The outcry in John McCain’s campaign over Barack Obama’s lipstick remark puts me in mind of the old Jamaican proverb:
When you throw stone in hog pen, the one you hear holler a him you lick!
The saying that Obama used goes like this:
You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.
Obama didn’t mention Sarah Palin in connection with the remark. And it’s an expression that has been used over and over in American politics for many years. McCain himself used it to describe Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan. (He meant that her primary campaign proposal was similar to the plan that failed when Bill Clinton was president.) According to the dictionary, the saying originated in the South and is often used to describe a used car. In that context, it means a dealer may make cosmetic changes to a car but it could still be a junker.
The McCain campaign is expressing outrage over Obama’s “sexist” use of the old expression. They’re demanding that Obama apologize to Palin because (they say) he is obviously referring to her. But as The New York Times points out, in the context in which the remark was used, it clearly refers to McCain’s policies and their conflict with his claim to be a change agent. There was no connection to Palin. Here’s what Obama said:
John McCain says he’s about change, too – except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics. That’s just calling the same thing something different. You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change; it’s still going to stink after eight years.
Clearly that’s not a reference to Palin. Yet her supporters are enraged, demanding that Obama apologize. OK let’s see how the apology would go: I am sorry, Governor Palin that you are offended by my remark about pigs. I didn’t expect you to identify with America’s porcine population? Nah! If Palin is hollering, it’s not because of what Obama said but because of her own image of herself. After all, it was she who told Republican convention delegates that she is a pit bull with lipstick, not Obama or any of his surrogates. And pit bulls with lipstick are still pit bulls, aren’t they? Actually, some people might prefer pigs to pit bulls; pigs are usually more friendly.