McCain backs Imus, but not Bonds

If you want to understand why blacks and whites feel differently about the controversial slugger, hear what McCain had to say.

Published August 9, 2007 9:30PM (EDT)

Free-falling John McCain is trying to get back on the Straight Talk Express, even though he gave up the actual bus because of budget problems. In an interview with Matt Lauer on "Today" to promote his book "Hard Calls," he took three hard-call questions: Should home run champion Barry Bonds get an asterisk in the record books due to steroid rumors, should the disgraced Don Imus get another radio show despite his racist and sexist humor, and would he read his teenage daughter's diary or Facebook profile if he got a chance? He answered all three quickly: Bonds gets an asterisk, Imus gets another radio show and his daughter gets her privacy violated. (I guess McCain's learning from Rudy Giuliani, who'd have found out his daughter Caroline was supporting Barack Obama if he'd kept up with her Facebook activities, instead of learning it from the media.)

Parents of teenagers can make their own choice about whether to snoop or not to snoop (I don't, personally.) But I think McCain is wrong about Bonds and Imus. And if you want to understand why black and white people feel so differently about the Bonds issue, McCain's answer provides a case study.

I'm not accusing John McCain of racism; I don't think he's a racist. But this couldn't be clearer. You have two controversial men. One guy, Imus, has a long history of racist and sexist humor, on the airwaves and off. We've all heard it. There's no doubt about it. But he's one of the D.C. guys, a Beltway insider, one of the boys, and he gets another chance.

The other guy, Bonds, has been a brittle, chip-on-his-shoulder prima donna since his days at Serra High School. Sportswriters hate him, some with reason. There's a lot of circumstantial evidence he's used steroids, but no proof. But because he's frequently a jerk, it's one strike and he's out to Imus-loving guys like McCain. No second chance, just an asterisk.

It's a reflexive, "he's one of us" kind of thinking that gives the benefit of the doubt to a guy like Imus while condemning Bonds to the role of permanent asshole for so many Caucasian "thought leaders" like McCain. Is it racism? Not for most of them. But it's worth scrutinizing just the same.

By the way, in Oakland, Calif., yesterday, where he worked alongside a home health aide as part of an SEIU program (read a great story about it here), Obama corrected his unfortunate debate answer and said he'd "probably" have Barry Bonds to the White House now that he's officially broken Hank Aaron's record. Better late than never!

I'm on "Hardball" today talking about McCain's "hard calls."

By Joan Walsh

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