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Pigs & Old Fish: Why He Meant What He Said

After railing about without specifics about various McCain-Palin proposals, Barack Obama made the now infamous "you can put lipstick on a pig" remark. But he said more, Victor Davis Hanson pointed out. And it's what he said afterwards that is important for context and to understand that the jabs were precisely what he meant to say.

Senator Obama said, "That's just calling something the same thing, something different. But you know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." But he went on to add as the crowd laughed and cheered, "You can you can, wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it's still going to stink after 8 years. We've had enough of the same old thing."

I first heard this, in full context, over the radio. And just as I was wondering about the lipstick-pig reference, Senator Obama sealed the deal when he made the effort to talk over the crowd's noise to make the old fish "still stinks after 8 years" clincher. He knew exactly what he was saying and who he was referring to. The implication is that even if John McCain served two terms, there would be no change. Any attempt at ambiguity in the aftermath is an assault on one's intelligence.

Yet, while most are making their hay over the pig reference to Sarah Palin, they are omitting this context, allowing the Obama campaign to dismiss any perceived reference as "ridiculous."

But as Ben Smith notes at Politico:

Though on a day when Obama's surrogates were joking that Palin's record can't be concealed with lipstick, it was hard for those following the campaign not to hear the echo.

"Lipstick," just like "Change" and "They just don't get it" has become part of the campaign's own calculated and measured lexicon.

But that hasn't stopped the campaign from spinning away. The issued denial is comical, calling the response itself an "attack."

Enough is enough. The McCain campaign's attack tonight is a pathetic attempt to play the gender card about the use of a common analogy - the same analogy that Senator McCain himself used about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care plan just last year. This phony lecture on gender sensitivity is the height of cynicism and lays bare the increasingly dishonorable campaign John McCain has chosen to run.

Gender card? Those who focus solely on the lipstick-pig reference afford such a disingenuous response. Such as the ill-advised tack taken by former Massachusetts governor Jane Swift.

Former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift, interpreted Obama's remarks to mean that he called Palin a "pig" and McCain an "old fish."

When pressed on why she assumed that Obama was comparing Palin to a pig, Swift referred to Palin's "pit bull in lipstick" joke at the convention. She added, "as far as I know she is the only candidate that wears lipstick" and this "seems like a very gendered remark."

Gendered remark? Why drag gender into it? Who in the campaign, if anyone, advised this stupid tack? Palin used the lipstick metaphor herself, so that's a non-sequitor. A candidate for president referenced his opponent as an "old fish," and did so after a similar reference to "lipstick on a pig," calling his running mate to mind in all conscious listeners.

Trying to wrap gender into the mix allows them to obfuscate the whole by rightly dismissing a part: Gender. It's not about gender. It's about pigs, lipstick and stinky old fish.

It's not the end of the world, but it is a classless jab at both. Trying to make more of it than what it is is just plain dumb, because it allows The One just enough wiggle room to sow doubt in the minds of observers that he might not have meant it after all.

UPDATE: *A few commenters have rightly made note - as I should have in my post - that Obama was referring to the McCain-Palin proposals as the 'lipstick on a pig' and 'old fish.' Yes, he was. It's called double entendre.
**Another complained that characterizing Obama's usage as "now infamous" is silly because it's an old saying. Sure it is, but it's Obama's usage that is infamous, at least for a few days, not the saying itself.
***For the rest, if you're going to make an argument in defense of the usage, just try not to be such a typical jackass. (Sigh...I'm sorry, that was another double entendre.)

UPDATE II: Roger Kimball gets it pretty right.

I really wish that former Gov. Jane Swift hadn't called on Obama to "apologize" for the be-lipsticked pig is still a pig line.

Now, was this politic? Maybe not. Was it smart, given everything we know about racial-sexual-"differently abled"-age-and-health-and-talent-related sensitivities? I'm afraid not. [ . . . ]

I think it is bad form for Republicans to play this silly game [of demanding apologies]. I do not know Sarah Palin. But from what I know of her, I would guess that if she even noticed Obama's desperate little performance her first, and probably her last, reaction was to laugh. Certainly (I feel sure) she would countenance no whining. Because some jerk as much as called you a pig? Get a life.

Note it. Call it what it is (and not what it's not) and, dare I say it, MoveOn. Let them keep performing their own Dean Martin Roast on national television. It's only been a week, folks, and Obama and Biden are clearly on a roll. I say, Roll Tide, Roll!


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Comments (41)

He used an "old fish" in... (Below threshold)

He used an "old fish" in reference to Senator John McCain, directly affirmed by his "8 years" reference.

Hmm, seems to me that the reference was to McCain's proposals, which are also directly affirmed by his "8 years" reference.

Now what would make me think that?

After railing about without specifics about various McCain-Palin proposals...

Oh, yeah.

Sigh.Would someone... (Below threshold)


Would someone PLEASE take away Obama's shovel? This is NOT helping his campaign outside of the true believer catagory - indeed, it makes him look like a desperate, unqualified individual who knows his time on the national stage is limited.

More and more evident tha... (Below threshold)

More and more evident that the Dems chose an apt symbol for their party.

"...now infamous "you can p... (Below threshold)

"...now infamous "you can put lipstick on a pig" remark."

This is an extremely old, common saying. Not infamous.


"McCain criticized Democratic contenders for offering what he called costly universal health-care proposals that require too much government regulation. While he said he had not studied Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's plan, he said it was "eerily reminiscent" of the failed plan she offered as first lady in the 1990s.

"I think they put some lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," he said of her proposal."

Where did you find this guy? I guess he's up to Wizbang standards, but jeez. Shrug.

i actually took the 8 years... (Below threshold)

i actually took the 8 years reference to be about tying McCain to Bush again.

If McCain made this quote a... (Below threshold)

If McCain made this quote about, say, Mrs. Bill Clinton, they'd be calling him sexist for using the fish reference to harken thoughts of her nether regions. Especially AFTER calling her a pig. You know it would happen, don't lie. And that would be the end of McCain.

This a big monsta, this heya drahv bah media, Ah tells ya.

Regardless of how he meant ... (Below threshold)

Regardless of how he meant it, this soon after Sarah Palin's speech, he should have left those statements alone. Her speech is too fresh on the minds of people and his use of the lipstick remark is just going to sound too wrong to too many people that don't read blogs. In my opinion, gaffe or not, he just lost a lot of votes.

Mmmmmmmmm......Mmm... (Below threshold)




the MSM, and several here, ... (Below threshold)

the MSM, and several here, have decreed that Obama gets (SURPISE!) another PASS!

Wow, who woulda thunk it...eh?

But, alas, the American public is looking at the vast number of "Get Out of Jail Free" cards that Obama has been granted by the media and getting increasingly turned off.

Clearly Diebold have hacked... (Below threshold)

Clearly Diebold have hacked into his teleprompter and are having the time of their lives.

Oh, my! Newbie made a mista... (Below threshold)
Steve Schippert:

Oh, my! Newbie made a mistake...

I intended to save this as a draft...It isn't even done yet!

Arrrgghhhh! My error.

You know, I really don't li... (Below threshold)

You know, I really don't like Obama. I believe McCain will do the better job, and I have nothing but respect for Palin... but even I think this Obama "controversy" is a bit of a stretch.

I'm far from being an Obama apologist, but I think you guys are wrong, and it's looking for a controversy and/or Palin smear under every rock.

Tone it down.

Obama was aiming at Palin, ... (Below threshold)

Obama was aiming at Palin, the video makes it perfectly clear.

This could be a defi... (Below threshold)

This could be a defining moment in the campaign. This is less about the argument those who are for or against Obama can rationalize.

This is about the perception the undecideds, the ones in PA, CO, OH, FL and elsewhere have on what Obama said.

See, it works like this. Women, even slender women, HATE fat jokes. They hate anything that comes close to resembling weight comments unless it is about an ex-husband's new wife or girl friend.

Obama stuck his foot in his mouth. And all the king's horses and all the unicorns, can't extract that foot. Obama has to do it himself.

There are three ways of covering a gaffe, ignoring it, admitting it, or trying to explain it away (like Obama apologists are doing).

Given how much women hate fat jokes or implications, I dunno how Obama is gonna talk his way out of this one.

Next: What demographic has a higher voting percentage? Answer; older people.

We may just have a Dukakis in the wings.

Wonder what Susan Estrich thinks of all this. Unfortunately for the Republican side, MSM is probably NOT going to jump all over this one.

Someone as thin-skinned as ... (Below threshold)
Proud Kaffir:

Someone as thin-skinned as Obama, hearing echoes about his "Muslim faith" somehow coming indirectly from the McCain campaing, should be careful about the words he uses.

If I were a least decent person, I might repsond with "You can put a Muslim in a (racist) Christian church, but he would still be a Muslim" but I'm decent person, so I won't.

And the appropriate respons... (Below threshold)
Baron Von Ottomatic:

And the appropriate response from Sarah is no response at all. Obiden has been reduced the schoolyard taunts while they stay on the stump and on message.

Then this weekend ABC gets its highest ratings of the year when Gibson's interview with Palin airs. I have no doubts she will leave viewers more impressed than ever.

The management of the Obama campaign has been, thankfully, amateurish and inept. Obama is a buffoon better suited to dramatic roles in Hollywood. Combine the two and you've got the trainwreck we're witnessing now.

If this is how Obama does crisis, God help us if he's elected President and faces anything more worrisome than a White House streaker.

I think Obama is still smar... (Below threshold)
Randy R:

I think Obama is still smarting from the zingers that Palin delivered during the convention and wanted to get in a few of his own. He's just really, really bad at it.

She's really gotten into his head.

exsubnuk"I'm far f... (Below threshold)


"I'm far from being an Obama apologist, but I think you guys are wrong, and it's looking for a controversy and/or Palin smear under every rock."

This is because you are a nice guy. Politics is a contact sport at every level. And the Obamanuts are looking at EVERY word spoken by McCain and Palin for something they can run with, just like those who are chortling over the intended or unintended set of remarks by Obama.

This is what electioneering is all about; conduct under intense pressure. It goes with running for the job and more important, it goes with DOING the job.

"You can put lipstick o... (Below threshold)

"You can put lipstick on a pig," he said as the crowd cheered. "It's still a pig."

"You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still gonna stink."

Does anyone actually believe this wasn't planned in advanced? It's offensive and the point is to generate deniable outrage to hijack the narrative and put his own spin on the last news cycle. The media are carrying his water big time.

"I think Obama is still sma... (Below threshold)

"I think Obama is still smarting from the zingers that Palin delivered during the convention and wanted to get in a few of his own. He's just really, really bad at it.

She's really gotten into his head."

Lee Ward over on blue swears (he does that a lot) that Obama writes all his own speeches. If that is true of this one, . . . *grin*

Where did you find... (Below threshold)
Where did you find this guy? I guess he's up to Wizbang standards, but jeez. Shrug.

I understand now, jp2. You are just trying to get attention. Sad.

I think people are finding ... (Below threshold)
No One Important:

I think people are finding out that the emporer has no clothes.

Give it up Barry, you're starting to embarrass yourself.

Whenever Barry gets off fro... (Below threshold)

Whenever Barry gets off from the script, he gets into trouble. How do you know he gets off from the script? Count the number of pauses and you can literally picture how wheels in his head moves. I can see where he's coming from, but it does take quit a bit of skill to insult both woman and older people in the same paragraph.

And we're lead to believe he's supposed to be the smart one.

hate to say i told you so, ... (Below threshold)

hate to say i told you so, but...

either the obama camp astroturfed the McCain said it first excuse, or they are reading too many lib blogs for ways to fight palin. something tells me this whole charade was premeditated. too bad its going to backfire big time with the story running front page on papers across the nation.

I think it's Obama's "macac... (Below threshold)

I think it's Obama's "macaca" moment.

I can just hear Michelle putting him up to this one.
If he was too stupid to realize how it would sound, then he is too stupid to be President.
Watch how he puts his hand to his head - he KNOWS what the crowd will assume and he is a little nervous. But he says it anyway.

also steve i dont agree wit... (Below threshold)

also steve i dont agree with your take on the "Gendered remark". by saying that obama is being a sexist "pig" reminds all of those hillary voters what type of candidate he was running against her. its not making more of it than what it is. his statement is more than enough already.

btw anyone else notice DRUDGE leaning more to the McCain side lately? after reading that politico piece awhile back i was abit worried.

this piece:

I see your point, James. B... (Below threshold)
Steve Schippert:

I see your point, James. But I don't think he's being sexist in this instance. He's just being uncouth. No need to manufacture what isn't there. There's enough that is.

When you fail to pin it as sexist because it isn't, that also diminishes the times he may have been in the run against Clinton.

I think that logical flipside applies here.

My two cents, anyway.

Hey Obama:Remember... (Below threshold)

Hey Obama:

Remember the bad joke about Adam being rebuked by God for letting Eve walk/wash herself in the river...

As hard as his apologists t... (Below threshold)

As hard as his apologists try to "apply lipstick to this pig" the bottom line remains. The "super-intelligent", "rhetorically adept" Obama is either an ass or an idiot. And, whichever, he is operating in panic mode.

i hear you steve, but does ... (Below threshold)

i hear you steve, but does it matter if he was being sexist? his intention might not have been to be sexist, but his statement was, and from the close females in my life, 2 dems, 2 repubs, all 4 took it as sexist. in fact 3 of the 4 said independantly the "sexist pig" remark. the other a dem, when i told her what the others had said agreed and said they were correct, how dare he call her a pig, he's a pig, a sexist pig.

i dont know, but i dont see woman across the country tomorrow not taking the headlines as him not being sexist. especially when he has a history of being percieved that way to begin with.

You should see the PUMA boa... (Below threshold)

You should see the PUMA boards. They are LIVID!!!!


...and because it's a Doubl... (Below threshold)
rodney dill:

...and because it's a Double Entendre as you admit, he did intend to call Palin a pig as anyone with half a brain would know that the lipstick on a pig reference would be a jab to Palin's Hockey Mom joke.

This is just another incident in his pattern of Sexism. Remember in Detroit he told a female reporter, 'not now Sweetie', and then admitted he had a bad habit of doing this.

If McCain used a euphemism for a black man in a double entendre, and said he was only implying the non-racial meaning he would be slammed that he should've known of the potential racial context as well. (I can think of at least three examples, but I'm reluctant bring them up.)

Obama knew the implications of his double entendre and chose to insult Palin and all women anyway. I can only assume that he is hoping that the McCain campaign will respond tit for tat.

Obama and Biden ar... (Below threshold)
rodney dill:
Obama and Biden are clearly on a roll. I say, Roll Tide, Roll!
If Obama being blatantly insulting and sexist is being on a roll, then I agree Roll Tide, Roll but I expect it will be more of a tsunami.
"Would someone PLEASE take ... (Below threshold)

"Would someone PLEASE take away Obama's shovel?"
Hell no, give Biden one and make more room in the hole for both of them.

If Obama gets this flustered during a campaign god help us all if he were president and a real catastrophe occurred.

I'm with james... I think i... (Below threshold)

I'm with james... I think it's much more likely the 8 year old fish was referring to the Bush administration; which, when it leaves office next January, will also leave the liberals with nobody to point the finger at.

I reiterate the comment I l... (Below threshold)

I reiterate the comment I left on Cassy's post about this. I honestly believe that Obama was talking about McCain/Palin policies not the candidates themselves. Unfortunately for Obama whatever his intention was, that really doesn't matter right now.

Perception, especially in a political campaign, is reality. The perception by the casual listener is that Obama called Palin a pig. Folks can argue this point in good faith but the crowd reaction which is clearly audible suggests that his audience certainly took it that way. So the perception that Obama called Palin a Pig reinforces, and is in turn reinforced, by the meme that the Obama campaign is misogynistic.

It's politics folk, and normal rules do not apply. For the majority of the voting public the truth is not as important as the narrative, reality is what people perceive it to be, and this tempest in a teacup could sink a campaign that is already taking on water with women voters.

Again, yes he was referring... (Below threshold)
Steve Schippert:

Again, yes he was referring to the policies.

And again, yes he was swiping at the candidates.

It's both, not one or the other.

Lipstick and Old Fish are not accidental. Lipstick on a pig is an old saying indeed. But why "old" fish?

Who wraps "old" fish in paper? Don't you wrap fresh fish in paper? But old hits at McCain, whose VP nominee is, lest we forget, but a "heartbeat" away from the presidency if elected. Biden's not characterized in the "heartbeat" manner. No, he's just a VP candidate.

Sorry, but I don't see what... (Below threshold)

Sorry, but I don't see what all the outrage is about. I use the "lipstick on a pig" simile all the time. And based on the Obama campaign tack of saying McCain is the same as Bush, the old fish comparison is fitting.

Don't get me wrong, I haven't voted for a Democrat in over a quarter century and I don't have any plans to break that streak, but all this acrimony over a figure of speech strikes me as a cry of victimhood, similar to the Obama supporters' cries of racism everywhere they look.

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Obama, Biden and their plans; this isn't one of them.

Weegie, read what I wrote a... (Below threshold)

Weegie, read what I wrote above (#36). It's not what he said, it's the perception of what he said. Watch the video, he get's this far "You can put lipstick on a pig. [FULL STOP - hooting and applause] But it's still a pig."

The Hockey Mom as a pitbull with lipstick imagery is ingrained in everyone's mind as being Sarah Palin's thing. The perception that the casual viewer/listener will take away from this is that Obama is calling her a pig. In politics perception IS reality.

Look, Obama has been taking it on the chin for a week now and he's pretty thin skinned as we all know. I think this was a too clever line that he and his speech writers came up with in an attempt to jab back at McCain/Palin. He can claim he was going after policy but still insinuate that he's calling Palin a pig and McCain old.

Again, tempest in a teacup but when your campaign is taking on water with women voters you don't need to be drilling holes in the hull.

Obama's coming ... (Below threshold)
Obama's coming apart at the 'seems'?
So it seams.... (Below threshold)
rodney dill:

So it seams.






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