Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday said the dust-up over his "lipstick on a pig" comment was part of the "silly season," blasting his presidential rival's campaign as having "phony outrage" and blaming the press for fanning the flames.
While taping "The Late Show with David Letterman" in New York, Mr. Obama told Mr. Letterman he did not mean to direct the "common expression" at Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.
Mr. Obama said that he meant Republican Sen. John McCain's economic plans were not about "change."
"Keep in mind, had I meant it that way, she would have been the lipstick, you see?" Mr. Obama added. "The failed policies of John McCain would be the pig."
During last week's Republican convention, Mrs. Palin joked about the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull being "lipstick."
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama, speaking to a few hundred people in Norfolk about his education policy, said Mr. McCain seized on his riff about lipstick to provide "catnip" and a "made-up controversy" for the news media.
"The McCain campaign would much rather have the story about phony and foolish diversions than about the future. This happens every election cycle," Mr. Obama said.
In Lebanon, Va., on Tuesday, Mr. Obama blasted Mr. McCain for claiming the mantle of change and said he is just like President Bush.
"You can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig," Mr. Obama said.
Within an hour of the remark, a new "Palin Truth Squad" said Mr. Obama had called Mrs. Palin a "pig," even though Mr. McCain had previously used the same colloquial phrase to talk about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care plan.
Mr. McCain released a new online ad using the lipstick comment and saying Mr. Obama was trying to "smear" Mrs. Palin.
Another McCain ad released Wednesday suggested Team Obama is attacking Mrs. Palin, stating: "As Obama drops in the polls, he'll try to destroy her."
Mr. Obama has responded to the dust-up by saying the country faces big problems, "and this is what they want to talk about."
"This is what they want to spend two of the last 55 days talking about," the Illinois Democrat said. "You know who ends up losing at the end of the day, it's not the Democratic candidate, it's not the Republican candidate, it's you, the American people. Because then we go another year or another four years or another eight years without addressing the issues that matter to you."
He added, "Enough."
"I don't care what they say about me, but I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and swift-boat politics," he said, to applause. "These are serious times, and they call for a serious debate about where we need to take the nation."
Mr. Obama was referring to the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that launched attacks against Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race.
Republican Rep. Candice S. Miller of Michigan expressed her outrage over the pig analogy and demanded an apology on the floor of the U.S. House on Wednesday.
"The Obama campaign has decided that the way to get at Sarah Palin is through personal attacks and sexist insults," she said. "Senator Obama might find such jokes funny, but women will only find them insulting."