US elections 2008

Page last updated at 22:17 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 23:17 UK

Washington diary: Pigs and lipstick

By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

Can the presidential candidates please stop obsessing about tedious issues like the broken economy and the creeping resurgence of the Taleban?

Obama's 'lipstick' reference

Can we stop talking about the melting ice caps and hurricane highways, the conspicuously absent Kim Jong-il or the new permafrost between Russia and the West?

Can we please ignore the two strategic Russian bombers which landed in Venezuela today, evoking unpleasant memories of the Cold War in America's backyard?

Can we just stop fretting about the record number of foreclosures and the meltdown on Wall Street?

Please - let us have a real eyeball-to-eyeball, toe-to-toe debate about lipstick and pigs.


Who has Barack Obama's comment "that you can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig" really offended?

Who has it not offended?

The famously thin-skinned porcine population of the US is up in trotters about the imputation of cross-dressing.

The lipstick industry is getting ready to file a lawsuit under the Serious Misuse of Cosmetic Products Act (which actually does not exist yet but is already being "war-gamed" on K Street, the hub of Washington's lobby industry).

Oh yes and then we have Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska who first introduced lipstick into the summer campaign by wearing it and by making the ribald observation that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit-bull is, yes, lipstick.

The governor of Alaska has become a kind of campaign superhero who can morph like liquid mercury

Oddly enough she was not offended by Barack Obama's remarks.

In fact it is the kind of thing this pistol-packing moose-slayer might have said herself.

But her campaign advisers and those blushing violets around the uber-sensitive John McCain are more offended than nuns in a nudist romp.

The Republican Party that used to pride itself on red meat and red necks is behaving like a bunch of fruitarians in a sausage factory.

The proud founding member of the "bad boys club" at the US Naval Academy, John "Wayne" McCain himself is hanging the noose of sexism around the feline Barack Obama, who is more in touch with his inner woman than any candidate since Hillary Clinton.

And the Republicans are getting away with it.

This is electioneering genius; it makes Karl Rove look like Bob the Builder.


John McCain has found Barack Obama's Achilles heel and he is busy firing one small-but-vicious arrow after another into it.

He can do this, thanks to a combination of chutzpah and Sarah Palin.

The governor of Alaska has become a kind of campaign superhero who can morph like liquid mercury.

One minute she is Joan of Arc.

A McCain supporter holding a banner that reads "American Lipstick Club"
The Republicans have successfully put Mr Obama on the defensive

You blink and she has become Germaine Greer, the champion of feminism.

The former Miss Congeniality - are we even allowed to say that anymore? - has turned out to be an electoral force field around the ageing John McCain.

She repels critics and attracts followers, an odd kind of magnet.

Maybe she is actually an early product of the Cern atom smasher creating new matter somewhere near Geneva.

Joe Biden, Mr Obama's running mate, has clearly been swallowed up by the witness protection programme.

Sarah Palin never leaves her nominee's side.

She is a crowd-puller, a poll-booster, a star-turn.

My eyes gravitate automatically towards her and yesterday I caught myself thinking, albeit briefly: "Who is that grinning old man shadowing her on stage the whole time? Her father? Her uncle? Her lawyer? Oops. Sorry, John."

But we should not blame pigs or lipstick or Republicans.

If this is a crisis it is largely of Barack Obama's own making.

The brazen agent of change, the audacious interpreter of American dreams, the rousing rhetorician is sounding like an electoral actuary.

The Democratic nominee has been boxed into a corner, endlessly reacting to the outrageous slurs and arrows, unable to steer the conversation towards the issues and the future.

Ever since Sarah Palin has erupted onto the scene, Barack Obama has been caught like a moose in headlights.

He needs to rediscover his mojo, appeal to the voter's gut and not just their frontal lobe or he too will become Alaskan road-kill.

Matt Frei is the presenter of BBC World News Americawhich airs every weekday at 0030 BST on BBC News and at 0000 BST (1900 ET / 1600 PT) on BBC World News and BBC America (for viewers outside the UK only).

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