About “Boy”

The last week has been a layer cake of outrages. First, Bill Clinton resurrected his wife’s Bosnia story. Then Obama called Pennsylvania voters “bitter,” which eclipsed Clinton’s flub. Then Kentucky Rep. Geoff Davis referred to Barack Obama as “that boy”—a gaffe that would have dominated headlines if it hadn’t been for the “bitter” furor.

Obama’s camp took quick and public umbrage, and Davis has since apologized . (Davis had meant is as a critique of Obama’s foreign-policy ideas, saying, “That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button.”) But the most surprising thing wasn’t that he said it. It’s that no one had made the mistake before.

Think about it. The word boy has been tossed around plenty in this campaign. Back in November, Bill Clinton quipped that “those boys have been getting tough on her” in debates. More recently, Hillary Clinton told talk show host Ellen about how “boys” were always telling her to give up. Forget whether or not they were trying to play the “gender card.” It would have been a short rhetorical step from the plural to the singular. Given how many words have been exchanged over the past year, it’s amazing that no one slipped up earlier. (Joe Biden was in the mix, for God’s sake.)

John McCain would be wise to take note. His age is likely to be a big issue in the general election, and the temptation to bust out a Reagan-like “youth and inexperience” line will be tempting. But he should be careful. One second you’re mocking your opponent’s political virginity, the next thing you know you’re a bigot. McCain likes to josh people, but he’s going to be on shaky ground. He’s already guaranteed to be painted as an old, out-of-touch white man who forget where he left his keys. Best not to add “racist” to the list.