It would seem to be so obvious as to not need saying that the best advocate for the Barack Obama campaign is Barack Obama. Ditto for John McCain. That being the case, it seems a no brainer that there would be controversy surrounding things a candidate says. That particular sword, however, cuts both ways. If the candidate is saying good things, newsworthy things, appropriate things – the candidate gets good press. On the other hand, if the candidate says ignorant things, stupid things, ill advised things – the candidate is going to get lots of press, likely of an undesireable variety.
Which brings us to the case of recent comments by Barack Obama. A few days ago, speaking to George Stephonopolous on matters of faith, Obama referred to his own faith as “my Muslim faith”. Yesterday, Obama made a reference to the old saw about “lipstick on a pig”. Both comments drew immediate fire from the Right and the national debate was joined.
Let me say at the outset that there is politics happening on both sides of the comment controversies. Discussion on the Right is that Obama has finally admitted that he is a Muslim and not a Christian and that he also has insulted Sarah Palin by calling her a pig. The Left has countered that the comments were taken out of context and that the other side is making mountains out of molehills.
For the record, I think the Left has a strong case when they argue the comments are being taken out of context. When the entire section of video is viewed for both comments as opposed to just the 5 second soundbites, it is clear that the Muslim remark was a mere slip of the tongue of the variety we’ve all made. The terms “Muslim” and “Christian” were both in the discussion and the wrong one came out connected to his faith. The lipstick comment was a wrap up of a discussion of Obama’s spin on McCain’s views and seems to be an appropriate use of the phrase. In this context, the Obama campaign should get a pass on the Muslim comment at least. The lipstick comment is more problematic.
Because the real problem for Obama isn’t what he said, it’s that he said it at all! The biggest complaint coming out of the Obama campaign over the last couple of days apart from the comment dustup is that Sarah Palin has not been interviewed by the media or let loose to speak freely. What Obama understands is that speaking publicly like that can be a very treacherous undertaking. They want Palin out and on tape so they can do to her what the Right is doing to Obama. Be it on policy or a verbal misstep, the Obama campaign wants the same exposure for Palin that Obama has been subject to. The problem, of course, is there is no guarantee Palin will be accomodating and provide the desired ammunition for her own political assassination at the hands of a cruel and amoral Left.
During the time frame in which Obama made the remarks for which he is being pilloried, Biden, McCain and Palin have all been on the stump. Owing to his proven history over decades, smart money was on Biden as the guy most likely to say stupid things in front of a camera. So far he has not although there’s a storm gathering around his comments on stem cell research and special needs children. Nor have McCain or Palin provided any verbal gaffes. But Obama has and that’s a problem. There maybe an explanation for what he actually meant. But there is no denying that he said what he said. It’s a problem for him now and these two comments may follow him for a long while. If he continues to add to them it is not going to get any better, regardless of the spin and explanation that come out of Obama’s campaign. One need only look at the consequences of one word, “Macaca”, to understand the import of Obama’s mistakes.
Obama is squandering his reputation as a good speaker while tightly scripted and living down to his reputation as a poor spontaneous speaker. The occasional slip of the tongue as evidenced by the “my Muslim faith” comment will tend to be less damaging. Everyone has done that and we understand. However, while Obama can legitimately claim his remarks about pigs and lipstick concerned John McCain, if he expects that anyone with a scintilla of intelligence will not make the connection between his comments and Palin’s comments then he’s not as sharp a knife as he would have us believe.
For whatever reason, Obama chose that phrase as opposed to any one of several others that would have illustrated the same point. Thus he can try and explain his meaning but he cannot realistically say he didn’t understand his comments would be taken as a swipe at Palin. Not personal – he wasn’t calling her a pig. But it strains credulity to the breaking point to ask me to believe he wasn’t trying to connect the popularity of Palin and her lipstick comment and take away some of the power and popularity of Palin’s words.
I don’t fault him for doing that. It’s smart politics. But such efforts don’t always work. This one didn’t. Obama and his campaign need to look for better attacks or just give up the practice if they cannot stop doing it so badly. Obama has enough negative baggage on his record and the issues without adding to the ammunition his opponents will use against him by handing them bullets and helping them load the gun. Obama can try to explain away his missteps but it’s clearly a losing fight. As Obama has famously said, you can put lipstick on a pig – but it’s still a pig!