September 9, 2008

Obama's Macaca Moment: It's a Gaffe, Gaffe, Gaffe! UPDATED

Hatched by Dafydd

Studiously avoiding all buoyancy, pneumatic, and materials-science analogies, the presidential campaign of Barack H. Obama certainly appears to be in trouble. One symptom of failing candidacies is the tendency to magnify the external problems with personal mistakes, misjudgments, and gaffes.

Here is the newest... and it could well become a seam-splitting, steam-leaking, presidential amibition-sinker:

With voters craving change and Obama offering it, McCain has started pushing hard to reclaim the reformer mantle he owned eight years ago. His running mate, Sarah Palin, has energized his conservative base while attracting droves of white women to the Arizona senator's candidacy. The GOP ticket has soaked up a great deal of attention over the last 10 days, between Palin's selection and the party's convention.

That has left Obama, the change candidate of the primaries, spending much of his time explaining to voters why McCain and Palin don't deserve the label....

"You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," he said to an outburst of laughter and applause from his audience in Lebanon, Va., Tuesday. "You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, but it's still going to stink after eight years."

Obama left himself some squealing room; but as indicated above (and in all other accounts of the gaffe), his audience in Lebanon, Virginia certainly understood him to be referring to Palin's quip at the Republican convention that the only difference between a hockey mom, such as herself, and a pit bull was "lipstick" -- thus, the "pig" in Obama's ungentlemanly, snarky riff was Sarah Palin herself. (McCain is obviously the target of the "old fish" that stinks after eight years insult.)

Obama insists he didn't mean that Gov. Sarah Palin is a pig; he was talking about the "reform" slogan of the McCain-Palin ticket. But he's not such a fool that he didn't know how the audience, both immediate and over TV, would take it.

Besides, it was only the first hoggish reference the Democratic nominee made; later in the same event, after hearing the audience's reaction to Obama's first Palin/pig joke, he essayed another porcine jape:

Hogs were a theme of Obama’s town hall. Later in the event, while discussing the No Child Left Behind policy that puts stress on teachers to test students, he made another swine reference. “There’s a saying in Southern Illinois that you don’t fatten a hog by weighing it. You can weigh it everyday, that’s not how you fatten it up,” Obama said.

Well, no; but that is how you decide whether it still needs more "fattening up." This attack doesn't even make sense; has anybody argued that giving a student a test, by itself, educates him? So far as I've seen, proponents of No Child Left Behind argue that testing a student allows the school and parents to track the student's progress, so you know whether he is learning -- or whether he needs urgent attention so he won't fail.

Is that really such a difficult concept?

But the real point is this, from the AP article:

Even so, the Illinois senator's focus on bringing down McCain and Palin underscores the worry among some Democrats that the Republican ticket is gaining, and in no small part because of the addition of the first-term Alaska governor who is the first Republican woman on a presidential ticket....

Democrats, if not Obama himself, seem unsure how exactly to go after Palin, and some Democratic strategists say they hope Obama will assign Biden the task of countering Palin, rather than do it himself.

McCain has jumped to a tie or lead in national polls, depending on the survey, with Palin helping to drive the gains, particularly by solidifying the conservative base and attracting swing voters as well as a slew of white women.

A "gaffe" is defined not by the intentions of the speaker but by the reactions of the listeners. Everybody in that audience "heard" Obama call Sarah Palin a pig and John McCain a rotting fish; if B.O. didn't realize it before speaking, he must have figured it out -- being the smartest man in the universe -- when the audience roared, laughed, and applauded. And the McCain campaign is making the most of it... as they should.

The problem for Obama is the same as the one that hounded former Sen. George Allen to defeat in his 2006 re-election campaign, also in Virginia. Allen used the term "macaca" to refer to the mole that opponent Jim Webb kept sending to Allen's campaign rallies with a videocam, hoping for something to use -- like being called "Macaca." Allen swore over and over that when he used the term (at one speech, singling out the mole, S.D. Sidarth), he had no idea that "macaca" was actually a racial slur in the Belgian Congo early in the 20th century.

The fact that nobody else in the United States was familiar with that slur either made no difference at all: Allen had clearly intended the word as an insult, a low-blow slam belittling Mr. Sidarth -- who was, obviously, of East Indian ancestory, not Congolese. And voters don't like such schoolyard taunts.

Neither will it make any difference to voters whether Obama actually meant to call the McCain-Palin ticket a "pig," rather than Palin herself; voters in the swing states will likely label the attack boorish, unmannerly, and sexist.

Obama needs to apologize immediately and plead fatigue; it's better to look old and tired than young, condescending, and pissy. But he won't; I don't think he can bring himself to be humble, especially not to the "rival false prophet" (as Scott Johnson put it on Power Line) who came bubbling up like the Swamp Thing to grab Obama's halo. If Obama goes even farther and begins exploding whenever he's asked about the comment, then he can add "paranoid and defensive" to his list of undesirable and unbecoming attributes.

Political campaigns are all about two antagonistic forces: momentum and labels. Both teams compete to see who can attach a label to both himself and his opponent (thesis), a task made more difficult the greater the momentum of the campaign (antithesis). The resulting synthesis defines the arc of the campaign.

In the early days of the primaries, Obama succeeded in attaching the labels of "ideological purity" and "change" to his campaign and the label of "old-style politics" to Hillary Clinton's; Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee succeeded in attaching the label of "old coot" to McCain's campaign but couldn't get any label to stick on their own; and John McCain made the "maverick" label his own.

But then momentum took hold. Hillary Clinton's campaign juggernaut used every dirty trick in the book to rip the self-adhesive labels from Barack Obama, and they succeeded in removing the first, the "purity" issue. Alas, that was not enough to derail Obama, because he still had the "change" label... but it was a darned close primary.

McCain's relentless campaigning on his biography, his record, and his now firmly ensconced "maverick" label produced sufficient momentum to blast away the "old coot" label; instead, he became "dynamic" and a "reformer." The graceful dropping out by the other Republican candidates and the Sarah Palin pick increased the momentum and solidified the "maverick" and "reformer" labels.

But Obama is now in danger of moving so slowly, with so little momentum, that McCain has the opportunity to attach any label he wants to the Democrat's campaign; Mr. Audacity can't get himself out of first gear and has become a more or less stationary target.

At the moment, McCain is jogging alongside Obama, trying to attach the labels of "ultraliberal," "inexperienced," and "Chicago machine" to the Democratic campaign. Obama's hit job on Palin -- calling her a pig -- accentuates the third label: I believe it will strike voters as exactly the sort of dirty pool to which the "Daley machine" would stoop.

Labels, once attached, are darned hard to tear off; you need enough momentum that they will be borne away by the wind in your wake. But Obama just isn't fast enough off the mark... and I believe the labels applied by McCain will stick.

We'll see; but the gaffes Obama is committing now are entirely unforced. They come from deep in the bowels of him.

UPDATE: See? That didn't take long:



Barack Obama can whine until the cows come home to roost that he wasn't calling Sarah Palin a pig -- he was just calling the McCain-Palin ticket a pig. But this slur has a dynamic too large to contain with a simple huck and smirk. The meme of "Obama called Sarah Palin a pig" isn't going away; it's going to stick, and it's going to hurt Obama badly.

He's not a stupid man; he knew well how his cutesy aphorism would be taken in this context. Clearly, Obama was giggling inside like a junior-high student, tickled pink at how he "got" Palin. I know that many hard-left Obama fans openly cheered and laughed when he said it (I've read their posts): They knew exactly what he meant.

Well, he baited the hook -- and now he's got a tiger by the tail. I wish him a long and consuming acquaintance with that ferocious feline of his own fabrication.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 9, 2008, at the time of 11:58 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing:


The following hissed in response by: GW

Many of the PUMA's are still smoldering from what they perceived to be misogynistic attacks by the Obama team. Indeed, when you have Tammy Bruce - lifetime Dem and former NOW Chapter President - making the case for voting Republican, the Obama campaign needs to be bending over backward not to drive any of Hillary's 18 million cracks in the glass to the waiting arms and gentle ministrations of Team McCain.

With that in mind, Obama may have made his partisan crowd smile with his lipstick on a pig remark, but he was too clever by half. Whatever he subjectively meant, it comes clearly comes off in context as a demeaning, snarky reference to Palin. It would be hard to imagine anything that will piss off the PUMA's more than hearing Obama act that way towards Palin.

I can only see this small incident growing bigger and bigger unless Obama does immediate damage control. But, as you point out, deities do not apologize. They merely become fallen idols.

The above hissed in response by: GW [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 1:43 AM

The following hissed in response by: eliXelx

"Intelligence in an untruthful man is a pearl in a swine's snout..." (adapted for the occasion from The Book of Proverbs)

Hey, he started the porking! He's the leader of the Pork...!

I could continue....

The above hissed in response by: eliXelx [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 5:16 AM

The following hissed in response by: Rovin

Obama has chosen to climb into the "pigpen" of political discourse leaving his own VP marginal at best. The PUMA's that had begun to migrate back into the fold are taking offense to his "new style" of attacking his opponents. The McCain/Palin campaign has played Palins enterance into the theater perfectly by allowing the full force of the left-wing media and pundits attempt to pierce her shield. Every question of her experience and eligibility appears to mirror the failed vetting process of Senator Obama. The application of lipstick by amateurs rarely leaves an appealing appearance. Obama would be advised to leave this process to an experienced gender.

The above hissed in response by: Rovin [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 6:57 AM

The following hissed in response by: David M

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 09/10/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 9:50 AM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

Obama is now insisting that he was "referring to John McCains policies" and not to Governor Palin. He can insist all he wants, but his audience very clearly, as seen in the video, got the ugly joke he made. Intentional or not, he needs to apologize for "the way some people have interpreted my remarks," but of course deities don't apologize and a corrupt Chicago politician can't without damaging his campaign. This is fun, like watching Wile E. Coyote blow himself up with everything he tries.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 10:18 AM

The following hissed in response by: PC14

O!bama is driven by a script. And that line was inserted exactly at a point where they could insist that it related to the sentences preceding the comment. But they knew his audience would "get it." Some statements transcend context and this was certainly one of those.

Rumor always had it that Michelle despised Hillary. I would bet there aren't words strong enough to capture her emotions towards Palin. How dare she be denied that whole Camelot thing she's been looking forward to.

The above hissed in response by: PC14 [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 10:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: BigLeeH

I think you and most of your commenters give Obama too little credit. I think he is that dumb. One of his speech writers loaded up his hapless boss with a big pistol and a target painted on his shoe, and sent him out on stage. To be fair, his cluelessness about what he was saying can be partly attributed to the fact that he was trying to connect to middle America. All those homey, down-on-the-farm references, talking about weighing pigs, etc. were attempts to speak the language of the common man -- something that Obama, to his occasional credit, is not. He was way out of his comfort range there: they might as well have had him give his speech in Esperanto. The poor guy had no idea what he was talking about.

And I think you are reading too much into - (or listening too much into - ) the bit about the impossibility of fattening up a pig by weighing it. The repetition of the pig motif was just Obama trying to sound like a down-home farm boy. What is more interesting about that passage, I think, is how it highlights Obama's Stalinist thought processes. The notion that one would not care how a pig is fattened as long as it gets fat is alien to a mind that is more comfortable with a centralized, command-and-control, five-year programs to provide the pigs of the nation with locally-grown, organic corn from heritage seed stock.

The above hissed in response by: BigLeeH [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 11:15 AM

The following hissed in response by: Michael Babbitt

My take: Biden also used the lipstick reference yesterday, as reported on Politico. I think that even if Obama was talking extemporaneously he was still repeating mini scripts memorized from discussions within his campaign. In the oral traditions there is a repetition of many phrases and stories. Homer pulled a lot of these together in his epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. I believe that Obama now has a set of these scripts memorized to be inserted at the right moment on the stump. It is no coincidence that the lipstick on the pig metaphor was followed by the old fish one. I also believe it is telling that Obama put Palin as the first object of attack and not McCain, the old fish. I guess she really got to him and threatens him the most. Of course he has plausible deniability. That is how he operates.

The above hissed in response by: Michael Babbitt [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 11:59 AM

The following hissed in response by: TerryeL

Obama can insist he was not calling Palin a pig. The pundits can do the same thing. But he was. I think he outsmarted himself. He would be better off ignoring Palin, but he just can not let it go.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 5:15 PM

The following hissed in response by: Davod

First sweetie, the the finger to Hillary, now lipsitck on a pig. When will someone oput this together on you tube. They cannot all be mistakes.

I think Obama is well versed, or his minders are, in the art of deniable slime. This is one of those instances. Place all the instances together on one Youtube video and he would nevr slide out.

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 5:38 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E

I agree with BigLeeH. Obama is an intelligent guy -- in a “book smart” kind of way. He is, however, sorely lacking in common sense.

Did he realize the true meaning of what he was saying before he said it?

  • If he did, it was a very dumb move to go ahead and say it anyway -- the reaction of both Left and Right was entirely predictable.
  • If he didn’t, (i.e. he was numbly repeating something someone told him to say, or he was just recalling a witty saying he had once used), that’s not too smart either.
  • Whichever it is, Mr. O surely shows a lack of that “uncommon commodity.”

    * * * *


    The link to the YouTube video doesn’t seem to be working anymore. I wonder who might have taken it down?

    Can you provide a précis?

    Nah, don’t bother. I think we get the drift.

    The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 10, 2008 6:34 PM

    The following hissed in response by: hunter

    The reality of having a guy who has NEVER run in a hotly contested campaign is become plain to our democrat friends.
    Obama is used to having either non-existent or pro-forma opponents. Now he is facing the real thing, and his strategic response and tactical errors are piling up daily.
    He truly is showing himself to be an empty suit posing as a leader.
    He whines. He campaigns against the wrong candidate. He has alienated his VP choice. He talks about, for instance, the bridge to nowhere, when he in fact voted for it in one of his very few actual Senate votes.
    The wheels are coming off. He may be able to put them back on, but frankly I doubt it.
    His cult of personality is going to tend to make his advisors into an echo chamber, and give him very little valid help.

    The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 11, 2008 5:43 AM

    The following hissed in response by: wtanksleyjr

    Everything you're saying is true; but there's one more detail, about something Obama said in a planned and deliberate manner. Said to Letterman:

    Obama: "It does. But keep in mind that, technically, had I meant it that way, she would have been the lipstick, you see?" (audience, Dave laugh) "But now we're..."

    Now, if he had been calling her a pig it would be a simple irrelevant taunt; no doubt attractive to a politician in a contested race, but completely irrelevant. But calling her lipstick... cosmetic... That makes things a little more relevant, doesn't it? It seems he's trying to insult her for being a contentless female.

    How about that?

    The above hissed in response by: wtanksleyjr [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 11, 2008 8:22 AM

    Post a comment

    Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

    (If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

    Remember me unto the end of days?

    © 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved