Obama shoots himself in the foot
Deaglán de Bréadún
Does Barack Obama have what the playwright Sean O’Casey called ”a titther of sense”? Having initially shown sensitivity and gentlemanly instincts by holding back when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin came under vicious personal attack by some of his supporters, the Illinois Senator has now shot himself in the foot with his “lipstick on a pig” remark.
The Senator is not stupid – in fact he is famously intelligent and well-educated – and would be well aware of Gov Palin’s remark in her speech at the Republican convention that the difference between a pit-bull and a hockey-mom was “lipstick”.
Now Mr Obama has told an audience, in front of the television cameras, that ”You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.” Naturally the Republicans have chosen to interpret this as a gross insult to Gov Palin.
Obama’s people are protesting that it is a well-worn phrase which was even used by Senator McCain in relation to Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan last year. It is of course implausible that such a cultured and sophisticated person as Obama would compare any human being to a pig, but the sheer insensitivity and tactlessness revealed in his comment are staggering.
This is not the first time he has talked his way into trouble. Last April he left himself open to the charge of elitism by describing Pennsylvania’s small-town voters as “bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them”.
In truth he was making a thoughtful analytical point about the psychological effect of industrial decline, but the Clinton camp seized on it gleefully and used the quotation for their own ends. Obama went on to lose the Pennsylvania primary to his Democratic opponent by a thumping ten per cent.
Again, whatever the Republicans say, it is highly-questionable that Senator Obama meant to equate their VP candidate with a member of the porcine species. But his comment displays a naivete and lack of feeling for how the public mind works that augur badly for his campaign. Many Irish people badly want this charming, JFK-like figure to win the White House but he needs to learn that careless talk costs votes.
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times and author of The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, recently published in a second edition by Collins Press, Cork www.collinspress.ie