Rape jokes to the Right and the Left

The questionable taste of two would-be comedians has come under national scrutiny in this year’s political campaign, with both Democrats and Republicans showing some shrieking hysterics rather than maturity. John McCain comes under fire for having a supporter who told a bad joke about rape eighteen years ago, while Republicans organized nationwide to scold Senate candidate Al Franken for having himself suggested a comedy skit about the rape of a television journalist. Maybe both sides should give it a rest.

First, the Democrats on McCain:

“Offensive, disgusting comments like these cannot be tolerated,” said DNC communications director Karen Finnery. “Sen. McCain’s refusal to return the money Williams raised for him raises serious questions and shows the reality behind his rhetoric about running a new kind of campaign.”

Cecile Richards, daughter of the late governor and president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, blasted McCain for being ignorant of Williams’ history.

“Clayton Williams’ totally inappropriate remarks about women are well-known,” Richards told the Chronicle. “Planning to host a fundraiser at his house is just another example of how out of touch John McCain is when it comes to women’s issues. This is a major misstep for the McCain campaign, who is having a hard time getting support from women.”

Next, the Republicans:

Nonetheless, Republican state Rep. Laura Brod said the quotes combined with the Playboy piece shows “a pattern of behavior which is not suitable for a U.S. senator.”

“Rape, a joke. Just think about it. Rape is not a punchline and it certainly is not funny,” Brod said, adding, “To thousands of women in this nation who are raped and sexually assaulted, the prospect that a man making a living joking about these things would be a U.S. senator is absolutely horrifying.”

Both of these are huge overreactions. If the DNC doesn’t think a joke from eighteen years ago about rape can be tolerated from a bundler, then I look forward to them kicking Al Franken off of the ticket in Minnesota and endorsing Norm Coleman. After all, that came from the candidate himself, not just a fundraiser. And will Brod start requiring people who contribute to Republicans to pledge that they have never told an off-color joke in their lives, including ethnic, blonde, or any other kind of derogatory humor? If so, I can look forward to an end of junk mail and telephone calls from the Minnesota Republicans this year.

I think Al Franken may be the worst candidate in Minnesota since Jesse Ventura, but I hardly find him “horrifying”. His standing as a politician has nothing to do with the jokes he wrote as a staffer at Saturday Night Live or the even sillier outrage over a piece of satirical fiction in Playboy, in which the Democrats themselves indulged. His tenure at Air America and as an author in political punditry, as well as his complete incompetence or worse in running his own businesses and paying his taxes, gives plenty of reasons to reject Franken without damning him for having a sense of humor.

At least Franken’s getting attacked for what he did. McCain’s getting attacked for a joke he didn’t tell, about a subject that he didn’t minimize. It’s absurd, and given Franken’s controversy, wildly hypocritical.

People use humor in many different ways, and sometimes it comes out badly. A joke in poor taste from eight, thirteen, or eighteen years ago does not condemn a person to a Dante-like Circle of Political Hell. The shrieking hysterics on both sides need to dial down the outrage.