COMMENTS: Lipstick

Arguing against Republican Presidential candidate John McCain's claim that his candidacy represents a change from the current GOP administration, his Democratic opponent Barack Obama insisted: "That is just calling the same thing something different. But you know, you cannot. You know, you can put lipstick on a pig--it is still a pig!" Lipstick! At the Republican Convention last week, McCain's running mate Sarah Palin jokingly described herself, a "hockey mom," as a pitbull with "lipstick." McCain approved an Internet video ad that castigated Obama for calling Palin a pig. Thus lipstick--Lipstick!--led all three network newscasts and was Story of the Day.

Obama denounced McCain for running the ad--"spare me the phony outrage"--and the political press for publicizing it: "It is catnip for the news media," he asserted, introducing a third member of the animal kingdom. Yet Obama kept the lipstick line in the headlines by appearing on David Letterman's Late Show. CBS' Dean Reynolds offered a clip as a promo of his own network's talkshow fare. Even if he had he meant to refer to Palin, Obama explained, the Republicans misconstrued his metaphor: "She would be the lipstick, you see. The failed policies of John McCain would be the pig."

So why would McCain run such a trivial ad? ABC's Ron Claiborne pointed to "this current age of 24-hour news and Internet blogging" in which any careless comment, slip of the tongue or ambiguous remark can be seized on to set the tone for a day's news cycle and put opponents on the defensive. NBC political director Chuck Todd had a more partisan explanation: "The fundamentals of this campaign as far as the issues are concerned are going against the Republicans so they need to create these distractions."


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