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McCain on Lipsticked Pigs, B*tches and Tar Babies

September 10, 2008

Once again, John McCain is proving the old maxim that a man who lives in 11 glass houses shouldn't cast stones. While his campaign feigns outrage over Barack Obama's labeling of the McCain change mantra as "lipstick on a pig," video footage surfaced of McCain using the same aphorism about Hillary Clinton's health care plan in 2007. And its effort to manufacture fury over bogus accusations of sexism, Team McCain must be betting that Americans have forgotten John McCain's troubled history with b*tches, tar babies - and worse.
Of course, the "lipstick on a pig" formulation is so commonplace - and understood to be without incendiary overtones - as to enjoy bipartisan support. For his part, Obama has been using "lipstick on a pig" for months, including in a past reference to the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Former Rumsfeld press secretary and current McCain water-carrier Torie Clarke penned a book titled, Lipstick on a Pig: Winning in the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game. John McCain, too, turned to the same phrase in attacking Hillary Clinton's health care proposals (though not the almost first woman presidential nominee) last October:

"I think they put some lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," McCain said of the plan last October as Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sexist slurs directed at Hillary Clinton, John McCain and his campaign have a checkered past. When a supporter during an event in South Carolina last November asked him, "how do we beat the bitch," McCain laughed before calling it an "excellent question." (Video here.) After CNN's Rick Sanchez described "McCain's reaction, or lack thereof" to "a horrible word that is used to do nothing but demean women," McCain campaign chairman Rick Davis sent out a fundraising email to literally capitalize on the episode:

"The CNN Network, affectionately known as the Clinton News Network, has stooped to an all-time low and is gratuitously attacking John McCain for not defending Hillary Clinton enough when a South Carolina voter used the 'B' word to describe her when John McCain stopped into a luncheon yesterday at the Trinity restaurant in Hilton Head, SC...
...As an independent news agency, CNN owes John McCain an apology because of the outrageous behavior of their network host Rich Sanchez."

Sadly, John McCain's B*tchgate pales in comparison to his 1998 slander of the teenaged Chelsea Clinton. Appearing at a Senate Republican fundraiser, the gutter dwelling McCain joked:

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno."

While McCain later apologized to President and Mrs. Clinton (though not to Janet Reno), he brushed off the episode to the New York Times' Maureen Dowd. "''This is the bad boy," he said, adding, "I was wrong, but do you want me crucified? How many days does it need to be a story?'"
McCain's run-ins with inflammatory rhetoric don't end with sexism. Last year, McCain followed Tony Snow and Mitt Romney in casually reintroducing the racist slur "tar baby" back into the vernacular. Answering a question about fathers' rights in divorce cases during a March 2007 campaign event, McCain stumbled his way into trouble:

"For me to stand here before all these people and say that I'm going declare divorces invalid because someone feels that they weren't treated fairly in court, we are getting into a, uh, uh, tar baby of enormous proportions."

When CNN's Candi Crowley subsequently asked him (video here) about the racist overtones of the expression, McCain apologized:

"I hope that it's not viewed that way...I don't think I should have used that word and it was wrong to do so."

Despite his past utterances - intentional and not - neither the Democratic Party nor the mainstream media are branding John McCain sexist or racist. (With their recent uses of the term "uppity," Georgia Republicans Lynn Westmoreland and Rick Goddard are another matter.) But in its latest cynical use of Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign is waging a transparently ridiculous war against Barack Obama using trumped-up charges of sexism.
Of course, neither Obama nor McCain was serving up sexist slanders when each spoke of "lipstick on a pig." But given his track record when its comes to charged rhetoric, John McCain would do well to show restraint now.
After all, men who live in glass houses...


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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