Palin Family Focus Recalls McCain's Chelsea Clinton Joke
Once upon a time, the children of American politicians were off limits to the press and the public alike. But while an indignant McCain campaign announced today that the 17-year old daughter of Republican vice presidential Sarah Palin is pregnant, a revelation made in response to the "mud-slinging" of liberal blogs, it is worth remembering John McCain's own checkered past when it comes to slandering the children of his political foes. As the history shows, the same John McCain who now hopes to attract Hillary Clinton supporters back in 1998 was the self-proclaimed "bad boy" who mocked young Chelsea Clinton.
While much of the rampant speculation regarding the Palin family has been beyond the pale, there are no excuses for John McCain's disgusting 1998 joke at the expense of a teenaged Chelsea Clinton.
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).
But that was then, this is now. Whether or not Sarah Palin is now the poster child for the well-documented failure of abstinence-only education she so fervently supported, the McCain campaign's courtship of Clinton voters continues undiminished. During his now infamous "green screen" speech in June, John McCain reached out to Hillary Clinton's supporters. "Senator Clinton has earned great respect for her tenacity and courage," he said, adding, "I am proud to call her my friend." Of course, when Sarah Palin praised Senator Clinton's "determination and grace in her own campaign," many in the audience of McCain backers booed.
Given bad boy McCain's dirty joke at Chelsea's expense, Clinton supporters would do well to boo right back.