Kissing The Pigs

by digby

Speaking of Village Laws, here's a perfect example of Cokie's Law:

The hubbub created by Barack Obama's comment yesterday a lipsticked pig reveal the acute understanding John McCain's campaign has for the importance of the politics of perception in this campaign.

It seems hard -- if not impossible -- to believe that Obama intended to equate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and a pig. As has been noted many times over the past 24 hours, the phrase "lipstick on a pig" is one that the Illinois senator used on the stump before Palin was even in consideration as vice president.

Also, Obama is a savvy politician who has been at this for 20 straight months. It's hard to believe he would purposely make a comparison between the Republican vice presidential candidate and a barnyard animal -- knowing full well the frenzy that would ensue.

That said, it may not matter what Obama meant (or, in this case, didn't mean) to say as, in politics, perception matters more than reality

Sensing an opportunity, the McCain campaign launched a "truth squad"
headed by former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift designed to highlight
the comment by Obama...This morning the McCain campaign -- seeking to keep "pig-gate" (or maybe "lipstick-gate") on the front political burner -- released a Web video entitled "lipstick" that accuses Obama of smearing the Alaska governor.


In this modern world of politics -- the 24 hour cable news channels combined with the power and the reach of the Drudge Report, which is heavily promoting the lipstick story -- perception often matters more than reality.

The McCain campaign has demonstrated over the past few months that they understand this "freak show" (as John Harris and Mark Halperin coined it in their book "The Way to Win") politics acutely.

From turning Obama's celebrity against him to this latest episode of taking a seemingly innocuous comment and transforming it into a national news story, the McCain campaign is effectively using the politics of perception against Obama.

Very interesting. But he doesn't exactly explain the mechanism by which the Republicans make this "freak show" work, does he? Maybe this will help:

During questions at the event, one attendee asked Obama how he could beat Republican lies while prioritizing integrity within his campaign — citing the 2004 defeat of Sen. John Kerry as a cautionary tale.

Obama conceded that it was a challenge to "fight nonsense" about taxes from the McCain campaign. For example, it falsely claims that the Democratic nominee would raise taxes when, in fact, he would cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.

"I still have faith that the truth will out, in the end," Obama said, to a smattering of applause. "This whole thing about lipstick, nobody actually believes that these folks are offended," he added, tweaking the party for PC hypocrisy.

"Everyone knows it's insincere," he added, "the media knows it! It's a game; it's a sport. Maybe if this wasn't such a serious time that would be OK. But this is serious," he stressed, reiterating his differences with McCain on education reform and Iraq.

As Obama voiced his optimism, however, the traveling press corps tapped away at a filing station in a small classroom here, churning out more headlines about a non-story created largely by the media, and repeatedly airing the McCain campaign's false distortion of Obama's remark.

This has been the pattern for many, many years. Watch this documentary on the 2000 race, or this article about the 2004 race if you don't believe me. Read any Howler column for the past eight years. There is no mystery as to why this works or what the enabling mechanism is. (Cilizza tries to make it "non-partisan" by citing the similar hissy fit over Clinton's RFK comment, but it proves nothing. The press is always willing to take the pre-masticated GOP Clinton narrative off the shelf.)

The GOP manufactures a juicy tidbit designed to get the sophomoric kewl kidz excited --- something sexy or silly and always stupid and distracting --- and they don't have to think about all that icky, boring wonky crap that actually affects people's lives.

But that isn't the end of it. Today, people like Chuck Todd and Mark Halperin are "calling out" the McCain campaign for manufacturing the scandal. Indeed, they are calling them out and calling them out and calling them out, showing the footage, discussing the "controversy" all day and basically doing exactly what the GOP wants them to do --- get it out there.

I have said it before and I'll say it again --- they don't care if the press likes them. Indeed, they prefer it if they don't so they can use the "liberal media" theme to ignite tribal grudges and stoke conservative feelings of victimization. (Think Balkans...) They are happy to have the media screaming about how "wrong" their claims are because in the conservative mind that makes them right. As long as it's "out there" they've succeeded.

Here's an example of the press corps having a meta discussion of this situation in which they fail to take any responsibility for the "freak show" they've helped create:

CARNEY: Well, this is the cynical brilliance of the McCain campaign strategy. They're throwing this stuff out there. It's false. It's ridiculous. It's a common phrase, but they know they've got Obama trapped. He'll get righteously indignant and respond, which means then the discussion is all about whether or not Obama is calling a female --

SCARBOROUGH: Whether he's sexist or not? Right.

CARNEY: -- candidate a pig and whether he's sexist or not. It's not about issues. It's not about other things. They've done the same thing with this education ad they've put out, which is, you know, essentially calling him -- you know, that he wants to teach kindergarteners sex education before they learn how to read. Again, a complete --

SCARBOROUGH: OK. Yeah, teach them sex before they teach reading.

CARNEY: -- a complete -- I mean, it's just -- it's false, and it's fake, but it's designed to throw Gorilla dust up in the air and force the public to focus on these issues and wonder whether or not --

MITCHELL: But isn't it working for them?

CARNEY: -- Barack Obama is acceptable as president.

SCARBOROUGH: It's working. It's working --

CARNEY: Of course it's working. We're talking about it. And the ref -- you know, we're supposed to be the referees, but they already -- and one part of their storyline is that the referees are in the tank already. So --


CARNEY: -- they want us to talk about --

MITCHELL: Well, they played the ref early.

CARNEY: They played the ref, and they say the ref is biased.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, and Andrea, of course, the Obama campaign would like to talk about today Sarah Palin getting money from the state of Alaska and I just -- I saw somewhere, like $50 a night, from the state of Alaska for staying at her house. But nobody's going to be talking about that today 'cause they're talking about sex education for 5-year-olds and whether Barack Obama is a sexist or not.

MITCHELL: Well, The Washington Post actually broke that story yesterday. The Anchorage papers picked it up today -- the whole question of the per diem here. She's, you know, advertising herself as a budget-cutter, and I got rid of the plane, and I got rid of the chef and all of this stuff, when, you know, some of these questions have to be looked into and --

CARNEY: Well, the problem with that story is that it's fact-based, and fact-based is clearly not as interesting as fiction-based.

I wonder if those marionette strings are tight at all.

Right now I'm listening some gasbag on MSNBC saying that this is really an important test of the two candidates. "If Obama can't 'take a punch' how can he be president?"

Andrea Mitchell just threw out that the press corps immediately thought this was Dukakis in the tank.