FIRST of all, Sen. Barack Obama wasn t referring, even indirectly, to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin when he used an age-old political aphorism containing the words lipstick and pig.
The phony fuss, still bouncing around the Internet echo chamber, is a staple of the GOP dirty tricks playbook: throw up a lot of, well, you know, about your opponent and see what sticks.
If Senator Obama is guilty of anything, it s being unoriginal. At a campaign rally in Virginia, he criticized Sen. John McCain s economic policies as simply more of what the Bush Administration has put out for the last eight years.
To drive home the point, Senator Obama said, according to news reports, You can put lipstick on a pig. It s still a pig.
You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It s still going to stink after eight years.
The comment was a takeoff on a decades-old political line generally attributed to Ann Richards, the late Texas governor, who, on many occasions, dismissed her opponents programs by saying, You can put lipstick and earrings on a pig and call her Monique, but she s still a pig.
Anxious to talk about anything other than substantive issues, the McCain campaign immediately took false offense, claiming that the comment was a sexist swipe at Ms. Palin, who declared during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention that the only difference between hockey moms like herself and pit bulls is lipstick.
In a matter of hours, false attacks on Senator Obama based on the remark were everywhere in the political blogosphere, including fund-raising pitches like this one from Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis: Lipstick on a pig?! That s how Barack Obama just this week described Governor Sarah Palin, our vice presidential nominee! What an outrage! I need you to click here now to make a secure online donation to the Michigan Republican Party so we can fight back against
Obama and the Democrats false and sexist attacks on Governor Palin.
The idea, of course, is to keep Senator Obama on the defensive, responding to bogus charges like those the GOP used against John Kerry in the 2004 election. To his credit, Senator Obama isn t holding back like Mr. Kerry did.
What their campaign has done this morning is the same game that has made people sick and tired of politics in this country, he said. They seize on an innocent remark, try to take it out of context, throw up an outrageous ad because they know that it s catnip for the news media.
Lost in the back-and-forth was the reality that the lipstick on a pig line has been employed by dozens of politicians, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and yes Senator McCain, who, according to the Chicago Tribune, used it last fall to denigrate Sen. Hillary Clinton s health-care plan. Was he calling her a pig?
Such tactics, which serve to distract voters from the really pressing issues, have become a fixture in political campaigns.
They should also serve to remind the public that if the Republicans were as skilled at governing as they are at sliming their opponents, the country might not be in such bad shape.