UPDATE: I’ve gotten not a few emails this morning pointing out that news agencies and journalists explicitly reported that Obama “referred to Palin’s remarks about lipstick” not that he “called Palin a pig.” The implication would be that news agencies – and now Factcheck – are fully justified in accusing McCain of flat out lying.
Maybe. Maybe the crowd shot up in laughter and applause because it was filled with really appreciative connoisseurs of clever tropes, droll satire, and improvised ripostes. It’s not totally beyond the realm of possibility – undoubtedly part of Obama’s appeal is his masterful control over oratory.
Except. This isn’t about rhetorical subtext. It was right on the surface: lipsticked pig, old fish. The line didn’t work instantly because people thought “wow, that’s a really clever allusion to Palin’s famous ‘pit bull / soccer mom’ ad lib.” It worked instantly because it evoked “Palin = pig” and linked it to “McCain = old fish.” Yes these are old lines that’ve been used in politics since time immemorial. The question is why it came to the mind of an instinctively brilliant orator to use them now and there.
But then again, maybe not. This was a close thing. Way too close, for instance, for a news agency to accuse a Presidential candidate of flat out lying. Which is kind of the point.
ORIGINAL: So Ben Smith –
who was in the room who was not in the room – says that people in the room understood it to be a reference to Palin. And Jake Tapper – who was in the room – originally said that people in the room understood it to be a reference to Palin – until he updated the post to say that people in the room out and out told him that they understood it to be a reference to Palin. But never mind that – ABC News wants you to know that McCain “falsely accused Obama of calling Palin a pig”
Which – and I say this as an academic who studies these things – is an awfully sophisticated interpretation for how meaning works. A crowd enthusiastically cheers because they thought their politician was calling the Republican female VP candidate a pig. This is dutifully reported as what happened by multiple journalists who were present for the context and tone of the speech. Maybe there’s an argument to be had that Obama – despite being a masterful political orator – had no control over how the crowd was taking his words. Whatever. But at a minimum – isn’t it awfully bold for an ostensibly an objective news organization to accuse a Presidential candidate of flat out lying. It almost seems like members of the media are getting one back after having been raked over the coals for their egregious anti-Palin sexism.
You should watch the video and then come back. Now: which bias-soaked part of this bias-soaked clip was your favorite? Was it when ABC:
1. Used the just barely plausibly deniable line “what Obama called phony outrage could be seen and heard all over the airwaves”?
2. Cut out Obama’s “old stinky fish” line, which is what makes a lot of people think that he was individually slurring each of the Republican candidates?
3. Asserted that the McCain campaign attacked Obama because they “sensed an opportunity”?
4. Reported as objective news that the McCain campaign “flatly and falsely” accused Obama of doing what everybody in the crowd thought that he was doing?
I’m thinking it’s #4, but I can also see arguments for #2. That said, it’s the last 10 seconds where things really get surreal. The beginning of the clip flirted with being an in-kind contribution by dropping an unnecessary 15 seconds of Obama riffing on his McCain = Bush talking point. So unnecessary and awkward was this de facto campaign commercial that ABC had to visibly cut to the actual clip to get his quote. But it’s the end of the clip – where they do the sinister cut-up of McCain quotes – that really feels like a campaign commercial.
The central point is that McCain used to say “you can’t put lipstick on a pig” in reference to Hillary. You may think that Obama’s getting a bad rap on this, but that particular argument is asinine. The difference between Hillary and Palin is that Hillary isn’t rhetorically associated with lipstick. It’s unbelievable that people think this is a good argument. Many conservatives have openly mocked utopian liberal naivete for decades. But now publicly mocking “Hope and Change” means you’re mocking Obama. Many politicians have used “lipstick on a pig” for decades. But now publicly mocking “lipstick” means you’re mocking Palin. Duh.
Of course Obama was referring to Palin. Which doesn’t mean that the McCain campaign should’ve taken the bait (probably the opposite). But of course he was referring to Palin.
* Obama: ‘Lipstick on a pig’ [Politco]
* Obama Says McCain Is Offering Fake Change: ‘You Can Put Lipstick on a Pig, But It’s Still a Pig’ [ABC News]
* Obama Campaign: "Community Organizer" Is Racist But Rhetorically Linking Women With Pigs Is Just An "Old Expression"
* Tolerant Progressives Sound Weirdly Anti-Semitic When Raging Against Lieberman
* MR’s Laundry List Of Debunked Palin Smears, Part I Of An Ongoing Series