Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama and the Brewers are in a September swoon

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.


Dad29 said...

O's in trouble. Even HRC won't follow him into Palin-bashing.

Anonymous said...

Shark and dad29--how exactly is Obama bashing Palin? And do NOT even try the lipstick/pig comment because that's stretching it a bit even for the both of you!

Anonymous said...

By forbidding any discussion of whether Obama's "lipstick/pig" reference was intended to evoke Palin's hugely-publicized "lipstick/bulldog" reference of less than a week ago, Anon 10:01 unintentionally supports the obvious point that Obama's comment was a direct slam on Palin.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Sorry, Rick, but you're no longer worth reading or engaging. I doubt you care, but you've lost my readership and most of the respect I had for you (there was a lot there, which is the only reason there's any left).

The "dangerous" and "messiah" talk was way out in right field, but it was, at least on some intellectual level, in the ballpark. There was at least something there worth discussing. But to say an entirely commonplace reference to lipstick is now off-limits simply because Palin talked about lipstick -- in the midst of comparing herself to a dog, actually -- and to say it's at all reasonable that this comment was a personal shot at Palin just isn't anywhere close to the ballpark.

Before I thought it was just some of your commenters who would take things off the deep end. This post demonstrates you're interested in actively leading them there.

I imagine you'll go back to some smart commentary in nine weeks, so maybe I'll be back then.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rick that the comment itself was not a big deal. Politics being what it is, no one should be surprised at how the McCain jumped on what was said.

The real point is that, from a strategic perspective, this was incredibly stupid. Obama was speaking to the supportive base, but the battle is on for the undecided middle. Why give this group a reason to look at what your competitor is offering? If you believe it takes more than a poor choice of words to scare off people, you do not understand how this middle grop thinks. And in that case, you are a blogger, a pundit, or just plain "uppity".

Anonymous said...

Seth protests too much.

Jimi5150 said...

Don't let the door . . .

Anyway, there are a number of different ways Obama could have made the point. A number of different ways to say the same thing.

He didn't.

No, I doubt he was calling Sarah a pig. But using the reference was either very calculated, so as to draw attention to himself, or not very smart.

T.F. said...

Seth is right.

Rick Esenberg said...


Maybe I will be smarter in nine weeks. We all care about the election and there will be times that our enthusiasm gets the better of us.

But may I suggest that you also may be after November 4 - or at least more willing to attend to what I or others with whom you disagree - are saying.

The point of my post was not to castigate Obama for calling Sarah Palin a "pig." I said I'd give him the benefit of the doubt on that. He was referring (inaccurately but that's a substantive point) to the McCain-Palin platform.

What I said - read it again - is that it was a mistake to use even this shopworn phrase in this context because it was almost certain to be perceived in the way that it has been. Any jury lawyer - or campaign consultant - will tell you that there are limitations on expression that may not be fair or even rational.

He walked into a buzz saw and he should have seen it coming just as Westmoreland should have known that you don't call a black man "uppity."

But even there, I noted that we all mispeak. Where I was headed - and what I find interesting - is that Palin has gotten Obama and his supporters off their game. They continue to go after her in ways that are almost calculated to backfire on them or, as here, step into punches. For whatever reason, she has them rattled.

3rd Way said...

I guess you guys are right. Obama should have known that McCain would resort to despicable tactics and go after whatever smear he can in a desperate plea to win over any undecided voters still left.

This sort of gutter politics is indefensible.

Anonymous said...

"Gutter politics"? You mean, like joking that divine providence guided devastating hurricanes to the Gulf Coast in early September?

Seth Zlotocha said...

The point of my post was not to castigate Obama for calling Sarah Palin a "pig."

Read my comment again; I didn't say that's what you did. What you did, though, was attempt to clear the way for others to cheer whole-heartedly for that castigation (hence my "leading them off the deep end" point).

It's true candidates need to be sensitive about what they say. But this wasn't one of those cases. McCain -- and this is McCain doing this, not a supporter or even a surrogate -- is using the existence of that sensitivity in some instances to manufacture an issue in this instance.

In other words, just because someone calls something sensitive doesn't make it so. There needs to be a logic to it to make it worthy of serious consideration or discussion. McCain, in this instance, isn't even in the ballpark of logical.

As a political commentator, you could've (and should've) either called out the McCain camp on manufacturing a bunk issue or -- as you appear to be doing on the completely inexcusable sex ed ad -- just left it alone. You did neither. Instead, you attempt to explain it away by claiming Obama should've known better than to use an entirely common reference, since he surely should've expected that McCain would twist it out of context.

Dare I say, Rick, that what you're doing here is trying to put lipstick on a pig.

If Obama did this to McCain, you'd be all over it, and you'd light up anyone who tried to defend Obama. Now, I didn't expect you to jump all over McCain for this, I actually figured you wouldn't touch it. But to try to actually point the finger at Obama as the person in this instance who's acting like an amateur not ready for the presidential spotlight is absurd.

Oh, but, yeah, "it's not a big deal," you say in an attempt to innoculate yourself from charges of defending the indefensible. Except that you said earlier that it was "an awful mistake" and immediately after your attempt at innoculation add that it's "another indication that Obama may not be ready for prime time."

I was very upfront with the lower level that the election took my commentary to back in '06. But I'd be interested to see anything that I wrote that equates to this level of obfuscation or double-talk in defense of Obama.

I look forward to chatting again after Nov. 4.

Anonymous said...


Of course the Dems accusation that "community organizer" is racist is OK.

krshorewood said...

Nice. Seth leaves and there are dogs nipping at his heels.

Anonymous said...

More like sharks. After all, there's blood in the water.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Of course the Dems accusation that "community organizer" is racist is OK.

1. The Obama campaign didn't make that charge, let alone put it in an advertisement.

2. I didn't try to defend that charge.

More like sharks. After all, there's blood in the water.


Anonymous said...

Answer this, DaddyOh, how do you rationalize supporting a Penetecostal, whose religious views are the polar opposite of the Holy Roman Church? She's the anti-Catholic! John Baptiste would roll over in his grave!

Been speaking in tongues lately, DaddyOh?

Dad29 said...

Anon...I'm not voting for a Pope.

And I'm not even voting for Palin.

It's a PRESIDENTIAL election, in case you forgot.

Rick Esenberg said...

Instead, you attempt to explain it away by claiming Obama should've known better than to use an entirely common reference, since he surely should've expected that McCain would twist it out of context.

Just to be clear, I do not think that he just happened to use the term. It is a common phrase but given the fact that Palin had famously referred to her lipstick a few days earlier and the use earlier that day of the term by a campaign representative, I think it more likely than not that the use was intentional. He wanted to use her language against her to jazz up the crowd and, where I give him the benefit of the doubt, is that he probably didn't give it any more thought than that. In fact, the more I think about it, the reference to the old fish that stinks - although it made things worse - may have been an improvised attempt to gloss over the faux pas that he just realized he had committed. God knows that I've done the same thing.

My point is that he should have avoided the term because we live in a world where people are sensitive to perceived gender and racial slights. He should have understood that he has some gender related issues and that, given the fevered and unsubstantiated sliming of her that has been going on, if not by him, then in his name, doing anything that might be mistaken as beating up on Sarah Palin should be avoided.
Should McCain have done it? Not in an ideal world (and I think they've already taken the thing down so I think someone overruled the decision made overnight) but I know that politics ain't beanbag and that sometimes you need to give as good as you get. Obama has not hesitated to play his own game of "gothcha" on attenuated allegations of racial slights and he should have understood that the gander will also do what the goose does.

But I did say that it's not a big deal and I have spent more time on it than I wanted to, so I'm putting the lipstick and the pig away.

Anonymous said...


Don't be so hard on Rick. I suspect his remarks were off the cuff.

Anonymous said...

Fine Seth.

Just take your toys and go play elsewhere.

Typical lib response when they don't want to hear what someone is saying.

Anonymous said...

You guys crack me up. Seth...really? You think there is the smallest chance BHO was not directly referring to the joke made by Palin with 'lipstick on a pig' or to McCain as he said 'old fish'? Really? That cliche has been there all this time while Obama's message is 'same old, same old' and he randomly used it now, right after Palin's speech. You really believe that wasn't a poke at the individuals? I feel like I am in an SNL skit...Really?

The only real point is 'who cares?' People are stupid enough to believe that McCain or many of his long time supporters are truly racists because of speaking gaffes or miscalculations or that BHO is bigoted against women because he feels (like EVERY other politician) that he has to attack his opponents who have happened to include women. If voters weren't that stupid, politics wouldn't be a gutterslurp fest, it would be about party or personal platforms. Anyone here who tries to use the argument that their guy is less worse at guttersniping is really only insulting their own party and candidiate. If slime didn't get votes, nobody would use that campaign approach.

No Seth, attempted subtlety and/or having others cast slime while claiming you are above such things is just another slime version. It may be smarter or work better for some candidates, but neither BHO nor McCain could legitimately claim a high ground in slimefest 2008.

Don't feel bad if it sounds like I am calling you a hypocrite. ATV, said it very well the other day on another blog. If you are partisan, you support hypocrisy and are yourself a hypocrite. Both sides of the political fence continually throw verbal offal at each other in an attempt to make it stick. If you believe that only the other side does it, it just makes you an ignorant hypocrite.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Typical lib response when they don't want to hear what someone is saying.

Please. This isn't about disagreeing with something. If it was about that, I really wouldn't have even started reading this blog in the first place, let alone engage in numerous discussions in the comments section dating back to when Rick started it almost two years ago (right about the same time I started up my blog).

This is about not feeling the points that are being made on this blog as of late are worthy of time or discussion. I think Rick is selling his intellect short with posts like this due to the upcoming election, which is an impulse -- as I explain in the link above to my blog -- that I understand but also don't think is reasonable to succumb to at the level demonstrated in this post.

You think there is the smallest chance BHO was not directly referring to the joke made by Palin with 'lipstick on a pig' or to McCain as he said 'old fish'?

Whether he was referring to the joke made by Palin about lipstick is debatable, but really not the issue. The issue is over the McCain campaign's absurd charge that Obama was calling Palin a pig, and, as a corollary perhaps most breathtakingly put by our very own Alberta Darling in a press conference yesterday, whether Sarah Palin now "owns" the word lipstick to the extent that any reference to it is necessarily a personal attack on her.

As for the rest of your comment, Tuerqas, whether slime goes both ways isn't the issue I'm raising here. The issue I'm raising here is Rick's choice on whether and how to comment on the very worst of that slime coming from his preferred candidate, and, as a result of that, the value of reading and engaging with him in valuable discussion, not as surrogates for a campaign (after all, let's not get carried away on the influence local blogs), but as a group of interested, informed, and intelligent citizens.