Accomplishment is not just about what we do in life. It’s also about what we do with what we have.


Harris R. Sherline

For example, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain are attractive, capable women who are actively involved in their husbands’ respective quests for the highest office in the land. But, there are conflicting impressions of the wives of the two presidential candidates: an angry, hostile woman who had to fight her way to the top or an Ice Queen, daughter of privilege?

A brief look at their backgrounds gives us some sense of the differences between them and what they would be like as first lady.

Cindy McCain

» Age: 53

» Raised in Phoenix; heiress to Hensley & Co., one of the largest Anheuser-Busch Brewery distributors in the United States.

» Education: Master’s degree in special education from USC.

» Occupation: Early years, high school teacher. Currently, board chairwoman of Hensley & Co. Income: about $6 million in 2006. (Personal worth is estimated to be $100 million.)

» Family: Met and married John McCain when she was 25 (he was 42). They have four children: Meghan, 23, who is writing a blog on the campaign trail; Jack, 21, at the U.S. Naval Academy; Jimmy, 19, a Marine who recently returned from Iraq; and Bridget, 16, whom Cindy brought home from Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh. Bridget had a severe cleft palate and has had multiple surgeries.

» Board memberships and charitable involvements include chairwoman of Hensley & Co.; Operation Smile (provides reconstructive surgery to children with facial deformities around the world; CARE (fights global poverty); Halo Trust (dedicated to land-mine removal); founder of American Voluntary Medical Team, 1988-95 (provided emergency medical and surgical care to children in developing countries).

With the advantages of her upbringing as the only child in a wealthy family, she was a cheerleader and rodeo queen, later became a pilot, along with her many other accomplishments. She also loves to drive race cars, and her daughter, Meghan, says “Mom spoils our dogs silly.”

McCain also overcame a stroke that damaged her speech, right arm and leg. “Eight months later, she ran and walked a half-marathon. She had a knee replacement last fall (2007) and six weeks later campaigned in snowy New Hampshire.” (“The quiet force in McCain’s campaign” by Jill Lawrence, USA Today).

In addition, McCain had an addiction to painkillers that were prescribed “as a result of spinal problems that developed after a series of miscarriages and giving birth to three children … she underwent treatment and attended meetings of Narcotics Anonymous as part of a deal with prosecutors who dropped charges. (“Flawed Cindy McCain has a grudge list” by Tony Allen-Mills, Times Online, Feb. 3).

Michelle Obama

» Age: 44

» Born and raised in Chicago, her father was a city water plant employee and her mother worked as a secretary at Spiegel‘s catalog store. She was raised in a conventional two-parent home on Chicago’s South side.

» Education: Princeton (graduated cum laude) and Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, she participated in political demonstrations advocating the hiring of professors who are minorities.

» Occupation: Hospital executive (vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where her salary was $121,910 until her husband was elected to the U.S. Senate, when it was increased to $316,962.

» Family: Met her husband through her work as a corporate lawyer; married for 14 years with two daughters, ages 10 and 7.

“Michelle Obama has achieved enormous professional success, political influence and personal acclaim in America. Ivy League-educated, she’s been lauded by Essence magazine as one of the 25 World’s Most Inspiring Women; by Vanity Fair as one of the 10 World’s Best-Dressed Women; and named one of ‘The Harvard 100’ most influential alumni.” (Michelle Obama’s America — and Mine” by Michele Malkin,, Feb. 20).

Throughout the campaign, she has made a “commitment to be away overnight only once a week — to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day” for the Obamas’ two children.

When she and Obama were engaged, she once requested that he meet her prospective boss when she was considering her first career move. Now, she is her husband’s closest adviser. Early in the presidential race, she did not portray herself as an adviser, however. In fact, she was quoted in interviews saying, “My job is not a senior adviser.”

However, in an article titled “Michelle Obama, First Lady Wannabe,” Carey Roberts reports that Obama also has been credited with making the following statements, among others (

» “I’ve got a loud mouth, but Barack is very able to deal with a strong woman, which is one of the reasons why he can be president, because he can deal with me.”

» In a visit with a group of mothers at a day nursery in Zanesville, Ohio, she noted that her family is “spending about $10,000 a year on piano and dance and sports supplements.” She also told them, “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse.” It’s interesting advice from someone who was educated in elite schools, became an attorney with a major law firm and was employed as an executive with a large hospital corporation, at an annual salary in excess of $300,000.

» “We have spent the last decade talking a good game about family values, but I haven’t seen much evidence that we value women or family values.”

Roberts further noted that in Obama’s appearance on The View, she “deplored the fact that ‘people aren’t used to strong women.’” It also should be noted that, speaking in Milwaukee on Feb. 18, she said, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country.”

“Obama’s closest bosom-buddies refer to her as ‘The Taskmaster.’ Others would say that she has a monumental chip on her shoulder.”

There has been considerable commentary about the fact that John McCain lacks executive experience. He has never run anything, such as a business or government entity, that is, a state, large agency, etc. (of course, neither has Barack Obama), and many pundits recommend that he select someone as his vice presidential running mate who has management background.

However, we never hear anything about the fact that McCain’s wife and closest confidant has clearly demonstrated executive abilities as chairwoman of a large company, which has nearly doubled in size under her leadership. She has made it clear that she does not want to be involved in making policy, but that doesn’t mean her husband can’t or shouldn’t seek her advice on management matters.

Everyone will make his or her own evaluation of these two women, but if we were electing a first lady, McCain would get my vote hands down. She is the type of woman I would like to see in the White House: engaged, experienced, a demonstrated fighter who has known and overcome severe adversity, is openly patriotic with two sons in the military, one of whom has served in Iraq, empathetic to the plight of those less fortunate, not just a doer, but a true leader in her own right.

Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog,