September 9th, 2008
09:56 PM ET

Lipstick on a pig – now everyone's saying it

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Editor's note: See Dana's full report tonight on AC360 at 10pm.

Dana Bash     
CNN Congressional Correspondent

I went to call a McCain aide about a new ad they put up hitting obama for advocating sex ed for kindergarten, but the aide didn’t want to talk about that.

Instead, he immediately asked if I had heard yet about what Obama had just said minutes earlier “about Palin.”

I said I hadn’t, and then he informed me that Obama had just said “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

With the sounds of a manic McCain war room echoing through the phone, the aide declared this a “crystallizing moment for the depths they’ve gone to now.”

When I asked about it, and our producer traveling with Obama, Sasha Johnson, sent around the full context of the quote, it became a lot less clear, to say the least, that Obama was calling out Palin.

In a riff mocking McCain for suggesting he can change Washington, Obama said:


But Obama was barely done saying that in Lebanon, Ohio, and the McCain campaign had already arranged a conference call with former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift, who called Obama’s comments a “disgrace” and demanded he apologize to Palin.

Several reporters on the call, including myself, asked Swift why she is sure Obama was talking about Palin?

“Calling a very prominent female governor a pig is not what we want,” said Swift, “as far as I know, she is the only one of the four presidential candidates that wears lipstick."

And how does she explain the fact that the term “lipstick on a pig” has become a standard term in the political lexicon….used even by McCain in the GOP primary to describe Mitt Romney?

"I think there is a difference and I think ultimately the American people will realize that calling a prominent female governor a pig is not acceptable," said Swift.

Well, minutes after the call, anyone with google was finding quotes from politicians of all stripes using that term – even McCain used it against Hillary Clinton once.

If nothing else, the way the McCain campaign pounced on the comments is a classic illustration of the way they think gender politics can be played against Obama with Palin on the ticket – especially given the lingering bitterness among some Hillary Clinton supporters who think she got a raw deal because she’s a woman.

But privately, one McCain ally I talked to tonight suggested that the mostly men who run the McCain campaign have got to be careful to chose their battles in their gender wars more carefully.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Raw Politics • Sarah Palin
soundoff (177 Responses)
  1. Lauren

    Obama not only insulted women with his "lipstick on a pig" comment but he also insulted older people with his "wrapping an OLD fish in a newspaper" comment. Neither of these expressions would mean anything in everyday conversation, but when presented in a political speech aimed specifically at Sara Palin (female) and John McCain (72 years old) there is little doubt the words were chosen intentially to insult McCain and Palin. Lawyers are careful about the words they use to make an argument.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:44 pm |
  2. melissa

    There is many of these little saying. So I say, so what! Palin called her self "a pitbull with lipstick" Whats the different between a dog and a pig? Not much!!!!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:44 pm |
  3. Judy

    If you want to play with the big boys you have to be able to take it. I'm tired of everyone claiming sexism when anything is said. Before you take on a job you should know what it involves if you can't handle the job don't take it. jj

    September 9, 2008 at 10:41 pm |
  4. Anne Jacobson

    Mark Halpern was right on: Stop falling for McCain camp's ploy to divert attention to discussion that matters. Mark is also right on what journalist real job is regarding Palin: find out everything about her, what her positions are on issues. If she refuses to talk to the the press, let the public know. No more give her special protection like the press did for Bush. Let's find out who does and does not have the skills, experience, and intellect to be the president of his great nation. I don't need a president whom I can have a beer with, or now possible a VP that I can go shopping with at Walmart.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:41 pm |
  5. Augustus

    It's amazing to me how, the republicans are using every petty tactic they can up with to take the attention away from the fact that Govenor Palin record is more unknown than Obama's was when he first came on the scene. Obama was under just as much scrutiny when he was considered for office.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  6. Mishka

    I am sick and tiered of the Republican Party trying to tie lies to Obama. They know that the Pig with Lip Stick is a old saying it has nothing to do with Sarah Palin. The Democratic surrogates need to get on there jobs of knocking down disgusting strategies like this one.

    WHERE IS STEPHANIE TUBB-JONES when you need her! She could have tackled this in seconds!!!!! May she rest in peace.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  7. Jill Jensen

    If Hillary keeps supporting Senator Obama after this then I guess she thinks Sarah Palin is a pig also!

    I am so mad tonight about his comment. He needs to apologize.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  8. Disgusted

    I'm disgusted with the comment. I find it offensive. It is beyond obvious he has not respect for women. A women was good enough to be VP or to run against. I guess we are all pigs with lipstick on Mr. Obama. Biden isn't any better.

    For all of you women who think it's no big deal – you have sold your soul for the -D behind your name.

    I still have my self respect – and my right to vote.

    Guess what – it's going to McCain / Palin now!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  9. Michele

    No one has mentioned that –

    Sarah Palin has become John McCain's CRUTCH. John McCain has changed personalities multiple times in this race. Now he is trying to Steal the Change Mantra. He is no maverick he is a Schizophrenic. You can tell that especially by the erratic Palin pick – she didn't even know about Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, she has been living in a bubble where it is ok to have the state buy her dinner at home. McCain may win the Election with Palin but will not be able to Govern effectively with her.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  10. Charmaigne

    Did he just say American women are pigs???? My God, let us not forget in every "accidental slip" is a true view into someone's personality. Obama is done. I have never heard such a derogatory Freudian slip from a public figure before. I'm sure his wife is up in arms. Obama will never live that statement down. Poor man.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  11. Elizabeth Fleming

    Why haven't we heard more from Sarah Palin on the real topics. I'm anxiously awaiting to hear something other then "hockey Mooooom, pit bull with lipstick and thanks, but no thanks" from this women. We keep hearing the same thing over, and over again.

    And if your willing to expose your family to the press and public to support your cause, than be prepared to answer questions about them.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:37 pm |
  12. Ellie

    Obama must apologies to Paline for this stupid Lipstick and Pig comment. It was rude and VERY uncalled for. Obama lost my vote and also the vote of 4 members in my family for sure. I just can not believe how wrong we were about him.
    I am a woman CEO and highly educated one (a Professor, teaching at a university) and never have time to blog but I just could not stay quiet and see him be this disrespectful to women.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:37 pm |
  13. Margie

    OK! The lady can read a speech; but can she answer a question about the issues. How sad that she is picked to run for VP and they (the McCain campaign) don't even trust her to talk to the media. How good can she be if she can't face an interviewer?

    September 9, 2008 at 10:36 pm |
  14. Nita

    Please – enough already - there is so much at stake that pigs and lipstick are the least of them. Our leaders need to discuss those issues now. If as a country we cannot find a way, quickly, to slove these problems - we may not regain the respect of the world much less respect for ourselves for a very long time.
    I liked it better when you guys were reporting issues – and not following all the nonsense.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:36 pm |
  15. joe spina

    Last night Babara Boxer in discussing Gov. Palin's impact on the race used the exact same "Lipstick & Pig" quip as Barack Obama mouthed today. Coincidence? I doubt it. Coordinated and intentional ... you bet.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  16. Marco Fuentes

    The democrats are panicking and falling to the lowest possible debts, with comments about lipstick on a pig and Biden's comments on challenged children, there is no telling how far down they will go.
    Now in their desperation they are calling on the Clinton's to come to their rescue? I thought I heard Jack Cafferty say the other day that all that Sen. Obama has to do to assume the presidency is to breed until December!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  17. Shawn

    I'm tired of the republicans whining about sexism Just because the press wants talk to Gov. Palan. Or the democrats say anything that resembles an attack ,real or amagined. It just proves she isn't ready. If she's that thin skinned forget it!!!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  18. annie

    They did not play this entire comment by Obama. Before he said the "lipstick on a pig" comment he was directy referring to MCCAIN and McCain's newfound claims to "change" Washington. They should play the entire comment to get a true representation of Obama's comments. This was in no way a sexist remark. My heart breaks to think any women are actually behind Palin, she sickens me!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    "I am so sick of people crying sexism and defending this broad everytime somebody says something questioning her credentials. If Sarah Palin can’t stand the heat, she needs to get out of the kitchen!!!!"

    With comments like this its not wonder the left can't under stand why the Palin supporters say there is sexism in the race.


    Oh reminds me of comments made in the history books by ignorant people talking about another group and couldn't under stand what the big deal is..

    No sexism with that comments

    September 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  20. Len

    With the state of condition this country is in it's hard to believe masses are venturing to McCain based on his selection of a female as his running mate. It reminds me of a period in boxing when the term "Great White Hope" was used in hopes of a white man dethrowning a black man to become the heavy weight champion of the world. Using Sarah Palin as a Substitute for Hillary Clinton to win women voters is disturbing and a degradation to women.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  21. Jean

    Isn't it about time that the media put a stop to the McCain campaign using them to treat us all like fools? They've set this up so that anything Obama or Biden say is somehow a slam against Princess Palin and they can count on you guys to report it ad nauseum. I'll bet if he had said "a rose by any other name is still a rose" they'd have spun that into an insult too. Both are just figures of speech. The Republicans are becoming increasingly pathetic. I was undecided until recently but this kind of crap is enough. I guess it's going to be Obama '08 for me.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  22. Gloria

    I do not think Obama said the thing about lipstick to offend Palin. After all Palin start the slogan when she stated " the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick". She said it herself and now the people wantt to fault Obama for something she started. I do not think that Palin knew what she was saying and what she was calling herself.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:33 pm |
  23. Grok


    You have to be willfully blind not to know that "you can put lipstick on a pig" is a known phrase.

    Also, I don't see you being upset with McCain for having used the same phrase in reference to Hilary's policies.

    Mostly, just grow up.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  24. Bill

    It amazes me that so many people can watch the same programming and come away with opinions that are soooo different.

    I guess we hear what we want to hear. To bad people cant check their predispositions and judgments at the door and just get the facts.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  25. Gabriele Rife

    I am German and this is the first time I am following a campaign. My husband is American and we moved to the states in August 2007. Obama is a eloquent professor and the best speaker of the four candidates. You want to tell me, that he did not understand the irony behind this remark? And it also took him twenty years, before he figured out that his pastor is a racist? If this is true, I am really afraid to send my child to an American university. :-)))

    September 9, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  26. Thelma G Williams

    Okay Dana, and why are we talking about "lipstick on a pig" instead of what you originally phoned for? I guess because as usual the media allows McCain's campaign to change the subject to what they want it to be rather than real reporting.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  27. Denise

    CNN and other media are being manipulated by the McCain camp. Too much time is spent on re-hashing the trivia and focusing on personality. The first 20 minutes on "lipstick on a pig" and other insignificant comments? Why not dig deeper into the positions and record of Palin, like why did she claim per diem costs to stay at her own home? Why not question why she is not willing to even talk to you? You seem afraid to get tough and do the hard research that you were eager to do with Hillary and Obama. Are you afraid the McCain camp will criticize you? That is a tactic to make you back off. Please, don't fall for it this time.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
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