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Lipstick On Pigs, Politicial Rhetoric, And Overreactions

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The latest controversy in the 2008 Presidential Campaign erupted overnight in reaction to a comment that Barack Obama made yesterday at a rally in Lebanon, Virginia:

Amie Parnes reports from Lebanon, VA:

Obama poked fun of McCain and Palin’s new “change” mantra.

“You can put lipstick on a pig,” he said as the crowd cheered. “It’s still a pig.”

“You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It’s still gonna stink.”

“We’ve had enough of the same old thing.”

The crowd apparently took the “lipstick” line as a reference to Palin, who described the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull in a single word: “lipstick.”

Here’s the video:

So, did Barack Obama mean his remark to be an oblique insult of Sarah Palin ? That’s what the McCain campaign wants us to believe:

“Senator Obama uttered what I can only describe to be disgusting comments, comparing our vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, to a pig,” former Massachusetts governor Jane Swift declared in a conference call with reporters.

(…)

Swift, the newly designated chair of the “Palin Truth Squad,” demanded that Obama apologize. She said Obama must have been talking about Palin because she is the only one of the four candidates who wears lipstick, and she called the remark an obvious reference to Palin’s joke in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week that the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick.

To which the Obama campaign responded:

Enough is enough. The McCain campaign’s attack tonight is a pathetic attempt to play the gender card about the use of a common analogy – the same analogy that Senator McCain himself used about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care plan just last year. This phony lecture on gender sensitivity is the height of cynicism and lays bare the increasingly dishonorable campaign John McCain has chosen to run.

And, indeed, Obama has used what is in fact a commonly used idiom before in discussing the Bush Administration policy in Iraq, and John McCain used it last year when he talked about Hillary Clinton’s health care plan.

Not everyone on the right is picking up on the McCain Campaign’s joke-as-insult meme, though.

For example, Roger Kimball at Pajama’s Media says that the campaign is guilty of the same whining that Republicans often accuse Democrats of exhibiting:

I think it is bad form for Republicans to play this silly game. I do not know Sarah Palin. But from what I know of her, I would guess that if she even noticed Obama’s desperate little performance her first, and probably her last, reaction was to laugh. Certainly (I feel sure) she would countenance no whining. Because some jerk as much as called you a pig? Get a life. Still, I would advise Obama not to reprise it when she or her husband was actually in the room. Some loud mouth Harvard-educated twit bloviating to a bunch of losers on TV somewhere is one thing; actually insulting someone to her face is something else entirely. I’m not sure that’s the sort of thing Obama understands, but I bet he would be a quick learner.

In any event, I do hope that Republicans will pass over Obama’s crude remark with the silence it deserves. I don’t say forget about it. On the contrary. But I would hate to see Republicans descend to play the hurt feelings, you’re-so-insensitive game.

Jim Lindgren at The Volokh Conspiracy agrees:

The proper Republican response for a joke that misfires would be to make fun of Obama’s gaffe, but not to demand an apology. Palin is tough. An off-color joke may not be that big a deal – and even if it is, she should be tough enough to brush it off. The Republican narrative should be that Obama is losing his cool and that he is acting like a VP candidate by going after the other VP candidate — ie, they should be suggesting that Obama can’t take the heat.

An excellent point, considering that yesterday’s remarks appear to be yet another example of the hypothesis that Obama is making a mistaken by focusing so much on Sarah Palin.

But, we’re still left with the question of whether Obama was really referring to Sarah Palin when he made the remark.

On that note, even former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee seems to think that the McCain campaign is over-reacting on this one:

SEAN HANNITY: I want you — to get your reaction. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

MIKE HUCKABEE: It’s an old expression, and I’m going to have to cut Obama some slack on that one. I do not think he was referring to Sarah Palin; he didn’t reference her. If you take the two soundbites together, it may sound like it. But I’ve been a guy at the podium many times, and you say something that’s maybe a part of an old joke and then somebody ties it in. So, I’m going to have to cut him slack.

I never thought I’d say this, but Mike Huckabee is right. The McCain Campaign, along with it’s supporters in the blogosphere is overreacting to what was, at the most, an off-the-cuff and perhaps badly timed joke. If anything, what happened yesterday is yet another indication of the fact that Barack Obama is not a very good extemporaneous speaker — if he doesn’t have a teleprompter in front of him he tends to wander off on tangents and get himself in trouble. I don’t think he was calling Sarah Palin a pig, and even if he was, the McCain campaign is making a mistake by trying to turn this into the story of the week.

Oh, and one other thing, I agree with T-Steel at The Moderate Voice; this campaign has official jumped the shark.