Site Note (Nicole): Jon is attending Netroots Nation (f.k.a. YearlyKos) and will be giving us his impressions throughout the week.
In the aftermath of the revelations surrounding John McCain's 1986 rape joke, the Politico today looked at the Arizona Senator's history of off-color humor. According to his campaign spokesman Brian Rogers, McCain's questionable quips and frequent trips to the gutter are a central part of his authenticity - and his appeal:
"He's long said that he's said and done things in the past that he regrets," Rogers said. "You've just got to move on and be yourself - that's what people want. They want somebody who's authentic, and this kind of stuff is a good example of McCain being McCain."
But back in 1998, John McCain offered his own assessment of "Bad Boy" McCain. McCain famously used the occasion of a Senate Republican fundraiser to slander the attorney general and the teenaged Chelsea Clinton, joking "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno?" In a subsequent phone interview with the New York Times' Maureen Dowd, 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.''
Ironically, Don Imus of all people 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." For his part, McCain ultimately wrote a letter of "abject apology" to President and Mrs. Clinton (though not to Janet Reno).
As 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." Ten years later, as ThinkProgress notes, the mainstream media still gushes over McCain's "trademark wit."