Did Barack Obama mean to refer to Sarah Palin as a "pig" and John McCain as an "old fish?" At the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren argues that he intended to poke fun at them in a way that would entertain those supporters who are inclined to think of Palin and McCain in this way.
I'm willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, but the fact is that it was an awful mistake. Using the word "lipstick" after Palin's widely remarked upon "hockey mom" joke was almost certain to cause people to think that the "pig" on which it was to be applied is Governor Palin. The whole thing is reinforced by the decision to use a second metaphor referring to something that is "old." Again, this is going to be heard by many people as a reference to John McCain, no matter how it was intended.
A candidate who is seen by some voters as condescending and who has had some problems with women should not make this kind of mistake, just as Republican representative Lynn Westmoreland should not have referred to Obama as "uppity." Coming from, in particular, a southern congressman, this is going to be seen as a racially tinged comment without regard to his intent.
The other thing it does is undercut the argument that Palin is nasty, although I don't think that was going anywhere.
All in all, it's not a big deal. It's another indication that Obama may not be ready for prime time. It allows the McCain people to do this:
But, then again, we all misspeak. The real question is how often it happens and how it relates to a candidate's image.
More importantly, on a tactical level, why is Obama falling for the GOP's rope-a-dope strategy? Why are they going ballistic over the veep nominee? It's unbecoming for Obama to be so focused on the GOP number two.
Beyond that, it plays into the Obama as elitist narrative. It threatens to create a gender problem (or to neutralize a gender advantage) in a way that didn't have to happen. The nature of the attacks on Palin - an indiscriminate barrage of charges (she banned books, she had an affair, she lies, she's corrupt, her baby is really her grandson, she's a Christian Dominionist)that fall apart on examination - undercuts the credibility of more legitimate criticisms of her.
And all the while, McCain remains above the fray.