- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

“Lipstick on a Pig” has been in the American vernacular for decades, perhaps as long as lipstick itself.

In fact, its such a well-used phrase that former John McCain adviser and Pentagon spokesman Torie Clarke used it in the title of her 2006 book “Lipstick on a Pig: Winning in the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game.”

The first chapter of the book is titled “You Can Put a Lot of Lipstick on a Pig, But it is still a Pig.” That is almost the exact same line Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama used at a campaign rally in Ohio on Tuesday. The opening chapter details the public relations triumphs and mistakes Mr. McCain made during the savings and loan scandal of the late 1980s.

“For me, the saying means don’t pretend something is better than it is,” Ms. Clarke said Wednesday. “That is the fundamental point. There is so much of a spotlight now, that spin doesn’t work.”

Ms. Clarke said the media environment has become even tougher in the nearly three years since the book was written. This week’s sound bite battle over who is dissing whom is a good example of that.

“As much as the campaigns use [the media], they just don’t understand how quick the information environment is and how quickly something can be taken out of context,” she said.

Mr. McCain, meanwhile, has used the folksy saying on the campaign trail himself, including at one appearance to describe former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s health care plan. The Obama campaign also points out that Republican House Leader John Boehner and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl have also publicly used the expression.

The McCain campaign accused Mr. Obama of directing the lipstick comment at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate who last week referred to herself in a joke: that the only difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom was lipstick.

“Barack Obama can’t campaign with schoolyard insults and then try to claim outrage at the tone of the campaign,” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said yesterday.

The Obama campiagn says that the comment was not directed at Mrs. Palin, but to the policies of Mr. McCain, which are similar to that of President Bush.

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday. “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It is still going to stink after eight years.”

Anita Dunn, Obama campaign supervisor, says the controversy over the “lipstick” comment is an example of the dirty politics the Mccain campaign has been engaged in.

“This phony lecture on gender sensitivity is the height of cynicism and lays bare the increasingly dishonorable campaign John McCain has chosen to run,” she said.

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