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McCain's Age-Old Punchline: "I'm Older Than Dirt"

April 28, 2008

Back on November 30, 2006, future Republican presidential nominee John McCain joked, "I'm older than dirt." A year and a half later, DNC research director Mike Gehrke was reprimanded for agreeing with him.
Last week, Gehrke appropriated a joke from Jay Leno, all in the name of a little ageist fun. As ABC's Jake Tapper reported, Gehrke showed the poor judgment of using his own Facebook page to pass along Leno's quip:

"You know what you call someone who digs up dirt on John McCain? An archeologist."

For its part, the Democratic National Committee disciplined Gehrke. A less than contrite Gehrke promised more attention to taste and decorum in the future, telling HotLine On Call, "from now on all the jokes I steal will be on background."
Now, I rarely agree with conservative blogger Ed Morrissey about anything. But in this case, he had it about right on Friday:

"Apparently no one is allowed a sense of humor on the campaign trail. It's not even offensive; I'd bet Senator McCain himself is probably retelling the joke on the Straight Talk Express."

Actually, McCain has been making fun of his age - and telling the same joke - for years. At the November 30, 2006 event with Republican governors in Florida, McCain offered up his now standard septuagenarian punchline:

"I am older than dirt. More scars than Frankenstein."

When asked by Reader's Digest in February 2007 "how are you going to answer the question when people say, 'I just think he's too old?'" McCain trotted out his old reliable response:

"I think I would say that I'm older than dirt. That I have more scars than Frankenstein. That I've learned a few things along the way. Anyone who has accompanied me in the two months before the last election, or while I was hiking in the Grand Canyon or doing many of the things that I do regularly, can attest to the fact that I'm capable of keeping a very rigorous schedule."

The next month, USA Today featured McCain offering the same "older than dirt" rim shot. Then during a December 2007 MTV/MySpace event broadcast live, McCain stumbled and bumbled his way through the joke to a very forgiving youth audience:

"I'm older than Frankenstein. I gotta few scars. I'm older than dirt and I've got more scars than Frankenstein...Screwed up that line."

(The venerable joke appears about two and a half minutes into the video.)
Back in 1984, then 73-year old Ronald Reagan dispensed with the age question by standing it on its head. During a debate with Walter Mondale, Reagan joked, "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience." But having already made himself the subject of the punchline, self-proclaimed Reagan foot soldier John McCain has guaranteed the issue of his age (50% of those surveyed in a 2007 Pew poll said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate in his 70's) won't go away.


About

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

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