-woman, pro-man, pro-anti-anything. He is about America, making America strong."
Notably, though, the interview was spun much differently than its reality. "Cindy McCain Presses Obama on Patriotism," abcnews.com proclaimed. Mrs. McCain did no such thing, however. She respectfully presented her preferences and offered that there are differences between the two candidates. But the prospect of a catfight or a Republican questioning a Democrat's patriotism was just way too tempting to report -- even if it is fiction.
With two sons who have followed in the McCain military tradition -- one of them has served in Iraq -- Mrs. McCain has absolutely no interest in playing political patriot games. To the contrary, as a military mother and wife, she has a real opportunity and potential responsibility to increase our awareness and appreciation for those who serve. It's an opportunity and duty she's ready for. In an interview with her last month, McCain told me, "I'm not any different than any other mother, father, family member around the country with children in the service. I feel the same way, I know how they feel, and so in that respect I'm absolutely no different. Each day, I'm so deeply proud of their service and deeply honored that our children would do this, that they'd commit a part of their lives to serving their country. So I'm like everybody else. We're all in this together and we feel exactly the same way."
When Mrs. Obama made her infamous remarks at a Wisconsin rally earlier this year that, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change," McCain did, appropriately, respond. She said, "I'm proud of my country I don't know if you heard those words earlier. ... I'm very proud of my country." But those who are hoping for a catfight over patriotism may be disappointed.
What you will see, though, is clarification on the part of Mrs. McCain, and a continued softening of Mrs. Obama. Mrs. Obama started that with her appearance on "The View," where she talked about very little of substance (an approach the show invites by its very nature). But by her very nature, McCain focuses in on the war, and what we owe our soldiers, in her interviews: "I want a leader who will bring them home with dignity."
The "Good Morning America" interview was filmed in Vietnam, where her husband was once held and tortured as prisoner of war. This day, Mrs. McCain was there with Operation Smile, a medical mission that helps impoverished children with facial deformities. Smile is integral to what she loves most -- the children she meets when with the nonprofit. She says they remind her of her adoptive daughter, born in Bangladesh with a severe cleft palate. McCain brought Bridget home as a baby from one of Mother Teresa's orphanages in 1993.
None of the people campaigning on the road to the White House is perfect. Yet all of them are impressive and have stories to tell. How they tell those stories, what they choose to tell us, helps in the decision-making process. The wives aren't running for president, but their priorities are insights into the first family and what the candidate's off-time might look like. I know I'd like to hear Mrs. Obama talk about why the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was someone she thought appropriate to have her daughters listening to, why she was drawn to him, how he might have affected her husband's thinking and political maturity. In the case of her husband, there's a lot we don't know about the candidate, a novice to the spotlight compared to Sen. McCain. Mrs. Obama could help make the picture of her husband more complete.
"I do the things that are important to me," Mrs. McCain told Snow. When we hear her talk, that means our troops on the front lines and their families are heard. Keep talking, Mrs. McCain -- they're important to us, too. And you might just be important for America to see in the White House, as well.