Sexism, Racism, Bad Jokes, and that McCain Ad

I was going to write about my celebration of the birth of my twin grand-daughters three days ago, a joyful move over Brangelina post, but in the midst of all this family happiness I came upon the McCain ad comparing Obama to Britney and Paris. And it stopped me cold. What's that about? And why did it trouble me so?

Let me get the really nasty stuff off my chest right away. Comparing Obama to Paris Hilton is another of McCain's tasteless and inept jokes. Paris Hilton is a no-talent nobody blessed with the good looks and good fortune that have made her a shameless somebody to our giddy press. Like John McCain, she came from affluent circumstances. And like him she is a survivor; he survived a long imprisonment in a brutal war, and she survived a spoiled brat childhood in Beverly Hills. I don't mean to denigrate his suffering, or hers, but the sad fact is that both of them seemed to learn so little from it. You couldn't send either of them to the grocery story for a container of milk and expect them to identify it -- the store or the milk. Like McCain, Paris is one tough cookie, someone who lives in the world without apparently being effected by the less fortunate around her. Clearly Ms. Hilton has far more in common with John McCain than with Barack Obama.

In different ways Paris and McCain both inhabit their own plastic bubbles comfortably. She has charmed the besotted paparazzi, bent them to her will, and prevailed, posturing on life's red carpet, slinking towards oblivion or middle age -- whichever comes first. McCain has made it to his Republican presidential nomination by charming an infatuated political press that never seemed to ask him a tough question. He lightened his moral load as he aged by tossing off whatever burdens of decency and character he intermittently demonstrated. Now, having tossed aside reality as well in his statements about the oil crises, the economy, the war, veterans affairs (his is one of the worst voting records for vets) he is light enough to survive the run without any onerous burdens like truth or integrity.

Poor Britney doesn't deserve to be classified with Paris or even McCain. She is a talented mess who inherited nothing, made a fortune from her adolescent musical talents, whatever you think they may be, worked hard from childhood to rise above her humble origins, and for all her aberrant behavior should not be placed side-by-side with Paris or McCain, both charter members of that infamous lucky sperm club.

John McCain -- unlike the mythical Good Joe American he hopes to bamboozle with his vicious anti-Obama ads -- is an elitist/opportunist who abandoned a sick wife, carried on with an attractive blond beer heiress and married her, survived corruption charges as one of the Keating Five, and became a proxy billionaire through that romantic transaction which has helped to finance his political ambitions. To suggest that Obama, a brilliant man from a modest background, one who made his own luck and life through his intelligence and strength of character, has something in common with these Hollywood girls is less than an insult to Obama, who has young daughters and clearly loves them; it is an embarrassment to McCain, as it reveals his low view of women. They are dirty jokes to him. Be it a young Chelsea Clinton's awkward adolescent looks, or women being raped by gorillas, he finds the denigration and victimization of women a source of infinite jest. None of this is accidental. It all fits in with that infamous ad. If you wanted to contrast Obama to a dubious celebrity there are so many untalented men who fit the category -- too many to list here -- but McCain chose two feckless, reckless young white women to bring his opponent low by stating that there was little substance to back up Obama's fame and popularity. In making that ad McCain went well beyond his stated intention to show his opponent as an empty suit. It's so easy to see the ad for what it is and read "black man, promiscuous young white women, wink wink." Wouldn't it be splendid if the mainstream press suddenly opened its eyes to that ploy?

When you get to a certain age -- my age -- new life becomes the spectacular anodyne to all the illness and death around you. It forces one to look at the future in a new way; protectively, not as a distant place that we know we will never visit but as a place we want to make safe for those we love after we are gone. As the grandfather of three girls ranging in age from three days to three years I take deep offense at this denigration of women that passes for political rough and tumble. We can only hope that McCain will soon abandon his sexism together with his incipient racism as the campaign continues. But we won't bet the farm on it. God help America and my beloved grand-daughters should he prevail. McCain offers the future nothing but the past, and the past just isn't working very well these days for any of us.


Contributing writer, Sherman Yellen, screenwriter, playwright, and lyricist, has won two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his drama John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America. His Beauty and the Beast was nominated for an Emmy and won the Christopher Award. Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the Broadway musical, The Rothschilds. Yellen's other plays include Strangers, December Fools and Josephine Tonight! Sherman Yellen received a lifetime achievement award in Arts and Letters from Bard College.