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First ladies: It’s not just about gowns and glamour

Out of My Head

Posted: July 20, 2008 1:31 a.m.
Updated: September 20, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Throughout American history, the role of first lady has been an important one. Although it includes no official duties or pay, first lady status carries a certain tradition for embracing causes.

Whether promoting education or declaring war on poverty or drugs, these women tend to garner our respect. (Depending on their figures, charm and fashion designers, they also seem to command public captivation.)

The next president’s wife who will hang her trousseau in White House closets may be Cindy McCain. If that happens, I wish her the best of luck. She and her Arizonian husband will need it.

He’ll be taking on an incredibly challenging position: suturing up a once-robust nation that has been maimed by the “leadership” of George W. Bush.

I have an additional wish for Mrs. McCain: I would like to see her realistically use her past drug addiction for the benefit of the masses.

To do that, she must be completely honest about what she did as an addict — and what she put others through as a result of that disease. She must embrace the battle against drug abuse and make it her own special interest.

From what I’ve gathered about Cindy McCain — much of it from the TV, Internet and magazine interviews, as well as partisan e-mails extolling her charm and demureness over “that un-proud Michelle Obama” — the straight story about her drug addiction years has been rather diluted.

Just as honesty is a cornerstone of recovery, candor should be at the basis of faith in America’s first family.


During the late 1980s, Cindy McCain became addicted to narcotic pain relievers Vicodin and Percocet. She was eventually taking as many as 20 pills daily, a voluminous amount for any big and burly truck driver, let alone a slender adult female.

Most people feel no pain, or much anything else, on a fraction of those potent, brain-blurring pills. How she managed to function as a wife, mother, business executive, and leader of her own global medical emergency services team boggles the mind.

How her husband, assumingly an astute and caring partner — and ironically a senatorial hawk on drug punishments and drug treatment spending — did not recognize that dependency also eludes comprehension.

To obtain her controlled substance drugs, Cindy McCain stole from her non-profit, the American Voluntary Medical Team, which provided medical and relief services in Third World countries. She was actually having AVMT volunteer doctors write bogus prescriptions in other’s names. But those narcotic analgesics were all for her.

Mrs. McCain’s addiction and pilfering were kept under wraps for several years. Eventually it did make news, however, but the telling has not been thorough. Nor did any of it come out because the McCains wanted that frankness.

Cindy McCain, who has acknowledged taking drugs from AVMT, blames her former drug dependency on chronic back pain (secondary to back injuries and resultant surgeries). In addition, she attributes her addiction to the strains of Washington and loneliness associated with having a busy politician spouse.

She has also said the stress caused by her husband’s brush with disgrace during the Keating Five banking scandal was a factor.

All these explanations are plausible. But there’s more to the story, and thanks to diligent reporters such as Amy Silverman at the Phoenix New Times, the enhanced details emerged in 1999.

One day in 1993, Tom Gosinski, then the director of AVMT’s government and international affairs, was fired by Mrs. McCain. Supposedly the non-profit was having financial issues and couldn’t afford to keep him.

Prior to termination, Gosinski had concerns about Cindy McCain’s increasingly “erratic behavior” and possible drug use. He also felt she might be ripping off drugs from the organization. This information, according to reports, was chronicled in a journal he kept at the time.

Upon Gosinski’s departure, he went to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and a DEA investigation of Cindy McCain was launched. A wrongful termination lawsuit was also initiated: Gosinski claimed his suspicions about Mrs. McCain got him axed.

The DEA’s investigation showed Cindy McCain was indeed a drug addict and non-profit drug thief. As for the Gosinski/McCain litigations, nothing panned out either way.

While many within McCain’s camp feel Gosinski was just a dumped, disgruntled ex-employee, the fact is, Cindy was an addict who did some very bad things to support her addiction.

Another interesting detail: Cindy McCain was sentenced to a diversion program but served zero time behind bars.

Of course, many folks wonder: If that had been an average Joe like you, me, or some kid in a barrio, would a prison term have been mandated?


Addiction is a rampant pathological state. It can cause nice people to carry out some very heinous drug-seeking behaviors. It can also affect anyone, including bright, USC-educated multimillion-dollar-heiresses with Barbie doll good looks who are loving wives and mothers with hearts for philanthropy.

What disturbs me about Cindy McCain’s drug abuse history is not that it happened. After all, this greatly misunderstood illness sucks people from all backgrounds and circumstances into its dark hole, many winding up there from chronic pain conditions.

No, what I am troubled by is that her (and her husband’s) explanations of that addiction have been anemic, generally painting her as a victim of the disease. Oh, I know, there’s the couple’s children to consider, John’s political poising, overall appearances, and so on.

But the entire truth is what’s needed here. And if it came straight from the woman involved, what a potent recovery tool that saga could be in helping others.

Despite the less-than-forthright declarations, Cindy McCain is a dynamic woman with a life rich in lessons to be shared.

While her husband says, “She’ll bring style, grace and elegance back to the White House” if he gets elected, I see an even more valuable path for her.

The role of first lady is about much more than style, grace and elegance. It’s also about character, setting examples for the nation, and making important causes your elected missions.

Therefore, what better, more greatly needed mission could Cindy McCain follow than lighting the way for addiction awareness and becoming a realistic spokeswoman in the war against drugs?

Diana Sevanian is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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