Obama: Office Romance
If only most people were lucky enough to get so much out of a summer job. After Obama’s first year at Harvard Law, Sidley & Austin, a large corporate law firm in Chicago, hired him as a summer associate. In what he has called the luckiest break of his life, Michelle Robinson (who worked in the intellectual-property group specializing in entertainment law) was assigned as Obama’s adviser. His first impression of Michelle was, as he recounted in The Audacity of Hope, that “she was tall—almost my height in heels, and lovely, with a friendly professional manner that matched her tailored suit and blouse.” Michelle, meanwhile, later told the Washington Post that she had heard his “strange name” and assumed that “any black guy who spent his formative years on an island had to be a little nerdy, a little strange.” “I already had in my mind that this guy was going to be lame,” she told Ebony.
But the presumed dork turned out more attractive than the photo he’d sent in, and he was confident, easy to talk to, and had a good sense of humor. When they went out to lunch that first day, Obama learned about Michelle’s family and schooling, and liked that she “knew how to laugh, brightly and easily,” while noticing, as he writes in The Audacity of Hope, that she “didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to get back to the office.” About a month into the summer Obama asked her out, but she declined. “I thought, ‘No way.’ This is completely tacky,” Michelle told ABC. “This is my first summer. I’ve got an advisee and I’m gonna date him? I thought, ‘No, no, I can’t do that.’ And he was like, ‘No one cares.’” Obama kept at it, and even threatened to quit if it meant he could romance her. “Eventually, I wore her down,” he writes. One day, after Michelle drove him home from a business picnic, they went to the Baskin-Robbins across from his place and sat together on the curb eating ice cream. “I asked if I could kiss her,” he remembers. “It tasted of chocolate.” On their first formal date, the pair saw Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, where Obama, as he later bragged, was allowed to touch Michelle’s knee. Lee told New York that he would later say to Obama, “Thank God I made [Do the Right Thing]. Otherwise you would have taken her to Soul Man. Michelle would have been like, ‘What’s wrong with this brother?’ ” Indeed, the choice of film was a good one. Michelle later told ABC it proved “he was down socially.”
McCain: A Tissue of Lies
As the Navy’s Senate liaison, John McCain did a lot of schmoozing with Washington bigwigs, but one schmooze in particular really paid off. In 1979 at a Honolulu reception for a Foreign Relations Committee delegation on its way to China, a 24-year-old erstwhile rodeo beauty queen named Cindy Hensley caught McCain’s eye. “I was standing at the hors d’oeuvre table, young, shy, not knowing anybody,” Cindy later told Harper’s Bazaar, “when suddenly this awfully nice-looking Navy captain in dress whites was kind of chasing me around the table. I thought, What’s going on here?” Pete Lakeland, committee staffer and friend of McCain’s, knew something special was going on because, as he told author Robert Timberg, casual pickups were not McCain’s style. But McCain, who was at the time separated from his wife (but not divorced), had more than casual plans for this girl. “She was lovely, intelligent and charming, 17 years my junior but poised and confident,” he wrote in Worth the Fighting For. “I monopolized her attention the entire time, taking care to prevent anyone else from intruding on our conversation.”
It was “instant chemistry” for Cindy as well, she told Harper’s Bazaar. “I loved his intelligence, humor, completely different perspective. Having seen the bad side of life he didn’t take it too seriously. And my parents liked him instantly.” In fact, Cindy’s parents had to explain to her who exactly this war hero was, because she hadn’t a clue. The Hensleys trusted this relative stranger to take their daughter to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for drinks. Cindy recounts to Vanity Fair that her father allowed the private nightcap, but “he told this grown man in his 40s, ‘Remember, that’s my daughter.’” He remembered her all right; in fact, he couldn’t get her out of his mind while on that trip to China. “Throughout the journey McCain talked about Cindy insisting she was someone special, becoming testy when teased about earthly motives,” Timberg writes in John McCain: An American Odyssey. He called her from China while she was in the hospital recuperating from minor knee surgery, accepting her thanks for the flowers he’d sent her even though they’d come from a different John (he came clean two years later). But that wasn’t the only lie told at the genesis of their relationship. Both McCain and Cindy had lied about their ages, McCain saying he was four years younger than he really was, and Cindy claiming she was three years older. The two would only discover the other’s true age when their marriage announcement was printed in the paper. “Our marriage,” McCain joked to the Arizona Republic, “is really based on a tissue of lies.”