McCain ‘How Do We Beat the Bitch’ Video


Senator John McCain was asked on a campaign stop in South Carolina, “How do we beat the bitch?

“How do we beat the bitch?” a supporter asked Republican presidential hopeful John McCain during an intimate campaign gathering in Hilton Head, South Carolina Monday.

The “bitch” -of course- being Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.

The question immediately drew laughter, and a noticeable blush from the Arizona Senator.

“May I give the translation?” McCain jokingly asked.

“I thought she was talking about my ex-wife,” someone in the crowd shouted, just as McCain attempted to give a dignified response to the rather undignified question.

McCain responded by telling supporters that a recent poll showed him leading Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head race for president. “I respect Senator Clinton,” McCain said.

Here’s the video:

It’s a very awkward exchange. That a middle aged woman asked it in that way, in mixed company, with cameras rolling, to a United States Senator says quite a bit about the level to which our political discourse has sunk and about the visceral antipathy to Senator Clinton.

As to McCain, he handled it about as well as could reasonably be expected. Greg Sargent chides McCain for calling it “an excellent question.” But McCain calls everything “an excellent question.”

Sargent also wonders why McCain didn’t condemn the remark. Perhaps he should have.

Tactically, it may well have served as a “Sister Souljah moment.” Recall, though, that the original Sister Souljah moment was a planned act, not an off-the-cuff response. (Unlike Bill Clinton’s recent admirable “How dare you” moment.)

It’s asking a bit much to expect McCain to admonish one of his supporters in the midst of a jovial exchange, humiliating her and creating an incredibly awkward situation. Dealing with rude behavior is always awkward, putting people in the position of responding in kind or ignoring it. McCain chose the latter.

UPDATE: Michael van der Galiën and Ann Althouse think McCain should have been more indignant, with the latter drawing an analogy:

But I don’t think “bitch” is a word that can be used in political discourse around a presidential candidate. Imagine if the questioner had asked — referring to Obama — “how do we beat the [n-word]?” He would have immediately voiced his rejection of that word. Laughing and pretending to wipe away sweat and so forth would never have been good enough and he would have known it.

The comparison, however, doesn’t work. That word has long been considered quite toxic and simply isn’t uttered (by white people, anyway) in polite public discussions. Indeed, we’ve euphemized it as “The N word” because saying it is so verboten. “Bitch,” by contrast, has been normalized over the past quarter century so much so that it’s routinely heard on prime time network television. It simply doesn’t have the same connotation. (Althouse’s commenters provide an alternative female-specific epithet that’s more analogous.)

Ideally, McCain would have politely scolded the woman for her phrasing. Most of us, however, routinely experience situations where, after the fact, we realize what we “should have said.” McCain wasn’t prepared for the situation. Then again, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect that he would have been.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    says quite a bit about the level to which our political discourse has sunk and about the visceral antipathy to Senator Clinton.

    It also says quite a bit about the level to which McCain has sunk when he responds to the query that it is an “excellent question.”

  2. James Joyner says:

    It also says quite a bit about the level to which McCain has sunk when he responds to the query that it is an “excellent question.”

    He’s rather clearly responding to the subject of the question — How to beat Hillary, who’s leading in the polls — rather than its framing. Further, McCain has the tick of most schoolteachers and others who frequently take unscripted questions of always praising the questioner.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    A good off the cuff answer would be “I can’t politely answer that question, so instead I will answer how I will beat Clinton in 2008”.

  4. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    I find it interesting that nobody is commenting on the extremely negative attitude expressed about Hillary by another woman. I seem to recall that the female vote was going to be Hillary’s strength.

  5. vnjagvet says:

    Having a firm grasp of the obvious, I would say that her support among women, Patrick, is not unanimous.

  6. anjin-san says:

    He’s rather clearly responding to the subject of the question

    James you are a hell of a good apologist. Is that what your doctorate is in?

    Interesting to note just how much better Pres. Clinton recently handled a similar situation. Guess thats what they call leadership.
    McCain is supposed to be a stand up guy. Guess that does not include demanding at least a basic level of respect for a fellow senator.

  7. Or, maybe she is a B#@$&.

  8. Tano says:

    “McCain has the tick of most schoolteachers and others who frequently take unscripted questions of always praising the questioner.”

    I seriously doubt that any schoolteacher would praise the questioner who used such language. McCain is simply in a position now where he is desparate for votes, so his instincts are to not potentially offend someone who is already a supporter. Kinda sad to watch…

  9. anjin-san says:

    Wonder if Beth has ever heard the old line about taking one to know one…

  10. Boyd says:

    Somebody refill Anjin’s bucket. He’s running out of mud to sling.

  11. Anderson says:

    Shows a lack of character on McCain’s part, but then, we already knew that.

  12. anjin-san says:

    Boyd… Just calling someone out on their own name calling. Is that the best you can do?

  13. Boyd says:

    Pilot: “Never wrestle with a pig. You just get filthy, and the pig likes it.”

  14. Bandit says:

    Something else for the bedwetters to cry about

  15. Jess says:

    Is anyone surprised? This is the same man who used the word “gook” in a campaign speech.

    Same hateful, little man.

  16. James Joyner says:

    This is the same man who used the word “gook” in a campaign speech.

    He’s also the same man who spent 5-1/2 years being tortured at the hands of Vietnamese. I think we can cut him a wee bit of slack.

  17. Jess says:

    He’s also the same man who spent 5-1/2 years being tortured at the hands of Vietnamese. I think we can cut him a wee bit of slack.

    I see. So if he was hurt by some African Americans then we should cut him some slack when he uses the “N-word?”

    Got it. If a small group of people do something bad to you then you can use a racial slur on the entire group of people.

  18. Jess says:

    ^ Sorry if the above seems confrontational.

    I guess my point is the double-standard in all this.

    Can you imagine if some one asked him, “How do we beat the N—-r?” (referring to Obama) and McCain answered that question?

    Or back to the slur against Vietnamese. What if he said it against Blacks?

    His career would be over. But somehow, because the target was Asians or Women, he’s forgiven. And that just stinks.

  19. James Joyner says:

    But somehow, because the target was Asians or Women, he’s forgiven. And that just stinks.

    No, it’s just different. “Gooks” doesn’t have the same baggage as the N-word in our culture, especially in that context. It’s clear McCain was talking about the loathsome slimeballs who tortured him, using the language that was popular among servicemen at the time, and not casting aspersions on Southeast Asians as a whole.

    “Bitch,” likewise, doesn’t carry the same weight. There’s another epithet, beginning with the next letter in the alphabet, which comes close but wasn’t used here.

    Do you really think McCain hates Asians and women? Otherwise, I’m not sure what the point is.