Obama Hits Back At 'Lipstick' Flap

Democrat Barack Obama has accused Republican John McCain's campaign of using "lies" in claiming he made a sexist remark against vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. In a speech Tuesday, Obama used the term "lipstick on a pig."

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Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama found himself on the defensive today over lipstick. John McCain's campaign released an Internet video accusing Obama of sexism for comments made during a town hall meeting yesterday in Southern Virginia. NPR's Debbie Elliott explains.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Barack Obama was questioning how John McCain could call himself an agent of change when he remarked to his rural audience, you can put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig.

The crowd loved it, but Republicans immediately called for an apology, and have linked the comments to McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, who quipped at the Republican National Convention that the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull was lipstick.

So this morning, during a campaign stop at a Norfolk high school, Senator Obama warned the small group gathered in the library that he had a little business to take care of.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Now, we are here to talk about education, but you know, I'm running for president, so that means that I've got to spend just a brief moment talking a little bit about politics.

ELLIOTT: The politics of lipstick. Obama used the moment to again cast his opponents as part of the old political regime.

Sen. OBAMA: What their campaign has done this morning is the same game that has made people sick and tired of politics in this country. They seize on an innocent remark, try to take it out of context, throw up an outrageous ad, because they know that it's catnip for the news media.

ELLIOTT: The ad playing on the Web juxtaposes the lipstick expressions from Obama and Palin, along with the shot of CBS anchor Katie Couric, talking about sexism during the primary.

Obama said McCain would rather have the story be about phony and foolish diversions than about the future.

Sen. OBAMA: We have a economy that is creating hardship for families all across America. We've got two wars going on, veterans coming home not being cared for. And this is what they want to talk about. This is what they want to spend two out of the last 55 days talking about.

ELLIOTT: Instead, Obama said he would stick to what he called the facts.

Sen. OBAMA: I don't care what they say about me, but I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and swift-boat politics. Enough is enough.

(Soundbite of applause)

ELLIOTT: And Obama did get back to outlining his plan to invest more in public education. Still, after the speech one voter expressed concern about how Democrats would fight swift-boating, referring to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that made unsubstantiated allegations about Democratic nominee John Kerry in 2004.

Obama acknowledged politics could be a tough game.

Sen. OBAMA: But look, there's no doubt that the other side, they're not good at governing, but they're good at running campaigns.

ELLIOTT: But he added, voters should be able to see that the lipstick controversy was, quote, "a cynical ploy." Just to be sure, the Obama campaign was quick to point out Senator McCain had himself used the lipstick-on-a-pig expression last year, one time describing Senator Hillary Clinton's health care plan.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Norfolk, Virginia.

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