President Obama earned an enthusiastic reception at Wednesday night's LGBT Leadership Council fundraiser in California, with the gay-friendly Hollywood elite heralding him with cheers of "four more years." But not all of Obama's remarks were warmly received by the press. Thanking Ellen DeGeneres for being a good sport about her televised push-up contest against the First Lady in February, Obama said Ellen "is a gay friend who accepts a little bit of teasing about Michelle beating her in push-ups. I think she claims Michelle didn't go all the way down." According to the Dallas Morning News, Obama let the line "hang naughtily, provoking laughter from the crowd." Was Obama's comment inappropriate?
Of course, oral sex innuendos are inappropriate: "I am not comfortable with this," says Dennis DiClaudio at Indecision Forever. You might argue that the joke was just a harmless double entendre, but it's still not "acceptable presidential behavior." Worse, it sets a precedent that could send us down "a slippery slope from which I'd just as soon stay well away." I shudder at the possibilities: Imagine Mitt Romney making off-color remarks about "his and his wife's private snuggling habits."
"In which Barack Obama makes a joking reference to oral sex"
It could have been a harmless mistake: If the president wants to make this controversy go away, the traditions of idiomatic speech are on his side, says Tom Maguire at Just One Minute. It's not uncommon to critique push-ups by saying that "you didn't go all the way down." In reviewing the video of the push-up contest in question, I can't help noting that the talk show host "got a nice 90 degree angle to her arms," while "Michelle was a bit slack." Obama could plausibly argue that Michelle, in fact, "didn't go all the way down."
"Drop and give me fifty, or, a rare defense of Obama"
This was not a harmless mistake: Obama is routinely described as a "master orator, a speaker without peer in modern politics, a man who handles the spoken word like Paganini handled the violin," says The Sundries Shack. Are we supposed to believe that such a virtuoso didn't intend this crude joke? Remember, he paused for comedic effect — in front of a friendly audience that was all-but-guaranteed to react rapturously to the punchline.
"Did the greatest orator in the history of the Republic make a crude sexual joke about his wife?"
Okay. But other presidents have made dirty jokes, too: Yes, this joke was "beneath the dignity of the office," says Rick Moran at The American Thinker. But "ribald jokes are not unknown among presidents" — though most commanders-in-chief wisely reserve such cracks for private gatherings. In the days when Washington's Gridiron Dinner was closed to the press, "presidents weren't shy about being off color there."
"Did Obama tell a dirty joke at gay fundraiser?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How to be the star of a cocktail party where you don't know anyone
- The little-known police department that guards the White House
- The girl who wouldn't die
Subscribe to the Week