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McCain's Double Trouble with Letterman and Iran

June 16, 2009

In ways large and small, Americans are reminded almost daily of the wisdom of their rejection of John McCain last November. Now you can add the Iran unrest and the Letterman-Palin flap to the growing list. The same John McCain who in April 2007 sang in jest "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" on Monday scolded President Obama, insisting "I hope we will act." That flashback came just days after McCain, who in 1998 slandered Chelsea Clinton with a vulgar joke, criticized David Letterman for a similar offense.
On Monday, the CBS late night host delivered - and Sarah Palin later accepted - a public apology for his inappropriate riff inadvertently made at the expense of the Governor's 14-yeard old daughter. But days earlier, Senator McCain weighed in in defense of his former running mate:

"I don't understand why Letterman would say that about a young woman...They deserve some kind of protection from being the butt of late-night hosts."

Protection from late night hosts perhaps, but apparently not from the nation's leading right-wing radio talker - or Senator John McCain.
In 1993, Rush Limbaugh mocked the 13-year old Chelsea Clinton, showing her picture while asking, "Did you know there's a White House dog?" Five years later, Senator McCain followed in Rush's footsteps.
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 a 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.''

McCain was right that this was a terrible mistake, though apparently not a politically damaging one. (Ironically, Don Imus of all people, who called Barack Obama, "almost a bigger pussy" than Hillary Clinton, was appalled by McCain's vulgarism. "It's horrible, yecchhh!" he said, adding, "This guy is a genuine American hero. I don't know why they do it. Some idiotic effort to be one of the guys.") McCain ultimately wrote a letter of "abject apology" to President and Mrs. Clinton (though not to Janet Reno).
Meanwhile, as the tensions mounted in Tehran, McCain despite his past cover version of the Beach Boys "Barbara Ann" took President Obama to task for his handling of the crisis:

"It really is a sham that they've pulled off, and I hope that we will act.
Well, initial reports by, quote, administration officials, are that they say that they're not going to change their policy of dialogue, et cetera, et cetera. I think they should be condemned..."

For his part, Indiana Republican Senator Dick Lugar defended Obama. Rejecting McCain's hasty call for a headlong rush to "act," Lugar cautioned, "I think for the moment our position is to allow the Iranians to work out their situation," adding, "When popular revolutions occur, they come right from the people."
Given the unrest in Iran, the growing protests this week in the former Soviet republic of Georgia have largely been off Americans' radar screens. As Reuters reported, President Mikhail Saakashvili lashed out over the weeks of opposition marches and calls for resignation over "his record on democracy and last year's disastrous war with Russia":

"They think Saakashvili is hot-headed, they insult (parliament speaker David) Bakradze and (Prime Minister Nika) Gilauri, and they try to make us crush them," he told a televised meeting of the parliamentary majority.

Of course, Americans might remember that during the Russian-Georgian clash last August, John McCain announced on their behalf:

"I know I speak for every American when I say to him [Saakashvili] today, we are all Georgians."

Mercifully, in November more Americans were with Barack Obama.
UPDATE: In her acceptance of Letterman's apology, Sarah Palin proved once again that she doesn't understand the First Amendment. "Letterman certainly has the right to 'joke' about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction," Palin said, adding, "This is all thanks to our U.S. Military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's Right to Free Speech - in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect."

One comment on “McCain's Double Trouble with Letterman and Iran”

  1. As to the extent to which your investigative reports are consistently in-depth and much appreciated (although not commented on frequently)...kudos on the time-consuming efforts applied to such!


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

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