What Really Happened When John McCain Sang Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran?
We look back at one infamous moment in John McCain’s career when he was recorded on tape singing an ‘alternative’ version of the Beach Boys classic “Barbara Ann.”
Early on in his 2008 presidential campaign, then-Republican contender Senator John McCain of Arizona joked about bombing Iran. He sang an alternative version, “Bomb bomb bomb Iran”, of a Beach Boys classic; a move that would haunt him on the campaign trail, but what really happened?
During a campaign appearance in April 2007 in the town of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, McCain was asked by an audience member about any possible U.S. attack over Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.
The United States and others had accused Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran had denied. While U.S. officials had refused to take the military option off of the table, they said there were no plans to attack Iran and they would pursue a diplomatic solution.
“How many times do we have to prove that these people are blowing up people now, never mind if they get a nuclear weapon. When do we send them an airmail message to Tehran?” a man in the crowd asked.
John McCain sings “Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran”
In response, McCain said, “That old, eh, that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran,” which ignited laughter from the crowd. McCain then chuckled before briefly singing to the tune of the Beach Boys classic “Barbara Ann.”
“Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb… anyway,” McCain sang, with the audience responding with more laughter.
Shortly after, McCain turned serious and said that he agreed with President Bush that the United States must protect Israel from Iran and work to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. McCain had long said that the military option should not be ruled out, but that it should be used only as a last resort.
McCain’s joke was thought to be a reference to an actual parody of the Beach Boys song “Barbara Ann”, called “Bomb Iran.” In 1980, a group called Vince Vance and the Valiants released “Bomb Iran” in response to the 1979 hostage crisis. The lyrics are clearly anti-Muslim, at least by today’s standards. The single was popular and frequently requested on the radio, but also provoked death threats and other altercations against the lead singer.
McCain’s Says ‘Get a Life’ Over Outcry of Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran
When asked about his joke days after the incident, McCain defended it, saying, “Lighten up and get a life.” Asked if his choice of song was insensitive, McCain said (according to the Associated Press), “Insensitive to what? The Iranians?”
McCain’s campaign spokesman Kevin McLaughlin told ABC news that the senator “was just trying to add a little humor to the event.”
Inevitably, there was some backlash. The liberal group MoveOn.org planned to launch an ad against McCain for the “bomb bomb bomb Iran” remark, arguing that the nation “can’t afford another reckless president.” The commercial was set to run on-network as well as some cable television stations in Iowa and New Hampshire, both states that hold early contests in the presidential nomination process.
Reporters continued to bring up the incident, as did McCain’s eventual opponent in the presidential race, then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama.
Iran Responds to McCain’s Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran Scandal
Allegedly, it had little impact on Iran itself. Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliamentary speaker and former chief nuclear negotiator, responded to a reporter’s question about McCain’s remark, in Geneva.
“We don’t have any objection to them singing a song,” Larijani said. He also stated that a real bomb, however, would be “no laughing matter.”
“We are confident that if they make that mistake they will be awakened from their sleep and they will face a nightmare,” Larijani said.
McCain went on to secure the Republican nomination for 2008, but lost the election to Barack Obama.