Holy craps!

John McCain has a gambling problem, according to Norm Scheiber. That’s Scheiber’s interpretation of an article by Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf in Time:

In the past decade, [McCain] has played on Mississippi riverboats, on Indian land, in Caribbean craps pits and along the length of the Las Vegas Strip. … “Enjoying craps opens up a window on a central thread constant in John’s life,” says John Weaver, McCain’s former chief strategist, who followed him to many a casino. “Taking a chance, playing against the odds.”

Aides say McCain tends to play for a few thousand dollars at a time and avoids taking markers, or loans, from the casinos, which he has helped regulate in Congress. “He never, ever plays on the house,” says Mark Salter, a McCain adviser. The goal, say several people familiar with his habit, is never financial. He loves the thrill of winning and the camaraderie at the table.

Only recently have McCain’s aides urged him to pull back from the pastime. In the heat of the G.O.P. primary fight last spring, he announced on a visit to the Vegas Strip that he was going to the casino floor. When his aides stopped him, fearing a public relations disaster, McCain suggested that they ask the casino to take a craps table to a private room, a high-roller privilege McCain had indulged in before. His aides, with alarm bells ringing, refused again, according to two accounts of the discussion.

“He clearly knows that this is on the borderline of what is acceptable for him to be doing,” says a Republican who has watched McCain play. “And he just sort of revels in it.”

(emphasis added)

McCain can afford to lose thousands of dollars on a roll of the dice. His wife, Cindy, is a very wealthy woman:  heiress to the Budweiser fortune, the chair of Hensley & Co. (one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributors in the USA), she reported $6 million in income for 2006.

Now put McCain’s gambling habits together with his credit card debts:

The presidential candidate and his wife Cindy reported piling up debt on a charge card between $10,000 and $15,000. His wife’s solo charge card has between $100,000 and $250,000 in debt to American Express.

McCain’s wife also has a second American Express charge card listed on the senator’s financial disclosure that was carrying $100,000 to $250,000 in debt.

Another charge card with American Express, this one for a “dependent child,” is carrying debt in the range of $15,000 and $50,000.

So the McCain family has a total credit card debt of at least $225,000.

On the other hand, “Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), reported no liabilities in his annual financial disclosures.” Likewise, with respect to gambling, Obama’s style is to wager only $1 on a hand of poker.

The information about McCain ought to worry Americans:  particularly American conservatives.

The Bush Administration has already added an enormous amount to the US debt. Now McCain has proposed more than $650 billion per year in tax cuts, which is equivalent to a third of domestic spending.

McCain claims that he’s still going to balance the budget. Simultaneously, he is preparing the ground to blame Congress for any deficits that occur during a McCain administration. His tax cuts wouldn’t be to blame — nuh-uh!

Given his personal habits (gambling and credit card debt), the massive tax cuts he proposes (which will primarily benefit wealthy people like Cindy McCain’s business associates), and his willingness to pour billions of dollars into perpetual military adventures in the Middle East —

Americans will be taking a huge gamble themselves, if they elect this guy President.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 05:07:51

    Isn’t this all a bit, well, low? It was only a couple of weeks ago you were expressing pious outrage about the criticisms being directed at Michelle Obama after all, yet here you are gleefully going after Cindy McCain. Why the double standard?

    Some thoughts on the body of the post –

    “So the McCain family has a total credit card debt of at least $225,000.”

    This is a classic case of lies, damn lies and statistics. As anybody who knows anything about money knows it’s not the size of a debt that’s important, but the ability to service it. If your figures are accurate, then the McCains have an income/card debt ratio of something like 35:1, compared to something like 26:1 for average Americans (based on an average wage of $50K and median card debt of $1,900) – the McCains are doing significantly better than average in other words. Why should conservatives worry about this?

    “Likewise, with respect to gambling, Obama’s style is to wager only $1 on a hand of poker.”

    In games with lobbyists. Who then went on to donate tens of thousands of dollars to his campaign. Oh, and in a state where gambling for cash was illegal. And this is your idea of an ethically superior style of gambling? At least nobody pretends that McCain shoots craps for any reason other than kicks (not kickbacks). One other thought – the last serious and successful poker player to occupy the White House was, erm, Richard Nixon…

    The information about Obama ought to worry Americans: particularly American liberals.

    “Now McCain has proposed more than $650 billion per year in tax cuts, which is equivalent to a third of domestic spending.”

    No, he hasn’t. He is proposing a package of tax cuts which hostile commentators are calculating as being equivalent to $650 billion a year. There is, to put it mildly room for scepticism about these figures, not least because your source apparently can’t do basic arithmetic – the Federal goverment spent $2,730 billion in FY2007, $650bn is less than a quarter, not “equivalent to a third” of this. And this is ignoring spending by the states and local governments which really should be included in the domestic total, and which would drive the ratio down even further.

    “Simultaneously, he is preparing the ground to blame Congress for any deficits that occur during a McCain administration. His tax cuts wouldn’t be to blame — nuh-uh!”

    Honest question – McCain has always been in favour of tax cuts but only if they are balanced by spending cuts (this is why he originally voted against the Bush tax cuts). If McCain sends a package to Congress and Congress passes the tax cut part of the package but refuses to pass the spending cut part, don’t you think Congress will deserve the blame?

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 09:32:43

    gleefully going after Cindy McCain

    In what sense is this post an attack on Cindy McCain? Merely because I mentioned her and her wealth?

    I considered including the fact that Mrs. McCain refuses to disclose her tax records. I think it fails to pass the public transparency test, but I decided not to go there.

    McCain’s history vis-à-vis his first wife (adultery, divorce) is also scandalous, according to some commentators. But actually I think the whole scenario is tragic (him returning from torture to find that she was phyiscally disabled as the result of an accident). Until you’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes ….

    Anyway, I think it’s a bit much to accuse me of gleefully going after Cindy McCain!

    Reply

  3. Random
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 11:12:55

    “Gleefully” was hyperbole granted, and I apologise if it was inappropriate.

    However, you are using Cindy McCain to go after John in a rather below the belt manner. Consider what you do with the credit card debt figure. Firstly you identify a baseline of $225,000, of which $200,000 is solely in Cindy’s name, $15,000 is in the name of a dependent child (presumably Bridget, the handicapped girl the McCains adopted out of Mother Theresa’s orphanage) and only $10,000 is held jointly.

    None of the debt is identified as solely McCain’s responsibility, yet he is first given joint responsibility for the whole sum ( “the McCain family has a total credit card debt of at least $225,000”), and by the end of your post sole responsibility for the debt has been assigned to McCain (“Given his personal habits (gambling and credit card debt) “). You are explicitly using these debts as evidence for McCain’s unsuitability for office, yet you have offered no evidence whatsoever that they have anything to do with him (Cindy is much richer than he is, I doubt she asks his permission before spending her own money) – how is this anything other than seeking to undermine the candidate by going after his wife?

    Reply

  4. Bill
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 12:12:09

    I’m not really concerned that McCain can’t handle his Gambling true or not or his credit card debt.

    However I think that gambling of any sort is a charactar flaw. It shows bad judgement to play any game where the odds are not in your favor, but that of the casino. If this habit follows him into the white house he may just gamble with things that are not his. I hate to cast a shadow on a president that Americans revere, but Kenedy was a man that gambled if not with dice or cards but with the planet. His brinkmanship brought the word to the edge of Nuclear war more than once. Only Luck protected us from anihilation. That said Kenedy most often won (like it or not) but from McCain’s credit cards I’m not too sure he does win all the time.

    Fursenko, Aleksandr and Timothy Naftali. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958–1964 (1997)

    Reply

  5. Stephen
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 13:55:36

    • Re McCain’s gambling:
    Bill has put the emphasis in the right place. To clarify, I’m not saying that gambling is immoral (although arguably it is). If morality is at issue, Obama deserves to be criticized for playing poker, even at $1 per hand.

    I meant to emphasize McCain’s risk-taking for the sheer pleasure of it: “Taking a chance, playing against the odds,” as one of his colleagues sums it up. Conservatives shouldn’t favour politicians who get an adrenaline rush out of unnecessary, high-risk ventures. Such a mindset will inevitably lead to un-conservative actions, whether economic or military (e.g., “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” ) .

    • re credit card debt:
    I find it very strange that Cindy McCain would carry two charge cards, both from American Express. Do you have two charge cards from the same bank in your wallet? I certainly don’t.

    The financial statement seems to indicate that both are exclusively used by Cindy McCain, but I suspect one of those American Express cards is in John’s wallet. (i.e., even if it has Cindy McCain’s name on it, I’m convinced the purchases are made by John.)

    It certainly isn’t my intention to smear John because of Cindy’s profligate ways — it’s his own behaviour that is at issue here.

    • re my supposedly biased sources:
    Returning to your first comment — I should point out that Mark Ambinder is not in Obama’s thrall (as Sullivan and Yglesias are) . Ambinder is well connected to McCain insiders and is often critical of Obama; I think, on the whole, his blog is admirably balanced.

    McCain is currently touting the support of 300 economists. But Ben Smith reports that McCain has actually distorted the economists’ position. While they support McCain’s expressed priorities, at least some of the 300 are “downright opposed to key details” of McCain’s economic plan.

    One can argue endlessly about the total cost of a politician’s promises. But it isn’t accurate to suggest that only people who are in Obama’s pocket are critical of McCain’s policy approach.

    Reply

  6. Random
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 19:17:31

    “I meant to emphasize McCain’s risk-taking for the sheer pleasure of it: “Taking a chance, playing against the odds,” as one of his colleagues sums it up. Conservatives shouldn’t favour politicians who get an adrenaline rush out of unnecessary, high-risk ventures.”

    There’s a point you’re overlooking here – McCain is a fighter pilot by training and temperament. Men drawn to that line of work have a somewhat different attitude to risk than, to take an example entirely at random, lecturers in constitutional law. Such men do indeed tend to find risk exhilarating, they also learn however how to handle it and never take on more risk than they can cope with. McCain knows better than any of us that a high risks gamble that goes disastrously wrong can have dire consequences.

    “I find it very strange that Cindy McCain would carry two charge cards, both from American Express. Do you have two charge cards from the same bank in your wallet? I certainly don’t.”

    I’m surprised you find this odd, because it’s something I’ve come across a great deal. I work in government procurement, and in that capacity I meet a great many people who work for large corporations, and it’s routine for them to have two cards from the same bank – one will be a personal card and the other will be a corporate card, to pay for such things as hospitality and hotel bills when away on business (they will be with the same bank because banks often offer favourable deals to the employees of large corporations who bank with them). It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if one of Cindy’s Amex cards is her personal card, and the other one is a corporate card in her capacity as chair of the Hensley Group.

    Alternatively it’s perfectly possible she simply has two accounts with the same bank and a separate card for each account – I certainly do (a current account and a savings account) and I earn a lot less than she does, though I’m not completely sure if these count as “charge” cards in the American meaning of the term (and for that matter my wife has at least three cards with one bank, but she’s ferocious about micromanaging her money across a range of accounts to ensure it works as hard as possible for her, and is in no way typical). Either way, there really is no need to assume a sinister explanation.

    “McCain is currently touting the support of 300 economists. But Ben Smith reports that McCain has actually distorted the economists’ position. While they support McCain’s expressed priorities, at least some of the 300 are “downright opposed to key details” of McCain’s economic plan.”

    Honest question again again – when somebody signs a statement the very first sentence of which reads “We enthusiastically support John McCain’s economic plan”, how is it distorting their position to claim they support McCain’s economic plan?

    “But it isn’t accurate to suggest that only people who are in Obama’s pocket are critical of McCain’s policy approach.”

    I never said they were. If you re-read my original post, you will see I am criticising Ambinder for apparently being unable to do basic arithmetic, not for being in Obama’s pocket.

    Reply

  7. Jack
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 03:12:46

    I don’t see the credit card debt as being significant. It sounds like a tremendous amount of money, but given their income it is not a big deal.

    Likewise the gambling, haven’t read anything there that makes me worry.

    Reply

  8. Andy Barkett
    Nov 02, 2008 @ 12:12:17

    You clearly don’t see, “gambling of any sort is a charactar flaw” because you said Obama plays poker for money, too. So, it’s not the principle of gambling that bothers you, it’s the amounts gambled. You then have circumstanstial or hearsay evidence that McCain gambles at the craps tables, which is not illegal.

    You present no evidence whatsoever that he has a problem or that it causes him financial woe of any kind. This is a smear story. What you’re doing is called muckraking.

    Reply

  9. Stephen
    Nov 02, 2008 @ 14:55:34

    Andy:
    McCain’s behaviour isn’t conservative. Conservatives would be extremely sensitive to this issue if it was Obama who played high-stakes poker, and ran up enormous credit card debts.

    And they’d be right, because if you value a conservative approach to economics, you should object to behaviour like that.

    Instead, we see conservatives who are blind to the spendthrift ways of the current president, and continue to defend him. And now they’re similarly prepared to defend McCain, even though he makes a mockery of their supposed values.

    This is ideology that can’t see “one of our own” objectively enough to recognize that he’s contravening your core values.

    Reply

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