Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jill Brooke Headshot

John McCain and Barack Obama -- America's First Campaign Where Divorce May Be a Good Experience for Leadership Skills

Posted: Updated:

When Hillary Clinton finally divorces herself from delusion and exits from the race, the two remaining candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, will be part of a historic campaign -- the first time in American history where both candidates have been affected by divorce.

Barack Obama's mother, Ann, was divorced twice and had two children from separate marriages, Barack Obama and his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. In this family scenario, Barack Obama had to learn to navigate divorced family dynamics with a stepfather who naturally may favor his own child and also deal with the emotional sting of an absent father. As is common in divorced families, Obama also lived with a single working mother with reduced economic resources and rationed time that made him become, as his half-sister later recalled, a child who took on a "paternal" role as her big brother.

John McCain married his first wife, Carol, in 1965 and became the stepfather of Doug and Andy, whom he later adopted. They subsequently had a daughter, Sydney. When McCain divorced Carol, and married Cindy, they had three children, Meghan, Jimmy and Jack and later adopted Bridget from Mother Teresa's orphanage in Bangladesh. His clan now consists of seven children.

What may these candidates have learned from their divorce experience that will help them in the White House? Plenty.

Don Gordon, an Ohio University professor and creator of the "Children in the Middle" program for divorcing families, notes that both candidates are likely to have learned resilience. "Being president is a piece of cake compared to going through a divorce." he said. "This resilience serves them well in dealing with lengthy stressful situations" since divorces take an extended amount of time to be resolved. "They can tough it out no matter how bad it gets." Indeed, most divorces require negotiation, compromise and agreeing to disagree.

Another bonus. The candidates are more likely to be sensitive to governmental policies that protect children. Also, both are more likely to make family health care coverage a priority, since many divorced women lose their health coverage.

Jeannette Lofas, the president of the New York based Stepfamily Foundation, hopes that the candidates will support federal funding to measure the impact of divorce and remarriage on American life. "No research is adequately measuring stepfamily life in America," she says. "In stepfamily life, children reside in one house and visit another. This impacts the economics of both households as well as the family relationships. Both candidates understand this dynamic."
Perhaps now a discussion could take place for tax breaks for these families, since a dependent is usually claimed by only one household.

From experience I know that a divorced household is like living in two countries, with two different sets of traditions, rules and expectations. Brokering peace becomes a necessity. And some do it better than others.

President Ronald Reagan was the first candidate in U.S. history who had experienced a divorce. His daughter Maureen, who he had with his first wife, Jane Wyman, was a devoted campaigner for her father. And his wife Jane never badmouthed him.

As soon as I heard that Rudy Giuliani's children, Andrew and Caroline, would have nothing to do with their father, I stopped any support I may have given him. As an expert on divorce, having written about it for 15 years at places including CNN, CBS and the New York Times, as well as being the editorial director for the divorce site "FirstWivesWorld.com" and a certified stepfamily coach, I knew immediately that this man would not be a good president.

Andrew, a professional golfer at Duke, and Caroline, a Harvard student, were hard-working, honorable and accomplished children, not drug addicts or rich brats. Why didn't Andrew Giuliani campaign for his father? "There is a little problem that exists between me and his wife," Andrew told a reporter. The fact that Rudy Giuliani couldn't broker peace in his own family didn't bode well for him skillfully negotiating with Congress or foreign countries. Furthermore, he humiliated his ex-wife, Donna Hanover, in public without any respect for their history.

However, John McCain's ex-wife Carol remains on friendly terms with her ex-husband. If an ex-wife says something nice about the ex-husband, that's a hell of an endorsement.

McCain also adopted her two children when they married. It is still rare for stepfathers to adopt and take on full financial and emotional responsibility. Furthermore, McCain still keeps in contact with all of his children.

Barack Obama's sister is part of his life as well. She is campaigning for her brother in Hawaii. All three of his parents -- his mother, father and stepfather -- are deceased.

Aside from their divorce experience, both John McCain and Barack Obama are left-handed. Perhaps in the ensuing months, this political race will create an opportunity for further discussions on the family dynamics that impact 30 million people and show that divorce today is no longer left of center.