For a candidate who's trying to woo women voters, John McCain sure acts like a sexist piece of crap sometimes. In an wide-ranging interview yesterday with the Las Vegas Sun, he was asked why didn't appoint the scandal-plagued piece-of-sexist-crap governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons, to be his state chair. The reporter asked, "Maybe it's the governor's approval rating and you are running from him like you are from the president?" and McCain responded: (Chuckling) "And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago…" That's the kind of humor that will get the P.U.M.A.'s growling, for sure. [Las Vegas Sun]
@briardahl: I totally agree with what you're saying about McCain's intent in making the remark. I've known that phrase for years and I'm not a lawyer, so I can see that he would expect it to be taken as a rhetorical remark rather than literally about wife beating.
However, writing text for several museum exhibits and tours has changed the way I think about words. A coworker's favourite example was a historic house tour where the guide pointed out a medicine cabinet and remarked that several medicines in the Victorian era contained heroin and cocaine. After hearing that, how many visitors actually remembered anything factual about the museum?
I think McCain's remark falls into a similar situation. Yes, it's a well-known phrase that does not literally mean he beats his wife; however, as the comments on this piece show, they're incendiary words. I would bet that most people reading this, even after taking in your explanation, would associate McCain with misogyny because of this remark. Even if he wasn't commenting on wife beating, and the phrase itself is actually anti-wife-beating, those are not neutral words to say in a public forum.
(Can you tell I'd rather read Jezebel than do work on a Friday?)