McCain campaign baits Obama on Clinton slurs

It's hard to believe the faux outrage at sexism after McCain chuckled at the B-word, but Obama has to discourage Kennedy-style disrespect for Clinton as the battle winds down.

Published May 12, 2008 12:40PM (EDT)

Nice to see John McCain's campaign sticking up for Hillary Clinton on Sunday. Not really; it was all about attacking Barack Obama. If McCain was really outraged by the admittedly repellent rhetoric of Obama supporters like Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who compared Clinton to Glenn Close's character in "Fatal Attraction" (and later apologized), you'd think he'd have done something more than laugh at that sweet little old lady who asked him "How do we beat the bitch?" back in November.

But the McCain camp is ramping up against Obama, and maybe it thinks he's vulnerable on this one. I have occasionally wished Obama himself would say something about the often-sexist viciousness Clinton has faced, but it's probably too much to ask in a campaign this contentious. Certainly Ted Kennedy didn't help Obama on Friday when he said Clinton wasn't a good candidate to be Obama's running mate and suggested that she wasn't "in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations" of the American people. Rep. Rahm Emanuel slapped Kennedy on Sunday, telling the New York Times (probably to make up for sounding like it was all over for Clinton on Friday): "I have a lot of respect for Ted Kennedy, but I don't know how the hell he comes off saying that. The gratuitous attack on her is uncalled for and wrong. He is a better senator than that comment reveals.”

I've talked about Clinton's need, in the closing days of the campaign, to improve her tone; clearly Obama too needs to work not to alienate Clinton supporters. He's done a great job being gracious all week, from his victory speech in North Carolina May 6 to his remarks to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that she'd be on "anybody's shortlist" for vice president. But Obama should be careful to make sure surrogates like Kennedy don't squander the goodwill he's trying to build. I'm not sure Clinton merits or wants the V.P. slot, but she at least deserves more respect than Kennedy showed while both campaigns figure out what comes next. It would be a shame if McCain's campaign did a better job feigning respect than Obama's did actually showing it.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections