“[S]he really looked kind of familiar in that position there.”
So said Congressman Cedric Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, at the Washington Press Club Foundation’s annual charity dinner, commenting on the picture of Kellyanne Conway kneeling on a sofa in the Oval Office.
Although, according to the Media Research Center, “none of the big three networks or cable news found time” to cover the incident, by Thursday morning Richmond was facing intense criticism on social media. Users called his joke vulgar and drew parallels to sexist comments President Donald Trump has made about women, including then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and then-presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.
Instead of immediately apologizing (which he wound up doing several days later) for an apparently improvised joke that fell completely flat, Richmond doubled down with a press release claiming that, “Where I grew up saying that someone is looking or acting ‘familiar’ simply means that they are behaving too comfortably.”
That excuse is frankly insulting to the intelligence of anyone with access to Google and the inclination to do about 20 seconds of research.
If all he’d said was “She really looked kind of familiar in that position,” I could accept his explanation, but it falls apart completely the second you place his remarks in context.
Richmond, one of the headliners of the charity event, followed Senator Tim Scott, who made a similar (although far less offensive) joke about how “a whole lot worse” had happened on that sofa, referring obviously to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Now, let’s look at Richmond’s joke in full:
“Tim, you kind of opened the door,” he said. “I really just want to know what was going on there, because, you know, I won’t tell anybody. And you can just explain to me that circumstance – because she really looked kind of familiar in that position there. Don’t answer – and I don’t want you to refer back to the 1990s.”
“I won’t tell anybody”? “I don’t want you to refer back to the 1990s”? Clearly, Richmond is implying that Conway looked as though she had gotten used to performing fellatio kneeling on an Oval Office sofa.
There is an art to shameless denial in American public life. Saying something obviously false or horrible and then defending it on an inapplicable technicality or with an easily disproven denial takes brains, guts, and an unshakable faith in the stupidity of your audience.
Bill Clinton claimed not to have had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, based on the dubious-at-best contention that receiving oral sex didn’t count as “sexual relations.”
When Donald Trump mocked the disability of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, he claimed he’d never seen the man in person (false) and later said he was merely imitating the reporter’s “groveling,” despite his near-perfect imitation of Kovaleski’s arthrogryposis.
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During the campaign, the ridiculous denials of Trump and his spokespeople (including Katrina Pierson, whose assertion that Obama started the war in Afghanistan led to the hashtag #KatrinaPiersonHistory) were parodied by SNL in its skit “A Day Off,” in which Conway had to repeatedly put her day off on hold to come up with absurd responses to Trump’s absurd statements and actions.
When reggae singer Shaggy’s honey came in and caught him red-handed creeping with the girl next door (and even caught him on camera), he gave perhaps the most memorable response in the history of lame excuses: “Wasn’t me.”
I once thought Shaggy’s defense was the absolute apex of urinating in someone’s face and telling him it’s raining, but now I realize that the Jamaican-American singer is part of a proud American tradition.
Of course, this kind of thing only works as long as we keep believing it.