ABC News quotes Senator Obama during a recent public appearance:
"You know, you can put lipstick on a pig," Obama said, "but it's still a pig."
The crowd rose and applauded, some of them no doubt thinking that he was alluding to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's ad lib during her vice presidential nomination acceptance speech last week, "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick."
"You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called 'change,'" Obama continued, "it's still gonna stink after eight years.
"We’ve had enough of the same old thing! It’s time to bring about real change to Washington. And that’s the choice you’ve got in this election."
A partial video clip of the comment is also available for those who might wish to watch; the full thing may be out there somewhere, but I haven't found it; nor have I looked very hard, because the words which caught the public eye are in the text quoted above and in the short video. Those are the words which matter. True, Senator Obama may not have had reference to Governor Palin's lipstick comment during her speech at the Republican Convention, and has claimed that he had no such reference in mind. Only he knows for sure. The crowd who attended his speech seemed to think the pig reference was to Governor Palin. So did I when I read it. According to an article in The Boston Herald:
Democrats shot the lipstick line at Gov. Palin on their official Web site last week with a posting entitled "McCain’s Selection of Palin is Lipstick on a Pig" – accompanied by what I’m sure was intended to be a flattering photo of the Alaska outdoorswoman.
And – coincidence or something more? – the same day Obama made his crack, a Democratic congressman introducing Joe Biden said of Sarah Palin, "There’s no way you can dress up her record, even with a lot of lipstick."
Unless Senator Obama missed Governor Palin's convention speech, or had a substantial memory lapse, his explanation seems dubious. Besides, not all pigs are bad and ugly — remember the movie Babe, about a very cute, sweet pig? It is possible that some pigs can even fly; it seems equally likely that some comments can "fly" and Senator Obama's pig reference may be one of them.
Senator Obama and Senator Biden have slipped rather dramatically in the polls recently, so some exasperation is to be expected. Key Democratic operatives appear to be quite worried. According to Politico, the polls are
stirring angst and second-guessing among some of the Democratic Party’s most experienced operatives, who worry that Obama squandered opportunities over the summer and may still be underestimating his challenges this fall.
"It’s more than an increased anxiety," said Doug Schoen, who worked as one of Bill Clinton’s lead pollsters during his 1996 reelection and has worked for both Democrats and independents in recent years. "It’s a palpable frustration. Deep-seated unease in the sense that the message has gotten away from them."
Senator Biden, in an uncharacteristic show of modesty, has suggested that Senator Clinton may have been a better Vice Presidential choice. Perhaps he is concerned that Senator Clinton has declined to be Senator Obama's "attack dog" in going after Governor Palin. Perhaps he, like Senator Obama, has concluded that the McCain/Palin ticket bounce is a bit more dramatic than a normal post convention bounce. Last Saturday, a Fox News Channel special on Governor Palin, An American Woman, was the highest-rated prime-time documentary in the network's history, with 2.7 million viewers. ABC News is putting together a big prime time special on Governor Palin, to air on 20/20, with segments included in other ABC programming. The McCain/Palin ticket now has a respectable lead among independents.
The surge in political independents who favor McCain for president marks the first time since Gallup began tracking voters' general-election preferences in March that a majority of independents have sided with either of the two major-party candidates. Prior to now, McCain had received no better than 48% of the independent vote and Obama no better than 46%, making the race for the political middle highly competitive.
Now, the McCain/Palin ticket leads 52 percent to 37 percent. Among White women, the McCain/Palin ticket has also shown a remarkable change and is on top.
In the Washington Post-ABC News survey released Monday, McCain enjoyed a 20-percentage-point turnaround against Obama among white women, going from an 8-point deficit before the Republican National Convention to a 12-point advantage after it.
The McCain campaign is pulling in lots of money, and the Obama campaign is faltering*. The war in Iraq seems, at least for now, to have been eclipsed and crude oil is on the way back down, to about $100 per barrel.
Despite these setbacks, the most recent evidence of Senator Obama's exasperation seems to be more than a little over the top; I do agree with Senator Obama's last sentence quoted above about the need for real change, but
have begun to question seriously whether the sort of "change" envisioned by Senator Obama is to my liking. My questions arise for the simple reason that I still do not know what "changes" he envisions; I doubt that he has more than a warm and fuzzy idea himself.
Change can be a good thing, or a bad thing. Senator Obama's change rhetoric still seems rather amorphous and the real agent of "change" seems to be, not particularly Senator McCain, Senator Obama, or Senator Biden but Governor Palin. Her impetus for change seems to be palpable and real and I (along with quite a few others, it now appears) like it. Peggy Noonan, one of the saner politial pundits, seems to think so as well.
Her flaws accentuated her virtues. Now and then this happens in politics, but it's rare. An example: The very averageness of her voice, the not-wonderfulness of it, highlighted her normality: most people don't have great voices. That normality in turn highlighted the courage she showed in being there, on that stage for the first time in her life and under trying circumstances. Her averageness accentuated her specialness. Her commonality highlighted her uniqueness.
She seemed wholly different from, and in fact seemed a refutation to, all the men of Washington at their great desks who make rules others have to live by but they don't have to live by themselves, who mandate work rules from which they exempt Congress, for instance. They don't live by the rules they espouse. She has lived her expressed values. She said yes to a Down Syndrome child. This too is powerful.
What she did in terms of the campaign itself was important. No one has ever really laid a glove on Obama before, not in this campaign and maybe not in his life. But Palin really damaged him. She took him square on, fearlessly, by which I mean in part that she showed no awkwardness connected to race, or racial history. A small town mayor is kind of like a community organizer only you have actual responsibilities. He wrote two memoirs but never authored a major bill. They've hauled the Styrofoam pillars back to the Hollywood lot.
Senator McCain is basking in the reflected glory of Governor Palin, and is attracting unusually large crowds and support. He seems to be relishing it, and has asked her to appear with him for longer than he had earlier. Senator Obama is said to have arranged a meeting with former President Clinton to try to figure out what to do. What advice will former President Clinton give? I haven't the foggiest idea. Perhaps his advice on electrifying his campaign will be to stand barefoot in a puddle of water and grab hold of a live wire.
Whatever former President Clinton's advice may be, I would suggest that he be very, very cautious in considering it. The general perception is that they don't like each other very much and that former President Clinton may, just may, have a not very well hidden addenda which does not include the election of Senator Obama as President Obama. On the other hand, perhaps former President Clinton will have some helpful advice, because if the McCain ticket actually wins this year, and Governor Palin becomes the incumbent President for the 2012 election, Senator Clinton may not have even a ghost of a chance of ever becoming President.
We live in interesting times.
"What, me worry?" That does not seem to be Senator Obama's position, and it shows. Should he worry? Of course he should. But to be perceived (regardless of what his intentions may have been) as calling Governor Palin — who is rather more popular at this point than he seems to be — a pig with lipstick is not very presidential and damages him, rather badly. Indeed, to go on the attack against a mere candidate for the Vice President ill becomes him, as a candidate for the Presidency. If Senator Obama is unwilling or unable to control himself, he may well be in big trouble. He can't credibly blame his staff, or anyone else. The Buck Stops with him, since he wants to be the President.
*Worthy at most of a footnote, Senator Obama has a lead in Russia, where Obama would receive 27 percent support and McCain 6 percent, VTsIOM found, in the September 6-7 poll. Putin got 33 percent backing against 14 percent for Medvedev.