Despite long history of political "lipstick" references, AP's Pickler linked Obama's to Palin's

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN, JEREMY SCHULMAN, LILY YAN & JOCELYN FONG

The AP's Nedra Pickler wrote that "lipstick" has become "a political buzzword, thanks to" Gov. Sarah Palin's "joke in her acceptance speech that lipstick is the only thing that separates a hockey mom like her from a pit bull," and suggested that therefore Palin's joke had something to do with Sen. Barack Obama's reference to "lipstick on a pig." Yet Obama had previously used the expression in this campaign -- before Palin's reference to lipstick at the RNC -- and as Pickler noted in the same article, Sen. John McCain himself has used it. Indeed, the expression, and similar ones, has been used by politicians for years.

In a September 10 article about Sen. Barack Obama's comment that "[Y]ou can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig," Associated Press reporter Nedra Pickler wrote that "lipstick" has become "a political buzzword, thanks to" Gov. Sarah Palin's "joke in her acceptance speech that lipstick is the only thing that separates a hockey mom like her from a pit bull," and suggested that therefore Palin's joke had something to do with Obama's reference to "lipstick on a pig." Yet Obama had previously used the expression in this campaign -- before Palin's reference to lipstick at the Republican National Convention -- as had former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN), a supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton, and -- as Pickler noted in the same article -- McCain himself while criticizing Clinton's health-care proposal. Indeed, the expression, and similar ones, has been used by politicians for years.

Despite numerous examples of politicians using the expression before Palin's September 3 convention speech, Pickler wrote: "What's the difference between the presidential campaign before and after the national political conventions? Lipstick." Pickler continued: "The colorful cosmetic has become a political buzzword, thanks to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's joke in her acceptance speech that lipstick is the only thing that separates a hockey mom like her from a pit bull." Apparently based on this assumption of the novelty of "lipstick" in this campaign, Pickler went on to link Obama's "lipstick on a pig" statement to Palin's convention joke:

What's the difference between the presidential campaign before and after the national political conventions? Lipstick. The colorful cosmetic has become a political buzzword, thanks to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's joke in her acceptance speech that lipstick is the only thing that separates a hockey mom like her from a pit bull.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama told an audience Tuesday that GOP presidential nominee John McCain says he'll change Washington, but he's just like President Bush.

"You can put lipstick on a pig," he said to an outbreak of laughter, shouts and raucous applause from his audience, clearly drawing a connection to Palin's joke even if it's not what Obama meant. "It's still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years."

McCain's campaign called the comments "offensive and disgraceful" and said Obama owes Palin an apology. Obama's campaign said he wasn't referring to Palin and said the GOP camp was engaging in a "pathetic attempt to play the gender card." Obama's camp also noted that McCain once used the same phrase to describe Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care plan.

As Media Matters for America noted, Pickler provided no evidence for her assertion -- contradicted by other media outlets -- that the audience "clearly" drew a connection between Obama's and Palin's remarks.

The expression is in fact a common one. Indeed, along with reporter Jennifer Loven, Pickler herself reported in an October 9, 2004, AP article that then-Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards used the same expression in reference to statements by President Bush:

Edwards, campaigning Saturday in Detroit, accused the president of distorting the latest employment statistics to make it seem like millions of jobs had been created on his watch.

"They're going to try everything they know how to put lipstick on this pig, but at the end of the day, it's still a pig," Edwards said.

Although 1.8 million jobs have been added to business payrolls in the past year -- the figure Bush's claims are based on -- there are 821,000 fewer jobs now in the country than when Bush took office in January 2001.

"Come November, his time is going to be up and we're going to have a new president," Edwards said.

And Pickler reported on June 1, 2008:

Tina Flournoy, who led Clinton's efforts to seat both states' delegations with full voting power, said she was disappointed by the outcome but knew the Clinton position had "no chance" of passing the committee.

"I understand the rules. ... I can tell you one thing that has driven these rules was being a party of inclusion," Flournoy said. "I wish my colleagues will vote differently."

Alice Huffman, a Clinton supporter on the committee, explained that the compromise giving delegates half votes was the next best thing to full seating.

"We will leave here more united than we came," she said.

Some audience members heckled her in response. "Lipstick on a pig!" one shouted.

Moreover, Pickler wrote in her September 10 article that "McCain once used the same phrase to describe Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care plan." Indeed, in an October 11, 2007, post, the Chicago Tribune Washington bureau blog, The Swamp, reported:

McCain criticized Democratic contenders for offering what he called costly universal health care proposals that require too much government regulation. While he said he had not studied Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's health-care plan, he said it was "eerily reminiscent" of the failed plan she offered as first lady in the early 1990s.

"I think they put some lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," he said of her proposal.

In addition, while discussing health care at a May 2 town hall meeting in Denver, McCain again used the expression. He said: "All I can say is that, yes, in 1993, we rejected the then-Clinton universal health care proposal. It was rejected by the American people. I don't like to use this term, but the latest proposal I see is putting lipstick on a pig, as we used to -- as we used to say."

Also, CNN.com reported in a February 2, 2007, article, that McCain used the phrase while discussing the debate over President Bush's strategy in Iraq:

Another Bush supporter, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the Warner resolution would be a vote of no confidence in Gen. David Petraeus, the incoming commander of U.S. and allied troops in Iraq. And McCain, who has blasted the Bush administration's handling of the war, said his proposal is a sign the United States is willing to go "all in" in the now-unpopular conflict.

"It gets down to whether you support what is being done in this new strategy or you don't," McCain said. "You can put lipstick on a pig, [but] it's still a pig, in my view."

According to a September 14, 2007, Washington Post column by Eugene Robinson, Obama used the expression in a phone interview the previous day:

"I think that both General [David] Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker are capable people who have been given an impossible assignment," Sen. Barack Obama said yesterday in a telephone interview. "George Bush has given a mission to General Petraeus, and he has done his best to try to figure out how to put lipstick on a pig."

In addition to McCain, Obama, and Edwards, other political and media figures have made similar "lipstick" comments:

  • Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards (D), reportedly referring to ineffective government programs: "You can put lipstick and earrings on a hog and call it Monique, but it's still a pig.''
  • Former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO): " 'What they want is not change; it's just putting lipstick on a pig,' Schaffer told an estimated crowd of 4,500 people at the Broomfield Event Center." [Denver Post; 5/31/08]
  • Then-Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson: "He also took a swipe at Democrats when he was asked his plan for health care. 'You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig,' Thompson said. 'These health care plans that they're pushing, they're pigs.' " [AP; 1/15/08]
  • House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH): " 'Right now our fundraising sucks. ... There's no other way to put it. ... There's no use putting lipstick on a pig.' " [National Journal's CongressDaily; 4/3/08]
  • Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA): "Barack Obama blames lobbyists. Hunger and environmental groups blame Democratic leaders. Sen. Chuck Grassley calls it 'smearing lipstick on a pig.' The federal farm bill passed by the Senate was a turkey delivered for the holidays. It won't get much better when it is recooked in conference committee when Congress reconvenes." [The Tribune of Ames, Iowa; 12/27/07]
  • Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), on Democrats' changes to a State Children's Health Insurance Program bill: "Rep. Joe Barton of Texas last week compared the changes to 'putting lipstick on a pig. It may ... be a good pig. It may be a nice pig. It might be intended to be the right kind of pig ... [b]ut it's still a pig.' " [CNN.com; 11/2/07]
  • American Conservative Union chairman David Keene, on a 2007 Senate immigration bill: " 'I don't doubt [Sen.] Jon [Kyl, (R-AZ)] has improved the bill, but you can put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig.' " [Washington Times; 6/27/07]
  • Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), on a 2007 Senate immigration bill: "Well, of course, most of what you have described is just -- you know, there's an old saying around here about putting lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. This is the lipstick for it." [CNN's Paula Zahn Now; 5/17/07]
  • Syndicated political talk-show host John McLaughlin, on President Bush's appointment of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson: "Is this the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig?" [The McLaughlin Group; 6/02/06]
  • Conservative blogger Bill Crawford: "I never meant to give a comprehensive account of how things are going in Iraq. I'm not, as my grandmother used to say, 'trying to put lipstick on a pig.' " [National Review Online; 3/20/06]
  • Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), on 2007 appropriations for Navy and Marines Corps budget: "I think from my inside look, a lot of the problems have been overcome because there is a parallel Navy running, and it is outside the NMCI. I think everybody's laughing behind you. They all know that, and so the question is, how do we adapt and work with that rather than try to put lipstick on a pig?" [House Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations meeting; 3/08/06]
  • Vice President Dick Cheney on Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) military plan: "As we like to say in Wyoming ... you can put all the lipstick you want on a pig, but at the end of the day it's still a pig." [speech at Hawaii Convention Center; 11/01/04; and speech at Hallowed Hills Conference Center in Ohio; 10/30/04 -- also noted by The Dallas Morning News' Trail Blazers blog]
  • Lynne Cheney on Kerry: "John Kerry tries to put a bunch of fancy, fancy talk -- tried to disguise that record, sort of like his fancy haircut, fancy manicure, tried to disguise the whole thing. ... But there is nothing you can do to really -- to really obscure that record. You can try, though. And in Wyoming, we've got a saying for what it is when you keep trying to make something that's not so good look good, we call it putting lipstick on a pig. ... Yes. ... And it doesn't work." [remarks at Embassy Suites Hotels in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania; 10/13/04]

Additionally, in a June 18 piece, The Hill included the following quotes in its "Congress Speak: Making up the pig":

"Let's not perfume the pig here. The Democrats have some seriously deep fissures that they are going to have to mend outside of any formal rules committee."

-- Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, in a May 29 appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live."

[...]

"You can put lipstick on a pig, but guess what? It's still a pig."

-- Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), discussing in April 2004 a Bush administration proposal to eliminate overtime pay.

"You know the old saying about putting lipstick on a pig? Well, I smell bacon."

-- Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) in a May 21 House floor speech on U.S. trade policy.

"Calling this surrender a 'withdrawal' or a 'redeployment' is like putting lipstick on a pig. No matter what you call it, it is still a pig."

-- Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) during an April 26 speech on the Senate floor about supplemental funding for the Iraq war.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
Associated Press
Person
Nedra Pickler
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.