10 September 2008

Lipstick Variations, or, Sandbox Politics

Welcome to “lippygate.”

What’s the difference between these two statements?

From The Chicago Tribune:

McCain criticized Democratic contenders for offering what he called costly universal health care proposals that require too much government regulation. While he said he had not studied Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's health-care plan, he said it was "eerily reminiscent" of the failed plan she offered as first lady in the early 1990s.

"I think they put some lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," he said of her proposal.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

“John McCain says he’s about change too, and so I guess his whole angle is, ‘Watch out, George Bush – except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy, and Karl Rove-style politics – we’re really gonna shake things up in Washington.”

“That’s not change, [. . .] That’s just calling something the same thing something different. You know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

Apparently, although the former was directed specifically at a woman’s proposal and the latter to a man’s general political appeal, the latter is sexist. You see, according to the McCain campaign, Obama wasn’t directing the remark at McCain’s “plan for change.” He was directing it at Sarah Palin. Despite Governor Palin's dismissal of sexism in politics this year(she referred to Hillary Clinton’s "running as victim" and “whining”), her team isn't afraid to cry foul. Ex-Massachussetts Governor Jane Swift, the head of Governor Palin’s “truth squad,” issued the following statement:

“Ultimately, I think the American people will realize that calling a very prominent female governor of one of our states a pig is not exactly what we want to see when we supposedly are going to have this great debate that is the politics of hope,” Swift said.
The McCain campaign is clearly hoping that people see Obama’s line as an allusion to Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention. I can see their point, But was it a "smear"? The “lipstick on a pig” phrase is one of those tiresome, empty phrases politicians refuse to release, and, honestly, it’s simply puzzling that one year ago, the phrase was McCai's cliché; this year, it’s Obama's sexist attack. Unsurprisingly, the Obama camp picked up on this immediately:

“Enough is enough,” said Obama campaign official Anita Dunn. “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.”

The desperation in how people are seeking and grasping at perceived attacks has just become silly now. Consider the complaints about Biden’s and McCain’s “sexist” jokes about their wives, or claims that the McCain’s “celebrity” ad was essentially “racist.” Both campaigns, and their more ardent, unthinking supporters, run the risk of appearing childish and petulant, and, as a result, turning the public off. Maybe this isn't such a good thing now that Dr. Ron Paul has sent out a general call for people to vote third party this year.

The last word goes to Huck: “It’s an old expression, and I’m going to have to cut Obama some slack on that one."

Trust Huck to add some common sense.

Added: To Swampland: thank you! In Mark Silva's view:

Everyone is playing with half a deck if they think the American voters are looking for a whining war of alleged offenses against the race of the Democratic nominee for president, the gender of the Republican nominee for vice president or the patriotism of either parties' candidates. The only card that plays out in a debate of one-liners like this is the Joker.

And PolitiFact gives the McCain/Palin campaign a full on "pants on fire" for this nonsense.

Aside: In case you've read reports that neglect to include Obama's followup to the "lipstick on a pig reference": when he mentioned her name and the audience began catcalling, he shushed them. He repeated the call to lay off of her family and her religion, and he expressed admiration for her accomplishments. Read this AP report for his comments.

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