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Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

So here’s the lipstick state of play. The morning shows led with it today. Barack Obama chose to come out fighting. He declared the entire issue an example of the “politics of distraction.” He said, “Enough is enough.” I’ve been flicking around the news channels all day. What is the story? Lipstick on a pig. Lipstick on a pig. Lipstick on a pig. Did he really insult her? Didn’t McCain’s one-time spokesman Torie Clarke write a book called Lipstick on a Pig, therefore shouldn’t McCain not act surprised by the term’s use? On the other hand, didn’t the crowd’s roar yesterday when Obama used the phrase indicate his rapt audience assumed he was talking about Palin, and isn’t Obama a gifted enough public rhetorician that we can assume he got just the response he wanted? And then the chyron, over and over, on MSNBC and Fox and CNN: Lipstick on a pig, lipstick on a pig, lipstick on a pig.

In other words, Obama and the Democrats who are hotly defending him against the charge that he was saying anything negative about Palin or McCain have succeeded in continue to fan the flames of the story ever higher. I think it’s safe to say that Chris Matthews, who spent half an hour on it, hates this story like poison and demanded that the Republican flack who came on to speak McCain soundbites admit that he was in the wrong and that the whole issue is bogus. And yet there was that half-hour on it. Why?

Because the story is golden — because it’s Palin, and women, and the question of politesse vs. hardball, and the classic reversal of candidate of the supposed “party of women” getting himself in hot water for saying something his rivals in the “daddy party” could argue with even minimal plausibility was “sexist.” Because this is what cable news, and talk radio, and the American media in the 21st century, hunger for. Because you can’t imagine what a huge star Sarah Palin has become in less than two weeks, and how the mere mention of her name causes ratings to spike — and so if one anchor were to refuse on principle to lead with it, the channel surfers would just jump away to a rival who was more than happy to feed the bottomless hunger for this latest twist in the tale.

If I were an Obama supporter, I would be more disheartened today than I have ever been about this candidacy, because it is demonstrating not only a lack of sure-footedness, but a rather astonishing amateurishness.


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