Thursday, February 16, 2006

Me & Cousin John

"No, we're not related."

That was my answer for years whenever I was asked if I was any kin to Sen. John McCain (R-Democrat).

My kin were all from Randolph County, Alabama, not Arizona. Besides, I knew his father and grandfather were both Navy admirals. My ancestors (including Pvt. Winston Wood Bolt, of Co. K, 13th Alabama Inf., Archer's Brigade, Heth's Division, A.P. Hill's Corps, captured at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863) were all Army enlisted men.

Still, who knows? Maybe some people in Washington returned my calls a bit quicker when they saw the name "McCain" on their while-you-were-out notes.

But then, in 2000, as the GOP primary campaign heated up, the Confederate flag became an issue in South Carolina, the question was asked, "Did John McCain's ancestors own slaves?" And I was assigned to research the question.

The Arizona senator had said that his ancestors fought for the Confederacy, but most Confederate soldiers weren't slaveowners, and John didn't say whether his ancestors did or not. I got myself a copy of his memoir, Faith of My Fathers, and to answer the big mystery: Well, it's kind of hard not to own slaves when you're talking about an antebellum plantation in the Mississippi Delta. (Duh.)

McCain self-destructed after New Hampshire, however, in part because of his mishandling of the rebel flag issue in South Carolina. Bush did the smart thing: He never addressed the rightness or wrongness of the issue, but said it was a matter for the people of South Carolina to decide for themselves. In other words: States' rights, which was what it was all about anyway. Bush's ancestors were New England Yankees, so he didn't really have a dog in the SC fight. Laura Bush, however, is a real Texan, descended from Confederate heroes on both sides of her family. (Being half-Southern, of course, explains why the First Daughters, Barbara and Jenna, are so beautiful. Especially Jenna. Especially Jenna.) McCain, like a fool, wandered into a trap of discussing the right/wrong perspective and instantly alienated every SCV member in South Carolina, among whom the word "wrong" is never used when discussing the Glorious Cause.

But while researching McCain's Confederate forebears, I discovered that, more than likely, we are indeed related. When once discussing names for my children, I'd asked my father what some of the tradition Christian names in his family were, and he'd answered "Hugh" (his grandfather's name). Later, when doing some geneaological research, I'd found that Hugh's ancestors were natives of South Carolina, and located Hugh McCain and his brother Alexander in Chambers County, Ala., at the 1840 census. And in Faith of My Fathers, John McCain explains that his own forebears were South Carolinians named Hugh and Alexander. Given the coincidence of both the Christian names and surnames, then, Cousin John and I are probably both descended from some 18th-century McCain in South Carolina. But while my ancestors ended up in a log cabin on a red-clay farm in the hills above the Little Tallapoosa River north of Wedowee, Alabama, his ancestors somehow made it to the Mississippi Delta and became wealthy cotton planters.

We do have something in common, however: Neither one of us will ever be president. Being named "McCain," I'm often asked if I support my cousin's presidential ambitions. That's irrelevant, because (a) Cousin John has spent the past 10 years urinating all over the GOP's conservative base and thus can't win the primaries; (b) his notoriously hot temper is simply unsuitable for a modern presidential campaign; and (c) he doesn't have presidential hair, which seems to be the key to winning the White House nowadays.

The McCainiacs have various motives for supporting him, mostly I suppose because of the war-hero thing. I appreciate his military service, of course, but just look at the recent history of presidential elections:

W - Clinton, draft dodger.
L - Bush 41, WWII Navy pilot

W - Clinton, draft dodger.
L - Dole, WWII Army hero.

W - Bush 43, Texas Air National Guard
L - Gore, Vietnam war veteran, Army

W - Bush 43, Texas Air National Guard
L - Kerry, Vietnam war hero, Navy (1968 "Christmas in Cambodia" campaign)

In other words, there is no evidence that today's voters, in the age of the all-volunteer armed services, gives a rat's rear end about what somebody did in a war 30 or 40 years ago. Even with his amazing coif of presidential hair, Kerry couldn't make the war hero thing pay off, so it's silly to imagine that the bald-headed John McCain could do any better. So unless Sen. George Allen has a mistress or some other nasty skeletons in his closet, he's the man to beat.

Funny thing, though. At CPAC, my sons went wandering around the exhibitors' area and -- though I'd never said a word to them about the 2008 field -- one of them picked up this button: