Memo to Senator McCain: Wife Beating Jokes Are Not Funny (Even If They Are Famous)

Apparently there is some old joke about being asked a loaded question:

Are you still beating your wife?

Of course I had never heard this used before, not in the context of lawyers or trials or even reporting.

Fine. Fair enough. I sure don’t know every pop-culture catch phrase out there (yes, I’m snickering).

So today when I came across remarks made by Senator John McCain to the Las Vegas Sun, I about fell out of my chair.

(On why he didn’t choose Gov. Jim Gibbons to chair his Nevada campaign?)

I appreciate his support. As you know, the lieutenant governor is our chairman.

(Why snub the governor?)

I didn’t mean to snub him,. I’ve known the lieutenant governor for 15 years and we’ve been good friends….I didn’t intend to snub him. There are other states where the governor is not the chairman.

(Maybe it’s the governor’s approval rating and you are running from him like you are from the president?)

(Chuckling) And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago….

Yes, Senator McCain laughed and made a joke about loaded questions and beating his wife, apparently riffing off some well turned phrase.

At best, this is just a poor, poor, poor, cliche’ to pick when you are courting Clinton voters. At worst, he’s perpetuating his image as “old school” and “sexism is funny.”

I informally polled some friends and family of various ages and only one had heard this phrase used before- my neighbor who is in his 70’s. I’m guessing the younger demo, widely voting for Senator Obama, looked at that Las Vegas Sun quote and did the same thing I did…”HE SAID WHAT???!!! AND HE THINKS THAT’S FUNNY???!!!”

I’m doing my best to keep a level head in this election (and now everyone else snickers) so I immediately e-mailed Liz Mair of the RNC. If and when she responds, I will post an update here.

In the meantime, what the hell is McCain thinking making a joke half of us don’t know is a joke???

Wonkette writes, “What does that Joke even mean? That John McCain trying to keep his distance from President Bush/Jim Gibbons is about as likely as him beating up his wife recently? Well for shame. We want a president who continues beating up his trollop wife IN THE WHITE HOUSE.”

Erica Saves the Day writes, “As my mom says, sarcasm always has an element of truth…”

I give McCain credit for making an attempt at humor, I really do. But could he have picked a WORSE joke? And yes, the candidates misspeak. We’ve been over this. McCain didn’t misspeak here though, he intentionally invoked a tasteless joke about beating wives.

I’ve heard a ton of well-known jokes that invoke racism too, should I bust one of those out next time I run for office?

Crossposted at


  1. Yes, I’ve heard of it. Kyle loves nit-picking logic flaws, and he’s cited that one before (although his favorite is “Have you told your mother you masturbate yet?”). Would’ve been funnier if McCain had used that line.

    Anyway, I understand his reference – basically he’s saying that the assumption is that he’s running from Bush and Gibbons, and that by giving a yes/no answer, he’s validating that assumption – just as with the above questions.

    But yeah, I’d agree that this is another example of being out of touch.

  2. Um yeah– not funny. Not funny at all.

  3. Queen of Spain says:

    I think if McCain says ‘Have you told you Mother you masturbated yet’ and chuckles I just might die

  4. Queen of Spain says:

    ABC on the comments

    and most of the discussion is at BlogHer and on Friend Feed

  5. What did Cyndi Lauper say? “I see your true colours coming through….”

  6. I think the RNC is going to learn the hard way that “The Old Boys Club” is no longer crisp white linens, fancy separate entrances and expensive bourbon, but a buncha guys in a makeshift shack swillin’ rotgut.

    And I can’t wait.

  7. Ick, I kind of feel sick to my stomach reading this. McCain has got no room for error. Keep talking, buddy. You’re sealing your fate one stupid quip at a time.

  8. Larfnot says:

    Yes, it’s an old joke about phrasing a question in such a way that providing an answer validates an unflattering premise. That is, a reporter asks a question “When did you stop beating your wife?” So, McCain was remarking that the question he was being asked was leading and that he couldn’t win by answering it. Old news men and public figures are probably more familiar with the reference than the general public. I actually feel kind of sorry for McCain because it wasn’t really a tasteless joke at all, but if you didn’t get the reference, it just sounds oddly offensive and awkward. Oh well. I’d make an age joke here about a generation gap, but I’m only 30 and I recognized the reference, so *shrug*

  9. Larfnot is absolutely correct. This was never a “joke”. Just shows how uninformed/un educated most of these replys are. This was used as one of many examples in the Police Academys, Law Schools, my college philosophy courses and probably political circles as how to phrase a question that no matter how it is answers you have trapped the respondent.
    Typical Knee Jerk reaction.

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