Glenn Greenwald is understandably apoplectic that the chattering classes are wasting any of our precious time talking about whether Obama was making a sexist remark about Sarah Palin when he used a phrase no one has ever heard before, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."
Greenwald writes: "The only actual story here is how brazenly deceitful and cynical the McCain campaign is, and what helpful and easily manipulated allies the establishment media is in all of that. The efforts of a few isolated reporters to debunk the story won't end up mattering much because, once injected into the Freak Show stew with the help of Jake Tapper, AP and MSNBC, it festers."
Mmmm! Festering stew! Greenwald is right up to a point. But he's missing something that I sincerely hope the Obama camp does not, which is that Obama can make this idiotic non-story work for him by repeating the line over and over again. As Mickey Kaus muses, in the extremely unlikely possibility that Obama intended people to think of Sarah Palin, the quip is deviously "brilliant" in "memorably undermining three of her central virtues at once... 1) Attractive 2) Anti-pork 3) Non-Bush anti-Washington reformer." And I'll add a more important 4) this may be the best opportunity Obama has to get the media talking about which candidate really does offer a change.
Think about it. All Obama needs to say is, "Recently I compared John McCain's ideas about changing Washington to putting lipstick on a pig. John got all upset by this. Apparently he thinks putting lipstick on a pig is enough. I've tried to look at it from his perspective, but I'm sorry, all I'm still seeing is a pig. Now, if he wants to argue that you can put lipstick on a pig and make it not a pig, that's a debate I'm happy to have."
The folksy, self-parodying language is important, because it communicates to voters that Obama thinks this is a big joke, and he's having fun with it, while still making a real point. If McCain and Palin respond to that by whining again about sexism, they're going to look like thin-skinned, humorless, and cynical. Obama's surrogates could hammer that home: "The idea that this has anything to do with women is ridiculous. Hillary Clinton is a tough leader. When John McCain used the exact same phrase about her, she didn't throw a tantrum."
Sensing that they're losing traction, the McCain camp will have to shut up and move on. But Obama won't let them. He'll use the line every opportunity he gets, forcing the media to make "he's still saying it" part of the story. And since the sexist angle will already have played out, maybe they'll start arguing about whether McCain really is putting metaphorical lipstick on a metaphorical pig. Regardless of what they conclude, the fact that it's been repeated over and over again on the news will trigger an automatic response in voters minds: When John McCain says "change" think "lipstick on a pig."