The presidential campaign can begin. A vital social component of our potential leaders has fallen into place.
Cindy McCain has always described herself as an only child but this week her older (by 11 years) half sister spoke up, mildly irritated that she had not only been forgotten but written out of the family narrative.
Kathleen Hensley Portalski is the daughter of Cindy’s father, businessman Jim Hensley, by an earlier marriage. She lives in Phoenix but you get the impression that she and Cindy don’t run into each other at the supermarket that much.
And, it seems, Cindy’s mother, Marguerite, also had a daughter by an earlier marriage. The half sisters are beginning to mount up. But getting everybody up on stage at the Minneapolis convention for the balloon drop doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
And this week Italy’s Vanity Fair — and why it should care is something of a mystery — says it located Barack Obama’s youngest half brother, George Hussein Onyango Obama, 26, living in penury in a hut outside Nairobi. The half brothers have met only twice, and that years apart.
The presence of presidential-level relatives who are long lost, awkward, embarrassing or slightly shady is a tradition in American politics.
Bill Clinton was openly protective of his younger black-sheep brother, Roger Clinton, the son of the future president’s adoptive stepfather. Roger served a year in the 1980s for cocaine distribution. President Clinton granted him a pardon as he was going out the door of the White House.
But, wait, as they say, there’s more.
Bill Clinton’s father, William Jefferson Blythe, died before Clinton was born but he apparently had several prior marriages, and it turned out that the president had a half brother and half sister he didn’t know about. A bumper sticker at the time said, "Honk if you’re Bill Clinton’s half brother." People did.
President Bush’s family seems pretty squared away but then there’s the matter of younger brother Neil, who has been involved in some checkered business dealings and a messy divorce. He was chastised and sued by the government for his role in a Colorado savings and loan collapse that reportedly cost the taxpayers $1 billion. But he seemed to have no trouble coming up with high-powered, high-dollar investors, including a Russian oligarch, for his other ventures.
In his divorce case, he testified that, on business trips to Asia, women would simply show up at his hotel room door and he would have sex with them.
Ronald Reagan had his daughter, Patti, who willfully took stands opposed to her father, led a rather libertine lifestyle, wrote an autobiography that was very harsh on her parents and posed nude for Playboy. The family later reconciled but those could not have been easy years.
Jimmy Carter had one sister who rode Harley-Davidsons and another who was an evangelist, but it was his younger brother, Billy, a funny, blunt-spoken, self-styled redneck who was overly fond of beer who raised the most eyebrows. He eventually had his own brand, Billy Beer, but it was accepting a $220,000 loan from Libya that got him entangled in a Senate investigation into influence peddling.
Richard Nixon had his brother, Donald, who took a $205,000 loan from reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes to finance a chain of drive-ins serving Nixon Burgers. The chain quickly went bankrupt.
Lyndon Johnson had a younger brother, Sam Houston Johnson, whom the president tried to keep out of sight, but Sam would get drunk and talk to the press. Finally, he enlisted the Secret Service to keep a lid on Sam.
And then there were Thomas Jefferson’s nephews and the female slaves . . .
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)