September 9th, 2008
09:56 PM ET

Lipstick on a pig – now everyone's saying it

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/09/obama9.9post.jpg]

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. Shakira

    I think it's obvious that Obama and the Dems need a woman to combat the Palin-palooza that has taken over the campaign. Obama and Biden will only continue to be accused of being sexists if they engage Palin in any serious way. Here's where Hilary Clinton could be extremely helpful. As she works the stump, she needs to especially target Palin's obvious lack of knowledge and readiness to be president and if necessary president. Clinton's straight-talking and toughness and political wiles could mightily upset the Republican boost and snap misguided women (and men) voters out of the Palin-inspired media trance.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:19 pm |

    being a foreigner legally residing in the states , i must say that am startled and in awe at how the issues has been brushed aside and rhetorics and personality being made primarily the name of the game.
    if its sarah , its alright . i bet even if you guys are to dig up that she was a pornstar in her past, there will be some folks out there who will say that goes to show she has been in the lows of life ,and she understands the pressures of life and will use that appeal internationally ,
    i am beginning to think that most folks here are outright dumb and will believe anything , sarah is making speeches like a robot , no issues ,but thin resume and the false bridge to nowhere storyline and folks are so excited . wow . this is incredible

    September 9, 2008 at 10:19 pm |
  3. Michelle Bell

    I think McCain's party need to stop taking things out of context. They know Obama wasn't being funny when he made that statement. The Republican party just wants to use anything they can find to try to persuade Obama's supporters to vote on there side. Palin started the argument about lipstick. The Republican party sounds like a bunch of kindergarten kids.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  4. Steele

    Lipstick on a pig is an old saying and McCain camp knows it but they also know that there is alot of less intelligent people out there that would rather be excited over being angry to give reason for them to join the Palin fan club.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  5. Shawn

    I do think it's kind of a silly news topic. BUT, I think all of this shows us a lot about Obama. He's getting rattled—and doesn't like being upstaged or challenged. It's what Hillary said all along about him. He sounds rattled and annoyed that for the first time that I can remember. I think it shows his inexperience.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  6. rob den Hollander

    wat is the differents between a pig with lipstick

    or a pitbull with lipstick

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  7. iris Merlino

    I heard the phrase you can put a dress on a pig but it's still a pig. I never heard the phrase regarding putting lipstick on a pig. Obama meant it for Palin and if the reporters think we don't know it sad for them. About Palins opinion on pro life that is her own opinion. I believe that each state has it's own law or am I wrong on this.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  8. Becky

    What's really shocking to me is that Palin has become such an issue. As far as the "pig in lipsick" saying, McCain used it against Hillary Clinton. I guess it was ok then? I am a Republican also. Palin scares me to death. If he dies then she's president. What are people thinking? Let's get back to the issues. The Republican party has been in for eight years. I'm struggling financially like never in my life. What do I get from the Republicans? Saying Obama is going to raise my taxes when I have looked at Tax Policy Center and have seen that I will pay more than a $1,000 less than I will with McCain. So it seems to me the only people who will pay more taxes are the ones who make $250,000 or more. If I made that I would be able to pay more taxes.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  9. Dee

    This women does not represent me or any women I know. Lets start talking about the issues that matter to people. I think the media is playing right in to the McCain camp. The democrats need to get back on message and ignore this women as much as possible. If this continues this country is in trouble if the Republicans win the WH

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  10. Adaora Chukwu

    For the first time in this election I understand why people in the South hate Obama for being alive. I can't stand Sarah Palin! She doesn't represent me as a women, she doesn't even know my experience as an African-American, she doesn't relate to the people in the inner-city (the real forgotten people). I wish this nightmare would end.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  11. tom cassidy

    It is just a expression, one that McCain used during a speech about Sen. Clinton's health plan. Lets get to the issues and how to fix them. As a independent, I like Sen. Obama's speeches more because he is at least giving some details. I have heard the McCain/Palin speech everyday on CNN, its the same speech. (I wish that damn pen would leak in his pocket)

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  12. Linda

    This election is hitting the lowest of the lows. I hardly think Obama using a phrase that's been around for ages in ana appropriate context can even compare to the lies McCain and Palin are spouting. Teaching sex to kindergarteners? The Bridge to Nowhere that they STILL insist she said no to? Does anyone ask her where the money went? Charging your government to stay in your own home? AND THIS IS JUST FROM TODAY!!!

    What happened our right to vet our candidates? Talk about keeping them honest! Anderson, I'm shocked that you're not standing on your desk and demanding the truth and the opportunity for CNN to interview Palin.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  13. Becky

    C'mon Anderson lipstick on a pig is a subliminal shot at Palin O'bama needs to stay away from palin and stay on target by the way if Palin gets pregnant can she take some time off? if so how long?

    September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  14. Lisa

    I am dissapointed with Obama. I was a Demoncrate until I heard this "lipstick on a pig" comment. Now, I'm undecided. Not everyone has the intellectual level to understand that this is just a "figure of speech". I find it very offensive and it's not because I'm a woman. I am a human being and I don't appreciate the slinging. Let's get to business in this country and make decisions that impact the people on a long term basis. Let's run on the issues, not person attacks.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  15. Phyllis

    I am so tired of hearing about Paulin and not the issues that are important to me.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  16. McKenzie Kibler

    I think that the “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” comment was simply an anology to real life by saying that even if you dress up your campain as something nice and sweet, its still just a dirty campian, which i think Obama is implying about McCain. The comment isn;t suppose to be sexist at all and the fact that McCain and Palin would try to pull that is just disturbing.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  17. Mary Lynn

    Please give me a break! One thing this illustrates is that the GOP will do anything to avoid speaking to the issues! I understand that Dems need to fight back against the absolute onslaught of garbage and lies continually manufactured by the GOP, but the plan to take the high road and stick to the issues is going to get Obama/Biden further than sniping back.
    Intelligent voters want to hear substance, it's about Obama vs. McCain, the less attention we give to Palin, the less they have to push another phony issue to the forefront.
    Don't let them get to you, Senator Obama – you are the right man for this job at this time. We believe in you.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  18. Kay

    This is one of the tricks of this 'honorable' hero. He lies and keeps on repeating lies. That is his strategy. I watched him during the primaries pull the same trick on Romney. He kept on repeating lies about Romney day after day nonstop. And people believed his lies. I have lost my respect for McCain. Is the American public awake? This country needs CHANGE, real change. You can't get that from lobbyists. Hello America, wake up!!!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  19. G Brown

    Is McCain still running for president? Why is he always in the background listening to her canned speech?

    September 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  20. Brett Rogers

    unfortunately I see the american people going to the polls voting for Sarah Palin not John McCain. The media must do a better job of asking where is sarah palin? she needs to come out of her closet and tell us where she stands on important foriegn issues. What happens when she becomes vice president? Will she continue to stand behind a podium and repeat the same speach over and over to a crowd of people she must believe did not watch the RNC?? The media cannot wait for her to be a heart beat away to get tough on her. It is irresponsible for John McCain to have done this to the american people and the media must be the ones to show us who she really is.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  21. Susan, California

    Sarah Palin, essentially referred to herself as a pitbull with lipstick.

    But really, we need reporters to interview her seriously without scripts.
    We need answers about her role in her former church where she spoke this June, asking parisheners to pray for a pipeline?
    We need to know why she was pressured to hire an administrator to run her 6,000 people town when she was mayor. Why was there a recall effort?
    What about evidence that she fires skilled people when she moves to a post, and replaces them with less experiences 'yes' people or cronies.
    And we need an explanation for the bridge she wanted, then said she didn't want, but apparently kept the money for it.
    There is much more....where are the reporters?

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  22. Cindy

    The Press who are agast in their behavior and doing their part of the political process by not doing the investigating and having enough thick skin to not be intimidated by either party. Quit letting the proposed leaders tell lies and ask the hard questions and covering what is important the lives and hardships of the American people. The e-mails you are getting saying you are attacking are about trying to get you to not do your job. You wonder why McCain got a bounce? Try counting how many times the word Sarah Palin has been said and every news cast is about Sarah Palin and her affect on the election etc... Do we really want to do this to our country? Shouldn't we demand more from our press and political system? Wonder why the country is going down hill, plenty of blame to go all the way around. What happened to the kind of reporting done during Watergate?

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  23. Daisy

    Sarah Palin, herself, said the difference between a pitbull and herself is lipstick. Is a pitbutt better than a cow? However, I don't think Senator Obama was referring to Palin.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  24. Ay

    For someone whose experience is being touted, it is very odd that Palin hasnt spoken and taken questions from reporters. I mean does she have to graduate from some republican training course before she can speak? Biden had campaigned alone and taken questions from the press and even supporters from day 1. The same convention speech by Palin just doesnt cut it.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  25. Doug In Texas

    I can't beleive that no one is looking at the underlying issues anymore. McCain/Palin is a "Campaign to Nowhere". They offer no real solutions to the immediate issues and have all the intentions to maitain the Dubya mantra of the last eight years. Hopefully the "novelty" of Palin wears off in the next couple of weeks.....

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  26. Bob

    This is absolulely ridiculous. I watched Obama's speech in which he used this expression. It was totally appropriate as a quip. It is nothing and the press should know better. The press should be focusing on the blatant lies that McCain and Palin are dishing out without anyone challenging them. I am absolutely disappointed in the way you are covering Palin. She is not an untouchable.


    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  27. celia

    I don't like Sara Palin. She is to cinic and I do not want a a pit bull in the white house

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  28. cloudy, NM

    What happens if a presidential candidate dies before election day and/or what happens if a presidential candidate dies after the elections and before inauguration?

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  29. Mary Hickey

    I cant believe the press is buying into John McCain's eagerness to play the victim. You guys should all be ashamed of yourself. Cover the real issues and the woman's background, not this nonsense. If you don't do it right you should just give it up and go back to your stuid polygamist story ...

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  30. Rick Sims

    The Republican party is upset over the lipstick on pig remark.My God! She referred to herself as a pit-bull with lipstick! What a hypocrite.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  31. Daryl

    this is a quote "words matter" he could have selected a hundred other down on the farm sayings but he choose this one, the Palin Lipstick line has been played so often that the word lipstick makes the connection.
    People will read this and decide.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  32. Morris S.

    Look, the McCain Camp doesn't really know or care what Sarah Palin's record on the issues is. They only selected her because she was a women. They will try to fool white women voters and independents by using her gender to say that the democratics are sexist. Typical Republican tactics. Will voters be fooled by the Republican Party be fooled this time? This is a critical question for voters in this elections.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  33. CJ

    Just like dumb people to take what was said out of context. Palin is the one who compared herself to any animal. Saying the difference between a soccer mom and a bull is lipstick. She referred to herself as being a bull. To be honest pigs are cuter than bulls, but that is besides the point.

    Obama has basically said, it doesn't matter if she is a bull, a pig, a penguin, duck or even a human being, just because you put lipstick on it doesn't make certain actions/beliefs right.

    People keep talking about Obama defending himself but McCain and Palin can slander, lie and deceive all day. Unbelievable!!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  34. Leslie

    This is ridiculous! This is a really old expression–where are you complaining people from? I'm a feminist woman and I don't want to see a woman run again if she's going to be a big belly aching baby WHAAAA, they are sexist! they are asking me questions. whaaaaaa! Jeez women, get a grip!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  35. Damon-MS

    Wow! The McCain camp has manged to have us talking about lipstick on a pig, instead of the Russian- Georgia conflict, the economy the job losses, the lack of confidence in our gov., the troops in Iraq, and the atrocities in Afghanistan. By the way, why not tell Sarah Palin, that apparently the vice president goes and shores up support in the back yard of the Soviets, apparently while no one is looking. If she wants to know what exactly the vice president does.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  36. Ann Glaser

    Wow, I have a son in a private school..Senior in college...Hmmm....lots of kids may be forced to quit due to lenders not being there.....Hmmm and we are talking about lipstick....Whatever, start talking about what is real important ...I, agree, how dare they compare her to Hillary Clinton....Does not hold a candle to her!!!....Is that a good line for your Mrs. Palin...If you are an average women whom is working and putting kids through school.....You will vote for the right choice.....OBAMA

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  37. Silver

    Palin is a person who I think is fine but too conservative for me. But again women are always the target and Obama will never figure out were women fit in in his campaign. I am tired of Obama who left 19 millions votes on the table. Obama may not make it ...he may see the end of his the media darling.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  38. liz marin

    Sara Palin described herself this way. She got and said "know what the difference is between a pit bull and a soccor mom – lipstick" and then she pointed to her lips.
    So if she has given herself the name of pit bull, and baracuter, why not a pig? Pig is probably the best that describes her.

    This election is about Sara Palin. She is the ultimate personification of the lunitic right wing. They are the ones that choose her for McCain. He had chosen Liberman as we all know. The deal was you will take Missy Sara and we will back the both of you. It seems that even the Maverick – the man of honor – has a price.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  39. Teo

    The story of the day is that Palin continues to claim that she refused the bridge to nowhere. In fact, she campaigned on it, lobbied for it and would have built it but for the outrage in the Congress. Now, she needs to be held ACCOUNTABLE. Every news cast should begin with the story that Sarah Palin continues to misrepresent her own record. Period. Until Palin backs off, CNN and Fox and MSNBC and the other networks should make sure that public understands that Palin misrepresents her own record. ENOUGH.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  40. Peta

    Yet another distraction from the issues impacting us daily. The only way to stop this is to get Sara Pallin interviewed by unbiased jouranlists. We ,the public, have no idea who this woman is – all we know is what her speech writers have written for her. The rest is all is, andf should be, a huge blur.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  41. lis

    If Palin wants to play with the big boys...she needs to stop being a cry baby and quit pulling the sexism card about everything. Leaders in foreign countries are not going to give her special treatment for being a woman...and neither are the American People. McCain/Palin camp...get over it. We got it..."we get it" you've got a woman on your ticket. It's getting old.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  42. Delali D., Washington, DC

    I find it very interesting the Palin/McCain camp can say whatever they want about Obama, but once he starts questioning them on....He attacking Palin, it's sexism, he is attacking her family. ENOUGH!!!
    Gov. Palin time to face the people and not the stage and the cameras.
    ENOUGH with the recycled rhetoric about "thanks no thanks," "I put it on EBay!" Stop playing the victim and start facing the real Sarah Palin.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  43. Carmelo Dessin

    The Obama camp needs to stay on message about the issues regarding american families. The Sarah Palin effect will dissolve when the debates take place.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  44. Robin

    Bottom line is that the reason our society has gotten to the point it is at now is because of MEN like John McCain! McCain can't throw a female in here from Nowhere and expect to win. It's clear he won't!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  45. Sean, NC

    Did you hear Palin's speech at the convention? She took several shots at Obama and I think that it's about time to take shots at her. She should be able to take it. This was creative. Palin's attacks showed no class. Very good Obama.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  46. jessica

    Its ok for her to attack Obama but not OK for him to say anything?? He was not even refering to her when he said that, he meant that whatever they try to call themselves, they are still not change.
    I'm sick of the McCain campaign playing the sex card, GROW UP. As for the media, I think they have not been agressive enough. We deserve answers and we are not getting them. Additionally, when interviewed, the people backing McCain because of Sarah Palin have nothing of substance to offer in terms of what makes her qualified. If she were a man she would never have been chosen. And the media would be much more aggressive. That is the truth. They keep talking about "values" and God and pro-life. Last time I checked this doesn’t assist in foreign affairs or the economy.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  47. Susi

    COME ON PEOPLE! McCann is riding Palin into the highest office, when the plain fact is – the so called Maverick is not going to give her time on his state of the union or anything else. WAKE UP!!! I totally believe that she should be scrutinized. God knows Oboma was for months!!!

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  48. Chris

    Obama... We need to attack McCain as well. She is hiding for doing any interviews, let the press handle that one. AC, you guys need to push this issue, why is she hiding...

    September 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  49. Dennis Dougherty

    What's a poor community organizer to do? Rebuplicans have been asking for people to get involved at the grass roots level and when they do they INSULT them.

    At the RNC McCain declared, declared a fight to win. Stop whinning!

    I don't know, does McCain/Palin have a (R) behind their name sense they are trying to transform and distance themselves from (R).

    Hey, let's fight. That's all they know.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
  50. C Taylor

    The Dems need to talk about the issues and why the McCain isn't talking on the issues and talk why McCain didn't even mention the President today,

    September 9, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
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