Paul Greenberg

The latest overblown irrelevance in a presidential campaign full of them was the oh-so-big flap over Barack Obama's not very original comment about pigs and lipstick. ("You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig.") The McCain-Palin campaign - or is it the Palin-McCain campaign by now? - immediately took vast umbrage at his remark, accusing Sen. Obama of, natch, sexism. Even if he was only taking a jab at the opposition's policies, not its vice-presidential candidate.

But forget context; this is a presidential campaign in literal-minded, post-literate, politics-all-the-time America. Every opening, however small or false, will be exploited. Look at what Barack Obama himself had done when his opponent spoke of being willing to station American troops indefinitely in a post-war Iraq to maintain the peace, just as GIs are still in Germany and on the Korean peninsula a half-century after a war. Sen. Obama claimed John McCain was advocating a hundred years' war. Call it politics, and obfuscation, as usual.

The first casualty of an American presidential campaign is context, and Barack Obama had delivered his platitude about lipstick on a pig, unfortunately for him, on the (high) heels of Governor Palin's witticism as she accepted her party's nomination: "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick."

A former broadcaster, like Ronald Reagan, the lady definitely knows how to deliver a line, as she's been demonstrating with some zest for the past few weeks, much to Republicans' delight and Democrats' chagrin. Given that context, a jaded cliche could be twisted to look like an ungentlemanly attack on a lady who's become an idol of the crowds.


Context can be all in these matters. As Republican operatives well understood. So they took, or at least pretended to take, Sen. Obama's applause line as some kind of male-chauvinist affront. Never mind that Barack Obama, that model of political correctness, not to mention political savvy, wasn't attacking Sarah Palin's womanhood. Certainly not intentionally. Never mind the raucous cheers and applause at his campaign rally when he trotted out this old line. A candidate can scarcely be held responsible for the tastelessness of his supporters.

The worst that can be said of Sen. Obama is that he didn't realize how his old saying might be interpreted in the midst of this new Palin-dominated campaign. A figure of speech that was perfectly acceptable a couple of weeks ago, indeed hackneyed, had suddenly become a political boomerang.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.