September 10, 2008

Princess Sarah: I come back from a lovely half-month in the Old World, only to find out that the usual suspects are playing the same game. When I first heard Governor Palin use the line about lipstick and pit bulls, my first reaction was to darkly note that "it was more like putting lipstick on a pig," but that it was a shame the Democrats couldn't use that line without seeming sexist. Little did I realize that Obama didn't have to, since the McCain camp would do the dirty work for them. I don't know if Barack Obama deliberately used that hoary cliche to rattle the McCain campaign (since he's used that line about a dozen times before McCain picked his running-mate, I would tend to doubt it), but McCain's reaction to the line seems so overblown as to enter a realm of imbecility not seen in Presidential elections since the Goldwater campaign complained about the once-aired Daisy Ad.

Think about the ways the McCain campaign has bulloxed this. First, they publicized an unfavorable image of the best thing it has going right now. I suspect one of the big reasons why Sarah Palin has struck a nerve among white voters is her attitude: tough, sassy, one-of-the-guys, a "pitbull with lipstick," to use her memorable phrase. By equating that phrase with the line, "lipstick on a pig," they have now created a counter-image that will float in the subconscious of every voter from now until Election Day, foe and supporter alike. They've taken a favorable metaphor about their candidate and turned it into an albatross.

The second thing they botched is much more in the tradition of the modern Republican Party, something that inevitably arises out of the fact that the GOP is the nation's white male party. Whenever the Republican Party tries to hype a non-white or non-male as a potential leader, it has attempted to create a narrative about how that person doesn't perceive him or herself as a "victim," unlike those pesky Democrats who are always trying to fight racism or sexism in whichever form it takes.

Their work in trying to portray Palin as a qualified candidate for the Presidency was always going to be difficult, but her cutting speech at last week's convention seemed to offer a way forward. Even the media seemed sold on the notion that she was a tough partisan who was unafraid to mix it up. By playing the sexism card, and creating the appearance that Palin is willing to dish out the sarcasm but has a case of the vapors when a joke is aimed at her, they've made her into a female version of Clarence Thomas, a bully who resorts to the same cliches of victimization that conservatives have long accused others of doing.

Lastly, in exchange for a couple of hours of media hype, the McCain camp has drawn the scorn of many of the same pundits who had placed on an Olympian pedastal in the past. They not only change the narrative about their Veep selection, but they also manage to erode McCain's support among his most loyal constituency, the Beltway Punditocracy. In the future, it will be more difficult to gin up "crocodile tears," as conservative Mark Halperin so aptly put it, at attacks from the Obama campaign because they went so overboard on this one.

But for now, I'm going to say that the first f***-up was the most important. You don't want to have potential voters look at a candidate's cosmetics during a debate and think of an animal that cavorts in its own excrement. And that's an image that's not Barack Obama's fault.