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Filler: John McCain finds the only way to insult Mahmoud Ahmadinejad controversially

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. listens during a news

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (March 28, 2012) Credit: AP

It is a tribute to Arizona Sen. John McCain’s unique skill set that he was able to dream up a way to describe Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that actually angered people.

Ahmadinejad regularly denies the Holocaust happened, has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and stated that the United States planned and carried out the attacks of 9/11 against its own people.

I’m pretty sure McCain, who boasts more than 1 million twitter followers, could have tweeted “Ahmadinejad is a (bleeping) @#$% and I hope he gets (bleeped) to death by a huge @#$%^%$ (bleep) and hardly anyone would have raised an eyebrow.)

You just don’t meet Ahmadinejad apologists. You never, at a party, hear someone proclaim, “Say what you will about Ahmadinejad, he’s a smooth-talking fellow who knows how to rock a beard and be the frontman for a tidy, murderous, despotic dictatorship.”

But McCain implied Ahmadinejad was a monkey. In a sane world, that should have led to furious zoologists standing up for monkeys and demanding a retraction. Instead, it lead to couple of furious political attention seekers standing up for, if not Ahmadinejad, then at least the man’s right not to be compared to a lower primate.

Here’s what happened: Iran recently claimed to have successfully launched a monkey named Pishgam into space as part of its efforts to create a manned space flight program. There is some question as to whether that launch actually happened and whether Pishgam was actually on board, but we’ll leave that controversy for another day.

In a speech, Ahmadinejad said he’d like to be the first Iranian in space (something that, at this point, the nation’s spiritual leader, Khomeini, would probably sign off on. Seriously, even he hates Ahmadinejad). McCain, hearing of this, tweeted, “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space-wasn’t he just there last week?” McCain’s tweet also linked to a news story about Pishgam’s big adventure.

House Republican Justin Amash, (R-Michigan), a second-generation Arab-American, retweeted McCain, along with the word “Whoa.” McCain responded that his twitter followers should “lighten up” and Amash countered “Maybe you should wisen up and not make racist jokes.” (Is “wisen up” an expression?)

Also chiming in was Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center in Washington, who said, “Imagine the outcry if it was said of a Black leader or Jewish leader!”

Which brings up an important point: In order for something one says to be a racial slur, it has to have some sort of history as a racial slur. I’m not sure calling an Iranian a monkey is, as they say, “a thing.” Nor is calling a Jew a monkey, I don’t think.

Just saying something negative about a person does not make it a racial slur. He, like any other person of any color or religion, can be insulted on his own merits, as a person, regardless of race.

McCain, so lovable at his best and so aggravating at his worst, is often tone deaf about such things. He repeatedly called me a jerk during interviews from 1999 until 2008, often with a smile on his face (“That’s a really tough question, you jerk”). He once shocked every journalist on his bus by making fun of his wife for a “shopping-related injury,” laughing at her while she hobbled around on crutches, in obvious pain.

But he’s just kind of thoughtless, not anti-anything.

And I think on this one he’s taking a bad rap. Not every negative thing we say about somebody of another ethnicity is an ethnic slur. Ahmadinejad, much as I hate him, has the right to be despised and reviled as an individual. To say a slur against him is a slur against a whole group is, in a way, more racist than calling a moron a monkey.