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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 10, 2008 @ 6:38 pm

    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

    • Padraig Houlahan says:

      FYI: Here’s the lead-up to the phrase:

      OBAMA: Let’s just list this for a second. John McCain says he’s about change, too, except — 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 some — the same thing — something different. But you know, you can — you know, you can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig.
      The most significant aspect is how this issue differentiates between those journalists willing to find the truth, and those who just want a sound-bite to gnaw on, no matter how contrived the story.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Gov. Palin is the one who took the cap off the lipstick, it’s down to her that the term is current.

    • Ned Reilly says:

      All one needs to do is see more of the video of Obama’s talk, instead of a short clip presented in a McCain ad, to realize that Obama was describing McCain’s new economic “policy” (or non-policy, since McCain previously said he knows little about economics!). “Lipstick on a pig” is a common term, one which McCain himself used directly against Hillary Clinton (and which also appears in network videos). Cheney also used it against Clinton. The short video clip the McCain campain is using is very misleading. Some Republicans are embarrassed about the campaign’s use of the “lipstick” tactic chiefly because it is obvious that it brings the campaign to new depths. Others see this as one more attempt at diverting attention away from McCain’s non-policies and Republican ties to the Bush administration. Nevertheless Obama should have been aware of the Palin-lipstick connection (and I don’t think the ‘making a silk purse from a sow’s ear’ analogy would have worked either), and that the McCain campaign has now taken to the low and dirty road and will use anything it can (although this McCain gambit will go nowhere and will be seen for what it is, at least by intelligent people).

    • Deaglán says:

      It’s pretty certain that Senator Obama didn’t intend any allusion to Governor Palin when he used the ‘lipstick’ phrase. But it does raise a serious question about his judgment and political sensitivity.

    • Ntab says:

      This is not about Obama’s judgement. It’s about McCain’s lack of scruples. He knew that comment wasn’t about Palin, and to pretend otherwise is wrong. Journalists need to report the real story and not be used as tools.

    • Deaglán says:

      Begging your pardon, the real story is that many women who supported Hillary Clinton were in two minds about switching to Obama. The latest poll data show that since Palin appeared on the scene, they are turning to the Republicans. Under such circumstances for Obama to link the words “lipstick” and “pig” in the same sentence, given the extreme prominence of Palin’s soundbite on lipstick and hockey moms, reflects very poor judgment indeed and can only serve to intensify the drift towards the other side in the election.

    • paul m says:

      Well, then ,let the pant-suit women switch!

      They seemed intent on doing it anyway and were just looking for an excuse (just look at some of the feigned responses to camera at the Democratic Convention over how they will be voting Obama). The blind rage that seems to have descended on Clinton’s followers and her lacklustre and less-than-total unequivocal support for Obama at the convention hasn’t helped them to see the forest for the trees.

      These are intelligent women who have become so besotted with their iconic nearly-leader that they’re willing to risk their (and Clinton’s lobbying for) family and healthcare policies being buried for another four years for the sake of gaining some level of petty revenge for the apparent affront to womanhood for not electing their chosen one. And it’s not even standing by and not casting a vote, it’s pro-active political suicide by voting for a Bush clone who just happens to have a VP who is a woman. How low can you go?

      Clinton needs to be brought out again and to make the speech she should have given, in order to bring her supporters back into the fold. It’s the only assured way the Democrats can reel them back in if Obama’s going to make lipstick gaffes, and Michelle Obama doesnt carry enough clout yet to supersede Hillary.

    • Seán C says:

      Sensitivity is an interesting way of putting it Deaglán. I would be more inclined to brand it susceptibility. For people who may not have seen it take a look at this video:


      This is what the Democrats are competing against. If the roles were reversed or Palin was a member of a different (and probably less-threatening) religious order she’d be run from the country. Contrast Obama’s keynote speech with both Republicans and the mantra he has often repeated throughout this campaign about rising above dirty politics. Look at how the Daily Show hilariously and pointedly decimated the Republicans’ message on small-town values.
      Obama is attempting to bring a message of unification. He is attempting to bring issues to the fore. With his tendency to produce late shows in the primaries I fully except him to be able to do this. He is up against a terrible candidate who seems to be trying to mimic a President with 34 per cent approval ratings on a daily basis and whose running mate may be a confident orator but is still largely an unknown quantity.
      If this cringeworthy ‘Palin Effect’ does actually come to fruition in November and hardened Clintonites choose to ignore what Hilary said in her convention speech then I will be both surprised and corrected. In the meantime let’s not give credence to the Republicans’ laughable attempts to create a glass ceiling.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, I agree that supporters of Sen. Clinton do appear to be tempted to switch, but, like I’ve said before, if they do so simply because Palin is female despite disagreeing with her platform, then they are as stupid if not more so than those who agree with Palin but might not vote for her because she is female. That is lazy gender politics right there. Whatever happened to voting for the best person for the job?

      I think someone in the Obama camp should do a 40-second YouTube ad showing Cheney and McCain making lipstick on a pig references to the views/policies of Sen. Clinton, and Palin’s own reference to lipstick, and then the full piece of Obama talking about policy, and ask the bald question, Who really was using gender here? Who was really being sexist?

    • Bernard says:

      “A message of unification!” Have you all gone mad? There is no unification in his message other than cheap words on a teleprompter. He has no time for real Americans as he chose to align himself with fringe elements like Rev. Wright, Alinsky, Frank Marshall Davis, Rezko and many more. But he was a ‘Community Organizer’ a nice career move that allowed him to buy a $1.65m house far away from the people he represented. In Illinois he voted for killing late-term aborted babies that survived outside the womb. As a Senator he has voted for every tax increase and against the highly successful Iraq surge. So this is not about Palin or McCain, it is making sure that someone potentially worse than Carter does not get to be President of the US. The only change this man will give the US is Socialism, check out his speeches on YouTube….it is all about ‘Redistribution’

    • RRB52 says:

      Deaglan: How could you possibly be so wrong on this issue? Granted I have the advantage of time, but it was clear to those who heard all of Obama’s remarks that the “lipstick” comment referred to McCain’s economic policies and not Palin.
      The previous post by Bernard reflects the lack of thought and savage partisanship which has become characteristic of American politics. I’m surprised that Bernard did not refer to Obama as the Anti-Christ.

    • Bernard says:

      RRB52: Since you really did not say anything in your post I think that you may be the one suffering from lack of thought. If anything in my ‘savage partisanship’ was incorrect I would be happy to publish a retraction and apology. Taking a chapter out of Karl Marx is not ‘Change’, it is the same old thing that has failed worldwide and provide nothing but poverty, suffering and an early death. America’s imperfect free market economy is in trouble if Obama is at the helm with a Democrat Congress and any supply-sider economist can fill in the blanks………lots of thought :-)

    • RRB52 says:

      Bernard: Long ago I resolved not to discuss political matters with “true believers” such as yourself. It is pointless.

      One thought, though: Obama was able to puchase a house for 1.65 million because he earned several million dollars
      in royalties as a result of writing two best-selling memoirs. You knew that, of course, but
      the facts would have interfered with your argument. I could go further, but what would be the point? You appear to be impervious to logic.

      Given the economic results obtained by the Bush administration, particularly in light of the sustained economic growth and balanced budgets of the Clinton administration, one would have to be a fool to consider voting for McCain who, economically, is simply Bush redux. Even before the economic meltdown of this week, supply-side economics was looked upon disfavorably by many economists, who are not unmindful of the increasing income inequality in the U.S.

      Further discussion involving so many interrelated issues would serve no useful purpose.

      I look forward to the day that Arthur Laffer wins the Nobel Prize for economics, but I won’t hold my breath – for good reason.

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