“There have been a lot of stories about sexual misconduct over the last couple of weeks,” Stephen Colbert said during his monologue Thursday night.
No, that was not a setup to talk about the allegations against Mark Halperin, who was one of his Election Night special guests last fall. “I want you to brace yourself, because now it’s come out that even George H.W. Bush has acknowledged he groped multiple women.”
“Oh come on, not him. He’s the Bush we like!” Colbert joked. “He’s a 93-year-old grandpa who’s been married to the same woman for 72 years! What is that? That’s the uranium anniversary.”
“He’s a very nice guy, I’ve met him, he’s lovely,” Colbert said of the 41st president. “We like H.W., don’t we?” he asked his audience. “We don’t want to hear this stuff.”
“Who’s next? Colonel Sanders? Papa Smurf? Air Bud?” the host asked. “Hey, there’s nothing in the rulebook that says a dog can’t play basketball and then ask a production assistant to come to his trailer and check him for ticks. If you know what I mean…”
As Colbert explained, two women came forward this week to describe very similar situations involving Bush Sr. During photo shoots, he apparently enjoyed grabbing women’s behinds from his wheelchair while telling a dirty joke that went something like, “Do you want to know who my favorite magician is? David Cop-a-Feel!”
“That is not good,” Colbert said, as much about the action as the joke itself. “I feel bad as a human being and even worse as a comedian.”
He noted that Bush Sr. seems to “feel bad” about the situation, apologizing through a spokesperson, who explained, “To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke—and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner.”
While it seems abundantly clear that what Bush Sr. did does not come anywhere close to the monstrous behavior of a Harvey Weinstein, there still is something uncomfortable about Colbert dismissing it because he’s a “nice guy” who was “lovely” to him. In the age of disgusting revelations about beloved icons like 80-year-old Bill Cosby, it’s not so easy to say “we don’t want to hear this stuff” just because you don’t want to believe it.