Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

09/10/2008 (1:36 pm)


Barack Obama apparently took a shot at Sarah Palin yesterday, using a homey expression for faux change: “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” The McCain campaign complained.

I wish they hadn’t. Yes, it’s pretty obvious that Obama’s making a sly reference to Palin’s joke about the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom, only in a manner that’s (implausibly) deniable. No, it’s not nice. But then, anybody who expected Barack Obama’s campaign to be nice has not been paying attention.

What Obama was doing was saying “Game on. You want to take shots at me? I’ll shoot back.” Yes, it’s nastier and more personal than anything Palin said about him, but the voters can see that. We’re not stupid. Nobody’s going to mistake it for anything but a tasteless, classless shot at a smart and funny lady. They should let him do it, and let him suffer the PR hit that he would inevitably suffer.

One thing’s good, though; at least he’s stopped pretending to be engaging in a “different kind of campaign.”

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September 10, 2008 @ 7:18 pm #

My preferred tactic would be to let it ride, then respond to in a few days it with some pretty biting humor, which I believe Sarah Palin is capable of doing.

Complaining will get you nowhere, but on the other hand, the Dems need to be called out. If it isn’t done, they will (as they always do), define the parameters for themselves. Letting them get away with nasty rhetoric, then when someone calls them on it, complaining that the R’s are using personal attacks, is something they have done for years – and gotten away with.

With the media firmly in their corner, pointed humor is the only way to fight back.

September 10, 2008 @ 9:35 pm #

Oh my GOSH Phil, you have to be kidding! I am voting for McCain, but even I could see no intended reference to Palin whatsoever in Obama’s remark – he was speaking of McCain!

This is pretty low, buddy.



September 11, 2008 @ 7:21 am #


You absolutely have got to be kidding. Mr. Arugula, using homey comments like “lipstick on a pig?” And it’s low of me to say “I wish they hadn’t complained about it” and “Let the public draw its own conclusions?”

No, if you don’t realize this was a cheap shot, you’ve got your head stuck up your ass. And quoting Andrew Sullivan as evidence of anything reasonable is proof positive; the man has absolutely lost his mind and become a nutroots staple this election cycle.

September 11, 2008 @ 8:08 am #

Let me double that comment now that I’ve read Sullivan’s piece. To call that article trash is to insult trash. He’s wrong on most of his facts — Palin was vetted, McCain was not desperate, given recent electoral politics, McCain’s campaign was not even in trouble, McCain’s choice of campaign strategy was masterful and highlights the real issue in the campaign (namely, that Obama cannot be taken seriously as a Presidential candidate). Worse, Sullivan’s interpretation of those facts is obviously and mindlessly partisan.

Come on, Jim: “McCain proved he was immoral and did not care about his country by backing Bush over Kerry?” You want me to take this as serious analysis? Really?????

September 11, 2008 @ 8:22 am #


The truth is, you’ve assumed the worst again about someone, when just a moment’s thought about that person would cast doubt as to whether he would EVER imply a woman was a pig.

When I first saw the tape of Obama’s “lipstick” argument, it seemed almost obvious that he realized the connection with Palin about two seconds after he said it (as did the crowd).

Your pretense to the high road is an overestimation. The McCain campaign (and you) could easily have said, “I don’t believe he was speaking of Sarah Palin.” But McCain has moved into ‘win at all costs’ mode – the biggest sign that he has lost the strong character he exhibited in 2000. Now, that does not mean Obama is not in the same mode, but what was it you were saying about Republicans vs. Democrats with the High Jumping cartoon?

The greatest proof of this? Showing that he couldn’t care less about his country by nominating a vice president who could snag women voters, but is clearly not prepared for Washington or the World. Smear Sullivan all you want, but his point remains.

September 11, 2008 @ 8:26 am #

On your second comment, McCain backed a man who, when it was time to serve his country, did what he could to avoid putting himself in danger.

Kerry chose to go, AND was in some pretty harrowing situations to boot. McCain’s speech at the convention last week would lead me to believe that his love of country would lead him to despise George W. Bush for that very reason.

But McCain did what was politically expedient for a future presidential campaign. At that time, I was a SOLID conservative, and I could see that as plain as my hand in front of my face.

September 11, 2008 @ 9:36 am #

The truth is, you’ve assumed the worst again about someone, when just a moment’s thought about that person would cast doubt as to whether he would EVER imply a woman was a pig.

I don’t doubt my assessment for a moment, and I’ve made no assumptions. I think the matter is obvious on the face of it. So does most of the country.

If you really think there’s no valid way that the comment could be associated with Palin’s “lipstick” joke, then explain to me why the audience clearly broke into applause, cheers, and laughter — much louder than at any surrounding moment — at the “lipstick on a pig” line. Obama was making the same point about McCain representing “more of the same” for about 50 seconds. The people were silent through most of it, chuckled a little (a few clapped) at “Rove-style politics,” but the whole crowd laughed and cheered specifically at “lipstick on a pig.” Apart from the reference to Palin, it’s just not that funny. They got it, even if you did not.

Here’s the link to YouTube
if you want to review it for yourself.

You’re making an ass of yourself, Jim. This one’s not even close.

September 11, 2008 @ 10:11 am #

On your second comment, McCain backed a man who, when it was time to serve his country, did what he could to avoid putting himself in danger.

Kerry chose to go, AND was in some pretty harrowing situations to boot. McCain’s speech at the convention last week would lead me to believe that his love of country would lead him to despise George W. Bush for that very reason.

Do you really want to go down this road, Jim? ‘Cause it’s a dead subject not really even worth our time. But here we go.

In the first place, the object under discussion is Andrew Sullivan’s mindless partisanship. It doesn’t matter to me how you rationalize your feelings, or Sullivan’s feelings, about George W. Bush — the statement “A vote for candidate X = love of country, a vote for candidate NOT X = hatred of country,” is mindless partisanship. It’s the very definition of partisanship. It says not only “I can see absolutely no redeeming quality in our opponent,” it says “I can see no reason that anybody could adopt even in error that would explain support for our opponent.” That’s a level of demonization that I’ve never fallen into in my entire life — at least, not since I became an adult and a Christian. That’s the level of partisanship Sullivan expressed in that article, without explanation. That’s the article you want me to take as reasonable analysis. You must be out of your ever-lovin’ mind.

Good grief, Jim — you don’t think it’s possible McCain saw Bush’s and Kerry’s service differently from you? You don’t think it’s possible he saw it the same as you, but genuinely thought Bush would be a better President and thus better for the country? You don’t think it’s possible that McCain judges fitness to serve by criteria different from Andrew Sullivan’s? You don’t think it’s possible McCain might see service to his party as service to his country? (Remember — Sullivan’s saying it’s not possible for McCain even in error to choose Bush over Kerry and still love his country.) Please tell me that you understand this to be partisanship to an absurd degree.

That’s the main point; don’t call “analysis” what is obviously mindless partisanship.

Beyond that, though, let’s get into the mindless, vicious, demonically inspired slander of George W. Bush that you, in what I’m coming to recognize as a thoroughly self-deceived conceit that you’re a “multi-dimensional thinker” on all issues, have swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

Climbing into the cockpit of a jet fighter of any design, in any era, for any reason, is an act of courage. It’s an inherently dangerous affair. People die in those things all the bloody time, often for errors in judgment made in a fraction of a second. One can imagine somebody with a narcissistic love of thrills doing such a thing as a self-serving thrill ride; one can imagine a conceited prig flying a jet because it seems more “noble” than other pursuits; one can say negative things about the sort of fellow who pulls political strings to obtain for himself the billet that gives him the opportunity to climb into the cockpit. What one cannot say about such a man, though, is that he has chosen to “avoid putting himself in danger.” To say such a thing is to show complete ignorance of the facts.

Furthermore, service in the Air National Guard entails 2 years’ full-time training, followed by 3 years’ roughly half-time service. After that full 2 years’ training, at which time he was given responsibility for a multi-million-dollar asset and the lives of his fellow airmen, Lt. Bush volunteered for in-theater service in Vietnam. The fact that he was turned down does not detract from his willingness to serve.

By contrast, both John Kerry and Dick Cheney joined naval reserve units, which were state-side at the time. The difference between their service choices was simply the luck of the draw: Kerry’s unit got called up, Cheney’s did not.

It’s relevant to note that once Kerry did have to go into combat operations, he brought a movie camera with him (something exceedingly rare in 1971, unlike today) to film himself in action. Clearly, he intended to milk his presence there for some purpose afterward. And then he apparently drew attention to minor scratches in order to get enough purple hearts to get sent home early.

Honestly, I think the carping over who’s served and who hasn’t, has gotten out of control. I use such things as a marker to assess the quality of inner motives, not as an absolute standard of any sort. There’s no necessary logic asserting that any man who volunteered to serve is, ipso facto, a better man than one who did not. However, if I had to rank the honor of their service, I’d say Bush served more honorably than Kerry, by a pretty good margin — more time served, just as much danger faced, clearly more willingness to serve and less self-preening. And I’d say Cheney served as honorably as Kerry, since the only reason one served in theater and the other did not was a lottery.

Now, you can agree or disagree with my analysis. If you’re smart, you’ll agree at least with this — the subject is worn-out, meaningless, and deserves no further attention. But what you cannot say is that claiming “A vote for Bush could only arise out of a lack of love for one’s country” could be anything but mindless partisanship. It is. There’s no defense for it. You can put lipstick on a pig, Jim, but it’s still a pig.

September 11, 2008 @ 10:51 am #

Yeah, we can leave the “service” question lie, I apologize for taking you down the road this far. I still believe it is a possible indicator of lack of principle in McCain, but hashing and rehashing is a mistake. It was bad judgment on my part.

More importantly, to the “lipstick” issue, you said:

“If you really think there’s no valid way that the comment could be associated with Palin’s “lipstick” joke,”

I said nothing of the kind – in fact, it has been pretty well associated with the joke by every conservative commentator and even a few liberal ones. And by the crowd.

I gave you my impression of the moment (obviously I had already seen the tape) – that it was a gaff by Obama, not an intentional tactic. If giving my impression means I have my “head up my ass”, okay.

I’ll return the favor by telling you that you are a very intelligent and informed political commentator who struggles with charitability – but I have high hopes.

September 11, 2008 @ 10:53 am #

The McCain campaign (and you) could easily have said, “I don’t believe he was speaking of Sarah Palin.” But McCain has moved into ‘win at all costs’ mode – the biggest sign that he has lost the strong character he exhibited in 2000.

A) If I had said that, I would have been lying. I DO believe he was speaking of Sarah Palin — explicitly and deliberately. I don’t think there’s any other plausible interpretation.

B) I’ve seen nothing from the McCain campaign — not a word, nor a syllable — that suggests they’re in “win at all costs” mode. If the McCain campaign were soliciting donors from overseas, if the McCain campaign had dispatched armies of internet hackers to jimmy web sites favorable to Obama, if McCain had launched lawsuits to prevent Obama from getting onto the ballot, if he’d dispatched armies of researchers to Chicago to dig up dirt on his opponent — then he’d be in “win at all costs” mode. I have not seen any of those behaviors from the McCain campaign.

What I’ve seen is a willingness to use humor with a bit of a bite. Yes, “those styrofoam columns get sent to some back lot somewhere” is snarky and a little nasty; no, it’s not even hardball politics, let alone “win at all costs.” Get real.

Oh, by the way — that list of things that I’d take as “win at all costs” tactics? Obama’s campaign has been accused of all of them, and the only one I doubt for a second is the first one. I know you said you agreed he was in that mode too, but the point is, there’s no comparison between the two campaigns.

You know how I feel about John McCain. I did not back him in the primaries, and I don’t think he’ll be a great President. I don’t even think he’s a particularly virtuous man (although I’ve come to think that people learn things about virtue while under torture that most of us can never even really approach). I’ve said so here on the blog, and will say so again. You also know how I feel about Sarah Palin. I think she’s hyper-competent, earnest, and effective, but somewhat light on experience for high office. I would have preferred that she wait until 2012 or 2016 before seeking higher office. I’ve said so here on the blog (in comments) and will say so again. But to suggest that their campaign is engaging in “win-at-all-costs politics” is light years from the truth. They’re not even close. Obama is. There’s no comparison.

September 11, 2008 @ 11:11 am #

I gave you my impression of the moment (obviously I had already seen the tape) – that it was a gaff by Obama, not an intentional tactic. If giving my impression means I have my “head up my ass”, okay.

Ok, I’ll give you credit for “gaffe.” Yes, that’s what you said. I still don’t think that’s possible, but we can retract your head from untoward regions without damage to your reputation — and I guess I’ll just have to live with whatever damage it did to mine.

I’ll tell you what would be interesting: somebody ought to do a Nexis search of Obama’s speeches for the word “lipstick” and see if he’s used it before.

I’m betting “lipstick on a pig” is something he’s never said before in his life. Take another look at the video. Notice the hand to the forehead while he delivers the line — he knew he was taking a chance, that’s a defensive gesture. Notice the long pause just before the line — he was delivering an unfamiliar but recently memorized line, and he was gathering himself to get it right.

September 11, 2008 @ 12:40 pm #

Right or wrong, to get upset about this is to, once again, attempt to make this election a personality contest instead of about the issues and where the majority of Americans stand on them.

Phil, eight years ago, we went back and forth about the personalities of Bush versus Gore. Back then, the country was in significantly better shape, and the voters became complacent about how important it is to have a President that knows the issues and what the American people want their President to do about those issues. And look where we are now.

Obama’s best line is ‘They must think you’re stupid.’ It really sums up McCain’s campaign strategy – ‘issues are irrelevant.’ Palin is being sequestered because they don’t want people to know too much about her on the issues.

There are a LOT of similarities in her rise in popularity with Obama’s. She’s a fresh face that speaks well, with very little experience and no one knows her apart from the hardcore wing of her party. Obama rode the same horse, but he had the added benefit of the ultra-liberals getting out the vote in the caucuses for him, creating a lightning-fast lead that the slow-footed Clinton team couldn’t overcome. It was only ONE MONTH between when Obama won the Iowa caucuses and Super Tuesday, when he won enough to make an insurmountable lead. By the 60-day mark, Obama’s star was tarnished, and he was steadily losing ground.

By a coincidence, ’60 days’ is the amount of time between Palin’s introduction and Election Day, and there’s no voting happening between now and then, unlike Obama. We’ll see if the public tires of her the same way they did with Obama.

September 11, 2008 @ 1:29 pm #


The similarity between the rise of Obama and the positive reaction to Sarah Palin is real, and worth noting. To be honest, as much as I like Ms. Palin, the response frightens me some — she’s got great conservative bona fides, seems like a fine human being, but does not have enough experience to be taken seriously as President (then again, she is not running for President.)

If I were a Democrat, I’d be saying the same about Obama. I imagine that Obama’s policy preferences are as appealing to you as Palin’s are to me, but there’s no way in hell he’s ready to be President. And he is running for President.

The problem seems to be a sort of “rock star” mentality, where the voters are more impressed by symbolism than by substance. I noticed this about the D’s almost a year ago, when they were literally describing their choices as “rock stars.” I’m concerned and a little disturbed that there seems to be a lot of the same mentality over here on the right.

But I’m through being fair and balanced for the moment. 🙂 The stuff about “issues” is the Democrats’ way of saying “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain — and listen to our SOUND BITES.” Obama’s personal qualification for the office is very much a valid issue, and McCain needs to hammer it 24/7 for the next 2 months. Obama’s radical credentials are also a valid issue, for which reason the Ayers/Wright/Khalidi/[name your favorite radical here] connections need to be hammered home as well. And finally, Obama’s Chicago machine political credentials are a valid issue, for which reason the emptiness of the Hope/Change message and the Rezko/Axelrod connections need to be hammered. The personal character of the President is of valid concern to voters; in fact, nothing comes close to it in importance, especially when one or both of the candidates is lying through his or her teeth about their policies in order to sound more centrist than they really are.

September 11, 2008 @ 3:24 pm #

I’m sure you’d be stunned to hear that I was supporting Hillary, so I get double my helping of dismay between Obama’s and Palin’s star turns 🙂

I think it goes without saying that I’d be ecstatic if this becomes an election about issues and the plans for our future. In 2000, the GOP made certain that Bush talked little about the issues, and made the election about Gore and his ‘inventing the internet’ nonsense. In 2004, it was Kerry and Swift-boating. And, again, this country is EXACTLY WHERE IT SHOULD BE when the electorate chooses a President on anything but the plans the candidate has laid out.

Where are McCain’s plans for the economy, other than reducing earmarks (which make up a measly total of 4% of the budget)? Oh, that’s right, because he admitted that he doesn’t know much about the economy, we should trust him to fix it? Yikes.

If Obama stays on message – that economic issues matter, including creating new opportunities to create renewable energy jobs and figuring out ways to improve our lousy health care system – then eventually McCain will have to prove that he DOES have a plan for the future that isn’t ‘McSame.’

September 11, 2008 @ 4:04 pm #

Riddle me this, Zanzibar, and I’m completely serious:

Since Obama has shuffled so many of his positions to the center so obviously and so recently, how can you be sure you know what he’s going to do in any of those areas? And if you’re not sure, what possible value would a discussion of policy options have?

My own answer to this is to expect him to actually take the furthest left position on every topic, regardless of what he said during the campaign. My reasoning is that he actually represents the Marxist wing of American politics if you study his background, and he shows no remorse about going back on his words (which, if I recall, is actually a tactic endorsed by Marxist/Leninists).

What say you?

You have my sympathy over the Hillary thing, although I feel pretty confident you’ll get your chance again in 2012. Seriously — I detest Hillary Clinton as a human being, but it seems as though all the respectable adults in the D party supported her.

(It just occurred to me to note that a “measly 4%” of a trillion-dollar budget is $40 billion. That’s no small savings.)

September 11, 2008 @ 4:46 pm #

I seriously doubt that we’re going to see a Marxist swing with Obama. The same things were said about Clinton, and he took on his own party enough to warrant respect from both sides because he was able to forge compromises. ‘Marxist’, eh? The FUD being spread (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) about Obama is breathtaking.

I think Obama isn’t hiding some agenda. He won the primaries by promising to end the war in Iraq, work on making Health Care affordable, and restructuring the tax code to give more tax breaks for working families while restoring Clinton-era tax rates for the top earners. And, in a new policy which I’m VERY interested in, it’s investing in renewable energy as a way to create jobs and secure our future – imagine companies selling our solar technologies to other developing countries.

I think he’ll work to pursue exactly what he is elected to do, as Clinton was. I’m not sure where you get ‘Marxism’ from that.

Obama may very well swing more towards the left than the middle, but you have to forgive the American public if they’d rather let somebody else take the reigns to put the country in an entirely different direction.

September 11, 2008 @ 5:41 pm #

Oh, and Chris Matthews has a helluva point:

Think about how people twenty years from now might look back at this 2008 election. The energy crunch has grown to cripple the economy. We’re moving product on old railroads and gas-guzzling trucks. The air is clogged with pollution again from fossil fuels because it’s all we have.

India, China, Russia, Brazil are grabbing and outbidding us for resources; our failed education system has cost us our innovative edge. We can’t compete. We’ve fallen back to a second-rate power.

And the young people twenty years from now, and the older folks who can remember it will look back at this fateful election of 2008 that set the course for the century and see videotapes of us arguing about lipstick.


September 11, 2008 @ 6:34 pm #


Glad you figured out blockquotes.

Regarding Chris Matthews:

Apparently Mr. Matthews does not believe civility is an important characteristic of our culture, and believes it is too trivial to discuss in an election year.

I think Chris Matthews is such f***ing blowhard idiot, I think I’ll drive to Philadelphia, accost him, and beat his f***ing head in with a baseball bat.

Wonder how important he thinks civility is now?

Obviously, I’m not going to do that, but the point is, if Matthews thinks civility is not an important topic, he has his head so far up his ass that he can see his breastbone from the inside. Civility is orders of magnitude more important than any of the topics he mentioned, as none of those topics make the slightest difference if we cannot behave in a civilized manner toward each other.

The short version on this, Ray, is that the Left and the Right in America have vastly different definitions of what constitutes an important issue.

I’ll address the Marxism question tomorrow.

September 11, 2008 @ 9:36 pm #

Dear God, just saw Palin speaking to Charlie Gibson, and read the transcripts.

I know more about foreign policy than Palin does.

My 13-year-old nephew knows more about foreign policy than Palin does.

I hope to God that this interview is shown far and wide. The Palin euphoria should come to an end very, VERY soon.

September 12, 2008 @ 6:40 am #


You might want to factor in your own biases and expectations. The rest of the nation is not going to view that interview the way you did just now, nor should they.

September 16, 2008 @ 1:45 pm #

The Lipstick argument tends to boil down to one of the following:
A) Obama knew exactly what he was doing, and this was a hardball swipe at Palin (My personal opinion)
B) Obama made the comment in a light-hearted swipe at Palin (and Hillary, and every other woman of voting age in the US)
C) Obama had no idea this could be taken as a swipe at Palin. It was an innocent remark grossly taken out of context by Radical Right-Wing Loons. (As hard as it is to believe an Obama supporter could come out with the “My candidate is too stupid to make this kind of remark intentionally, it must have been a mistake”, I have heard the arguement used)
D) Obama was taking a swipe at McCain. (with lipstick. No, it makes no sense to me either, but most of these people tend to believe in UFO’s, CFR, and other TLA’s)

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