Monday, June 09, 2008


Politico today mentions something about John McCain that's escaped my attention:

He tells jokes about ... the reason he had to join the Navy instead of the Marines: His parents were married when he was born.

You know what that is? It's a joke about class. It's a joke about how Marines are disreputable and no-account. It harks back to an era (which I'm just old enough to remember) when being illegitimate meant you were shiftless trash. It's not exactly like Dick Cheney's recent West Virginia incest joke, But it's in the same category. At a time when Barack Obama is criticized for "elitism" on a daily basis, why is it OK for John McCain -- admiral's son, alumnus of a posh boarding school, husband of a wealthy beer heiress -- to make a yokel joke?

And he really does like this joke. Here he is in December, at a party before the Army-Navy game:

When McCain learned [Orson] Swindle [a fellow prisoner in Hanoi] was a Marine, he announced: "I wanted to be a Marine like you but I couldn't handle the qualifications.'"

"I said, 'What qualifications?' And he said, 'Well, my parents were married, to begin with.'"

He made the same joke with Swindle as his foil in Iowa in January, and (apparently not with Swindle present) while he was campaigning in New Hampshire.

Maybe the joke is grandfathered because of its history -- near the end of this McCain campaign video, Swindle says McCain introduced himself to Swindle in the Hanoi Hilton with precisely this joke. That's a tale that I suspect might have grown in the telling, but whatever the history, McCain doesn't use the joke as an anecdote about those years -- he still thinks it's a kneeslapper today.

Never mind Obama -- it's hard to imagine this, but wouldn't Jim Webb or, say, Wesley Clark get heat for making a white-trash wisecrack at an Obama campaign appearance, even if the remark could be traced back to a GI in the jungle in Nam?

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