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McCain Ban on Dowd Recalls Telling 1998 Interview

September 30, 2008

Among the more telling details in the Washington Post column by Howard Kurtz Monday was a nugget about the McCain campaign's retaliation against New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. McCain aides, he wrote, "have barred Dowd from the candidate's plane." But if that petulance provides a window into John McCain's soul, his 1998 interview with Dowd about his slanderous Chelsea Clinton joke was more revealing still.
As David Corn reported in Salon, John McCain back in 1998 used the occasion of a Republican Senate fundraiser to slander President Clinton's daughter and attorney general. Following in the proud tradition of Rush Limbaugh (who in 1993 called the young Chelsea "a dog"), Mr.Straight Talk joked:

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno."

As Maureen Dowd rightly predicted at the time, Senator McCain's vulgar slur produced no backlash, as he "so revered by the press that his disgusting jape was largely nudged under the rug."
But McCain's response to Dowd provides a telling glimpse into the character of the man who would succeed George W. Bush as the next Republican president. In their phone interview, McCain brushed off his grotesque insult as the equivalent of a rambunctious teenager egging a neighbor's house:

''This is the bad boy,'' he said in a phone interview. ''It was stupid and cruel and insensitive. I've apologized. I can't take it back. I could give you a whole bunch of excuses, but there are no excuses. I was wrong, but do you want me crucified? How many days does it need to be a story?''
He said the Senator who spoke just before he did to the Republican fat cats made a tasteless joke about Viagra. ''So I got up and said, 'You think that was a tasteless joke? Listen to this one.' The minute it came out of my mouth, I thought, 'Oh no, this is a terrible mistake.'''
But, he added, defensively, ''I will always maintain a sense of humor. Life is too short not to.''

Apparently, John McCain has since lost his sense of humor. And while Dowd, whatever her merits or demerits, lost her battle to stay on the Straight Talk Express, John McCain's war on the New York Times will no doubt continue.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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