On September 17, at a rally for Ken Cuccinelli, Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, local party official John Whitbeck told a “joke.”
In his “joke,” Whitbeck said that it was an old tradition for the “head of the Jewish faith” to meet with the new pope and present him with a piece of paper, which the pope ceremonially rejects.
“Well, this time around the pope said, ‘I gotta find out what’s on this piece of paper,’” said Whitbeck. “So he actually takes it from the head of the Jewish faith, he opens it, he looks at it, he closes it. And his counterpart says, ‘What was it?’ and he says, ‘Well, it was the bill for the Last Supper.’”
The comment was met with applause and laughter from the audience.
A voice off-camera could be heard wondering what the joke was about and why it was considered amusing.
The off-camera voice said, “What the hell?”
Although it’s fairly mild as such jokes go, I share that sense of wonder. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and Cuccinelli himself (who had not yet arrived at the rally) called Whitbeck’s joke “inappropriate.” So did Republican Frank Wolf, who represents Whitbeck’s district in Congress.
Whitbeck denied the joke was antisemitic on the grounds that he heard it from a priest at a church service.
Yes, I know…
He ultimately apologized, without acknowledging that he did anything inappropriate:
Earlier this week, I made a lighthearted attempt at humor to which some have taken offense. It was certainly not my intent to offend anyone and I sincerely apologize to those who were.
Undeterred, Whitbeck went on to seek the Republican nomination for a vacant State Senate seat at a meeting of the district’s Republicans Monday. It would be hard to believe that anyone at the meeting was unaware of the controversy over the “joke.” His opponent for the nomination, Ron Meyer, posted a video on YouTube citing the criticisms of the “joke” but it has now been made “private.”
So how did the participating Republicans deal with all of this?
John Whitbeck is the Republican nominee in 33rd District Senate Race. He will face Democrat Jennifer Wexton and Independent Joe May…
More than 500 voters participated in the GOP’s mass meeting at Park View High School Monday night.
Whitbeck, an attorney from Lansdowne, defeated Ron Meyer, of Herndon, in the balloting. After learning the results of the vote count, Meyer made a motion for the few people remaining in the school auditorium to elect Whitbeck by acclimation. While not announced to the crowd, the vote count was reported as 358 to 152.
What’s most startling to me isn’t Whitbeck’s joke and half-hearted apology. It’s that despite these things, and the obvious handicap they will be in the coming election, 70 percent of the Republicans at the meeting considered him the best candidate.
Were they trying to send some kind of message?