2008 As the Other Cindy McCain

Last fall a man claiming to be a member of the “Right Hand party” in Belgium sent me a friend request on Facebook supporting my “ courageous husband, John.”  I wasn’t sure how to respond…again.  I had been hailed as the future First Lady in jest since the summer. No doubt there was a resemblance–strong enough that MTV Canada found my picture on Facebook and persuaded me to do their Hot Topic segment the day after the election.  I was on a split- screen panel via Skype with a John McCain from Appomattox, Virginia, and two regulars, Naked Guy and Skull Man.  Two questions were fired at me:  how l had fared with my famous name and what I predicted was in Sarah Palin’s future.

Previously I had been interviewed on Nashville’s Channel 5 News segment, “Cool Schools” when the high school where I teach was featured.  The reporter asked about political discussions in my senior English classes, but only after he mock-introduced me as the Cindy McCain who had left the campaign trail to make an appearance.  Then there was the police officer who pulled me over for expired tags as I pulled out of the parking lot of an early voting site.  When he saw the sticker on my sweater announcing I’d voted and the name on my license, he softened.   Assuming we were on the same team, he grinned, “Guess you’d like to be the other Cindy McCain.”  I nodded, then truthfully and without defecting quipped: “I sure would.  I’d like to have her money.”

No doubt I wanted to please the nice policeman.  My Southern Girl upbringing warned me not to act ugly–to remember that it’s better to smile and nod when people assume I voted a certain way than to incite controversy by saying I didn’t. I vowed to defend passionately and logically my candidate when the time was right. I managed to do this a few times, but sometimes my responses morphed into bi-polar fight or flight instincts.  There were a couple of bouts with friends—both which disturbed the peace in two eating establishments—and one which ended in my being accused of drinking the Kool-Aid to which I childishly retorted, “You lost and we won—so there!”  More often I took flight with the smile and nod routine.

As a minor irritation, conducting business took longer when the cable company’s tech guy, the financial aide officer of my daughter’s college, and  telemarketers asked if I realized I had the same name as the presidential candidate’s wife.  A hotel clerk stared hard at me when I checked in wearing my Jackie O glasses, trying to decide if I was indeed that Cindy McCain. But more disturbing than the man from Belgium and two others on Facebook who confused me for the real deal was the assumption that if I shared her name, I shared her political views.

I must disagree with Romeo when he asked:  “What is a name?  A rose called by any other name would still smell as sweet.”  Instead of smelling a rose, some McCain fans looked at me as if they smelled a rat if I fessed up to not voting for their man.  And to be fair, it wasn’t just my name.  I live in the Bible Belt AND a red state where many believe being a Christian (which I am) is synonymous with pledging allegiance to the GOP. Likewise, an Obama supporter tried to divine my political persuasion from my name when I met her at a dinner party the week after the election.  She said, “It’s nice to meet you, but I’m glad you didn’t win.” Suddenly I related to soap opera villains who are accosted on the street because fans confuse the character with the actor.

I know many of my friends with perfectly normal names were entangled in Facebook wars of their own.  But stranger than the usual debate was an ominous message I received from a Canadian man after the MTV segment aired.  Deducing from my prediction that Sarah Palin would  become an anchor on FOX news, then the Home Shopping Network, he said he knew I wouldn’t agree as an Obama supporter but he warned that America had been “DUPED” by Obama and that the election result was “NOT the kind of change the nation wants.” Then he asked about my weekend.

I waited until after the election to tell the gentleman from Belgium I was not the Cindy McCain he was looking for.  Containing his disappointment, he asked if I was a Republican.  I said I vote for candidates, not parties.  He said that was smart and invited me to have coffee with him if I’m ever in Brussels.

For someone who doesn’t enjoy conflict, I learned a lot in the fall of 2008.  I realized I had become defensive when the mailman asked me who I was voting for.  “Why does it matter?”  I retorted.  He laughed:  “Just kidding you about your name.”  I learned that while politics can divide friends, listening to each other and even agreeing to disagree can ultimately deepen friendships.  In political debate we can engage without fighting or fleeing.  We can act ugly or take the higher road.  Many just forward emails.  My drug of choice for the headaches of last fall was The Office DVD collection.  In addition to  comic relief , I used them to master Jim’s way of rising above the fray by smiling smugly into the camera.  Many days as students or friends tried to lure me into argument or drama, I looked over their shoulders and smiled serenely into my own imaginary camera, praying I’d be a peacemaker rather than a rabble rouser.

If posed those two questions on MTV again, I stand by my answer on Palin.  But I’m now as ambivalent about having the name of a famous political figure as I am about it resulting in “Cindy McCain” listed over five million times on Google.  It could be a blessing when I don’t want people snooping but a curse when I hope they do.  I’m excited about our new President despite the fact that his winning reduced my shot at four years of fame to just five minutes.  Recently when a friend gave my manuscript of a magazine article to a New York agent for placement, he said she first thought it was by the Cindy McCain. I’m sure she was disappointed it wasn’t.

I wish Cindy well with her family and millions.  No doubt her fall was harder than mine.  But as 2009 takes my hand, I feel rich, too.  More on why later.  For now, I’m off to salsa…the-one