Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick on a pig

Former back-bencher in the Illinois legislature Barack Obama, campaigning yesterday in Lebanon, VA:

Let's just list this for a second. 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 going to shake things up in Washington. That's not change - that's just calling the same thing something different. But you know, you can put lipstick on a pig - it's still a pig.

Naturally, the uproar started almost immediately. And I suppose it must be addressed. So...

Obama called Palin a pig!

No, he didn't. He didn't even imply it. He used a cliche which allowed others to infer it.

Well, he meant for people to infer it that way.

Well, maybe he did. But maybe he didn't - there are two possible scenarios here. (Unfortunately for the Anointed one, neither reflects well on him.)

Scenario 1: He intentionally invoked Palin's "lipstick" comment from her acceptance speech. He did it to entertain and amuse his base by allowing them to hear him call Palin a pig while maintaining a position of plausible deniability. (As near as I can tell, most people do not consider the deniability to be plausible.) In which case he comes across as an immature boor, someone who cannot resist the urge to stoop to name-calling.

Scenario 2: He used a hoary cliche that he's used before and made no mental connection between it and the Republican Vice Presidential candidate. He was just speaking without a teleprompter and it slipped out. In which case, he's an idiot, once again saying something stupid the moment he goes off-script. Even if it's a phrase that he likes and uses, he should certainly be sensitized to the connection to the word "lipstick" at this point.

Most people, as I say, seem to be assuming scenario 1. Frankly, I've seen nothing whatsoever that leads me to believe that this guy is capable of going off-script and maintaining coherence, so I don't have a problem buying scenario 2.

So I'm willing to buy either of them, and await the Obama campaign's official position - is he an ill-mannered boor or a guy who can't walk and chew gum at the same time?

You're saying that he didn't mean to call her a pig?

Nope. I'm saying that I don't care what he "meant" to say. What he actually said, the actual words that he used and the actual context in which he used them, fall well within the bounds of acceptable political discourse. We know that the words are words he has used before in a context that could not possibly have implied that Sarah Palin, or any other woman, is a pig.

Well, it was certainly a sexist comment, and he should be roundly criticized on those grounds.

No. It is not a sexist comment. It's rude if intentional and stupid if not, but it's not sexist. He used a time-worn cliche. If McCain had chosen Mitt Romney as his VP and Obama has used that same cliche, no one would have noticed. The fact that he chose Palin does not make it a sexist comment, any more than the use of "niggardly" or "eeny meeny miny mo" or "pot calling the kettle black" is racist. For any of us to whine about it is buying into the left's political correctness and I'm not willing to do that. There's nothing wrong with his statement (other than, you know, being factually incorrect.) As campaigning goes, it's perfectly legitimate, and any complaints come across as whining, pure and simple. I refuse to cede to the grievance mongers and identify politics pimps that level of control of the language.

Again, I'm not going to debate whether he was thinking about her when he said it. He may well have been (though I think he's got a strong tendency to speak in familiar cliches when forced to speak extemporaneously). I'm arguing that it doesn't matter. There is nothing inherently offensive about the phrase, the context was appropriate, and since I abhor the left's insistence on flogging thought-crime, I don't want to see it from the right, either.

If John McCain had said it after Hillary Clinton had made a lipstick comment, the left and the media would go nuts.

Yes. So what? I hold the Republicans to a higher standard.

Even so, this is a gaffe, right? Shouldn't they hammer away at it?

If the Republicans make a big deal about this, they'll be mocked by many, including me. That's an old, old expression, and there's nothing wrong with Obama using it. He didn't call her a pig, and I'm going to be ticked off if there's a victimhood/sexism argument made. There is nothing at all wrong with him using that phrase. She's a big girl, and she can take care of herself. The fact that she used the lipstick joke doesn't mean that a common and effective cliche can no longer be legitimately used. Whining is unattractive, and I'm going to be very unhappy if I see any of it from the ticket. They've certainly dished it out - joyfully and energetically - and they can suck it up and take it.

And let's consider one more take on it. Let's say that a) Obama called Palin a pig and b) everyone knows it. How does it benefit the Republicans to whine about it? Take the high road. If everyone perceives him as calling her a pig, it'll hurt him much, much more than her. There's absolutely no political benefit for him (other than briefly amusing the furthest reaches of his base, the people who are going to show up and vote no matter what he says). Really, the Republicans should be quiet and pray that he calls her a pig again tomorrow and the next day.

So what do you think of this ad?

I don't like it. It offends me. There's a certain amount of pleasure at seeing the left "hoist with [its] own petard" but it offends me to have the Republicans invoking Katie Couric to call "sexism" here. And I'm concerned that they're overplaying their hand. Leave the whining and name-calling to the Democrats. Ignoring the comment, or acknowledging it humorously, taking the high road, does not have any potential downside. This approach does.

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