First lady and Miss Buffalo Chip

How offensive was McCain's joke about his wife entering a topless-biker beauty pageant?

Published August 6, 2008 1:05PM (EDT)

On Monday, John McCain appeared at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a veteran-friendly event that featured Kid Rock, Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon (?!) and a biker beauty pageant called "Miss Buffalo Chip" that the presumptive presidential nominee may or may not have known featured topless women.

"I encouraged Cindy to compete," he told the crowd. "I told her [that] with a little luck, she could be the only woman to serve as both the first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip." Here's the video:

It was a cringe moment that called for critique. I asked some Broadsheet writers for their opinion on the quote's offensiveness, kicking things off myself:

Sarah Hepola: My take is that he's trying to be good-natured, trying to compliment both his wife and the event, but he's completely unaware of his flagrant misogyny. It's just that ingrained. I don't think Cindy was insulted. I think she was probably like, "Yeah, I still got it!"

Tracy Clark-Flory: It seems McCain was making a show of polishing his prized trophy. The sad part: I'm sure he meant it as a charming demonstration of his husbandly devotion and as a sincere compliment to his wife. Also, I believe that in the political playbook, this is called the "I Could Be Your Beer-Drinking Buddy" strategy. ICBYBDB, for short. As you can see from the fist-pumping crowd, it was a huge success. That is, until it began circulating on feminist blogs -- but we sure aren't the target audience.

Katharine Mieszkowski: His comments were cheesy and tasteless, but I find it hard to get worked up about a male candidate publicly lauding his wife's sexual desirability. I think McCain was just playing to his audience, which was, needless to say, not the writers of Broadsheet.

In that context, I think that his remarks make him come across as a younger man than his almost 72-years -- my wife is hot! -- and a devoted husband -- my wife is hot! He's being simultaneously edgy and dutiful, vital and doting. That said, I think that class is at the crux of McCain's riff, not just gender. His little joke is: Possible future first lady and biker beauty queen = one and the same! Yar. Get it?

Lynn Harris: I am most skeeved out by that awkward snickery, mouth-breathy, Beavis-y two-step he does during the applause. Not to mention that he is clearly reading from notes, which, come on, seriously? Never mind the heh-heh public objectification of his own goddamn wife, how come he, Flyboy McPrepSchool, gets to get away -- which he will -- with this embarrassing motorcycle enthusiast fist jab I'm So Down With You Biker People farce? There's also the matter of his party platform; I was not aware that marriage between a man and a Miss Buffalo Chip was a family value.

By Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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