The First and Last Word On Lipstick

The First and Last Word On Lipstick

By Tom Bevan - September 11, 2008

I haven't commented on the "lipstick on a pig" brouhaha, and beyond this I don't plan on saying anything else about it since the subject has already been beaten into the ground in the space of 36 hours. But here's my two cents.....

I give Obama credit for being a smart guy and, after nineteen grueling months on the trail, also being well versed in choosing his words carefully and understanding their meaning - either real or implied. My sense is he knew what he was doing when he chose that particular phrase - and the reaction of the crowd indicated they knew what Obama was saying as well. That said, it stretches credulity to jump to the conclusion and/or the accusation that he was directly calling Sarah Palin a pig. Of course he wasn't.

Obama probably thought it was a clever play on words to take Palin's signature line and turn it on its head. Irrespective of what he might have been trying to do, however, the words he said are the words he said.

Did the McCain camp go over the top with its cries of indignant outrage? Sure. To say Obama "smeared" Palin is an obvious stretch. But that is what campaigns do - and Obama is the one who gave them the opportunity to do it. If nothing else, the episode was a stark reminder that for all his intelligence, eloquence, and self assuredness, Obama is still a rookie. It was a stupid mistake.

Aside from that, I'm a bit slack jawed by the response from Obama supporters in the media and elsewhere who've vented their own righteous indignation at the McCain campaign. How DARE McCain's team try and make this an issue? It's the GOP practicing its dastardly Rovian politics of division and diversion. And on and on.

Imagine for a moment if John McCain had used a similar shopworn phrase in reference to Barack Obama's policies. Suppose he said, "Obama says he's going to cut your taxes but he's really going to raise them. My friends, it's time for some straight talk about taxes, it's time to call a spade a spade."

Do you think for a second the Joe Kleins, Andrew Sullivans, and Josh Marshalls of the world wouldn't scream from the rooftops that McCain had used a racial slur against Obama? Of course they would - and they'd scoff at the notion that McCain was somehow unaware of how that phrase would be interpreted. Anyone who tried to argue that McCain was simply using a well known phrase that predated the current presidential race would be tagged as an apologist for racism. Even if McCain hadn't meant it that way, it wouldn't matter.

And you can bet if McCain made that sort of mistake he would immediately turn around and apologize publicly for using a phrase that could in any way have been construed as racist. Further, it's inconceivable that McCain would begin a speech the following day, as Obama did, by not only failing to issue an apology but instead blaming his opponent for ginning up a phony controversy.

So count me among those who are underwhelmed by the entire episode. Obama played cute and got caught. The McCain campaign did what any campaign would do - and probably a lot less than the Obama camp would have done if the shoe were on the other foot.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email:, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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