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Sexism Flashback: McCain Used Hillary B*tch Episode to Raise Money

September 9, 2008

Judging by the recent polls, the McCain campaign has skillfully played the sexism card in defense of Sarah Palin. Last Tuesday, McCain surrogate Carly Fiorina decried the "sexist treatment of Governor Palin." And by Sunday, campaign manager Rick Davis declared that Palin would do no interviews until the media "is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference." (That first appearance has since been scheduled with the reliably subservient Charles Gibson of ABC.)
What a difference a year makes. Last fall, Rick Davis and the McCain campaign sang a different tune about sexism in politics. When the press criticized John McCain's feeble response to a supporter calling Senator Hillary Clinton a "bitch," Davis used the dust-up as a fundraising opportunity.
At an event in South Carolina last November, John McCain and his supporters showed Clinton backers that sexism would be in the eye of the beholder. When a woman asked, "how do we beat the bitch?" McCain laughed and called hers an "excellent question" (video here). As ABC recalled the encounter:

An older woman stood and asked him, "how do we beat the bitch?"
Groans and applause followed.
"May I give the translation?" McCain asked.
"I thought she was talking about my ex-wife," joked a man in the audience.
"But that's an excellent question," McCain said. "You might know that there was a poll yesterday, a Rasmussen poll, identified, that shows me three points ahead of Senator Clinton in a head-to-head matchup."
"I respect Senator Clinton, I respect anyone who gets the nomination of the Democrat party," McCain continued.

Reporting on the story on November 13, CNN's Rick Sanchez declared "this could be real bad for John McCain." Noting that a McCain supporter used "a horrible word that is used to do nothing but demean women," Sanchez told viewers that given "McCain's reaction, or lack thereof," CNN "decided that this is both relevant and newsworthy, and important information to this campaign." Later, Sanchez emphasized:

"This is a fellow senator that he's talking about. No matter what you think of Hillary Clinton, is John McCain done as a result of this? Is this going to become a viral video? This is the kind of questions that we got to examine at this point. We're going to be looking at a lot of these issues."

In response, the McCain campaign in a precursor of its Palin strategy wasn't content to merely launch a war against the "sensationalism" of the media. Rick Davis turned it into a revenue opportunity for the bankrupt McCain campaign.
By Wednesday, November 14th, Davis sent a fundraising email on McCain's behalf. In his telling, John McCain (and not Hillary Clinton) was the aggrieved party at the hands of the "Clinton News Network." While the National Review has the full text, the highlights (or rather, lowlights) follow below:

The CNN Network, affectionately known as the Clinton News Network, has stooped to an all-time low and is gratuitously attacking John McCain for not defending Hillary Clinton enough when a South Carolina voter used the 'B' word to describe her when John McCain stopped into a luncheon yesterday at the Trinity restaurant in Hilton Head, SC...
...As an independent news agency, CNN owes John McCain an apology because of the outrageous behavior of their network host Rich Sanchez...We are not going to let Senator Clinton's friends in the liberal blogosphere and on CNN try to destroy our campaign. Senator McCain is a fighter and he is not going to back down to CNN...
...Can we count on you to stand up and support John McCain against these attacks?
Will you stand up and help strengthen the resurgence of our campaign as the best candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton?
We are asking you to help us fight Rick Sanchez and CNN and stand with John McCain. Please make your most generous contribution from $25 up to the maximum limit of $2,300 to the only candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton.

In a foreshadowing of its triumphant spin over Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign won the day on B*tchgate. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post declared that CNN "may have overdramatized the incident." And the Politico's Mike Allen, while appearing (ironically) on CNN, summed up the conventional wisdom:

"But what Republican voter hasn't thought that? What voter in general hasn't thought that and what people like about McCain is his straight talk, his candor."

And so it goes. Whether in the role of the accused or the accuser, John McCain has turned charges of sexism into political gold - literally. Apparently, as Matthew Yglesias and others have noted, "everything is good news for McCain."
UPDATE: Politico reports that ABC will travel with Governor Palin over several days, starting with her conveniently timed Sepember 11 address to her son's military unit as it prepares for deployment.

One comment on “Sexism Flashback: McCain Used Hillary B*tch Episode to Raise Money”


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

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