Lipstick on a pig

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One wonders how much lower this election can sink. The furore over "you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig" sets a new benchmark. The idea that Barack Obama seriously intended to call Sarah Palin a pig is surely absurd. Yes, it was a stupid thing to say; and yes, many people in his audience enjoyed the implication; but I would be amazed if it was not just an injudicious unscripted remark. The Republican outrage over it is wholly synthetic. The Democratic outrage over the Republican outrage is mostly synthetic too--though not entirely, because there is some genuine anger over the way the race is going mixed in.

The Democrats urgently need to get a grip on this. When they rage at unfair Republican tactics, part of that fury unavoidably spills over into anger at the electorate for being so gullible as to fall for it. Far better to rise above this sort of stuff, and radiate confidence that the electorate will see through it. If Obama gets angry at the electorate, or can even be plausibly accused of it, he is finished.

I don't know whether I find Camille Paglia infuriating or compelling--often, I suppose, both at the same time. I thought this piece for Salon was excellent, despite the obligatory weirdness. I find her views on abortion inexplicable, and I'm not sure what it could ever mean to call nature "fascist" (as she does later on in the article), but I think she makes some very astute observations about the race.

The over-the-top publicity stunt of a mega-stadium for Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention two weeks ago was a huge risk that worried me sick -- there were too many things that could go wrong, from bad weather to crowd control to technical glitches on the overblown set. But everything went swimmingly. Obama delivered the speech nearly flawlessly -- though I was shocked and disappointed by how little there was about foreign policy, a major area where wavering voters have grave doubts about him. Nevertheless, it was an extraordinary event with an overlong but strangely contemplative and spiritually uplifting finale. The music, amid the needlessly extravagant fireworks, morphed into "Star Wars" -- a New Age hymn to cosmic reconciliation and peace.

After that extravaganza, marking the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s epochal civil rights speech on the Washington Mall, I felt calmly confident that the Obama campaign was going to roll like a gorgeous juggernaut right over the puny, fossilized McCain. The next morning, it was as if the election were already over. No need to fret about American politics anymore this year. I had already turned with relief to other matters.

Wow! Wham! The Republicans unleashed a doozy -- one of the most stunning surprises that I have ever witnessed in my adult life. By lunchtime, Obama's triumph of the night before had been wiped right off the national radar screen. In a bold move I would never have thought him capable of, McCain introduced Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his pick for vice president. I had heard vaguely about Palin but had never heard her speak. I nearly fell out of my chair. It was like watching a boxing match or a quarter of hard-hitting football -- or one of the great light-saber duels in "Star Wars"... This woman turned out to be a tough, scrappy fighter with a mischievous sense of humor.

Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment.

Palin made sense to me as a VP choice, even though I did not think she would draw support from disappointed Clintonistas, or have more than a moderate appeal for centrist women. The polls suggest I was wrong on both points. It will be interesting to see whether this lasts when she is forced to explain her views on social issues, and how she might act on them as VP or president--as she presumably will be in the debate with Biden, if not before.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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