For most of Wednesday, surrogates to Barack Obama counteracted the contrived charge that the Senator had demeaned Sarah Palin in his totally unrelated "lipstick-on-a-pig" comment by criticizing the McCain's camp's tactics and bemoaning the media's complicity in running the story.
By the afternoon, the campaign had settled on a far more aggressive -- and likely effective -- response. Appearing on MSNBC and Fox News, Stephanie Cutter, a spokesperson for the vice president, turned the McCain campaign's charge entirely on its head, arguing that it was the Arizona Republican's sexist statements of his own, his position on equal pay, health care, and the economy to which female voters should take offense.
"I have never heard such a circular argument in my life," said Cutter. "This is a completely fabricated controversy and I have a hard time believing women are offended by this. People use this saying all the time. I have to wonder why John McCain would want to raise something like this. And maybe [former Massachusetts Gov.] Jane Swift [who appeared earlier on MSNBC] doesn't know his record but I wonder where her outrage was when John McCain said he was going to beat Hillary Clinton like a drum. Or participated in an event where one of his participants called Hillary Clinton a bitch. Those are direct comments targeted at somebody's gender. And I didn't hear any outrage then... They are having a false offense on putting lipstick on a pig, when John McCain doesn't even stand for equal pay for women, doesn't stand for children's health insurance, thinks the economy is just going fine when millions of children are going without health care. I mean where is the offense at that?"
Compare Cutter's line to the one offered just minutes earlier by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who criticized McCain on process rather than substance.
"This crowd of Republican consultants has been running their campaigns for the last generation have PHD is smear artistry. They are very good at it. They were smearing Sen. Obama's wife a few months ago," the Senator said on a conference call with reporters. "For them to now complain about smearing now is laughable."
Certainly, there are merits to the two counter-attack tactics. Appearing to stand above the fray (as Casey tried to do) keeps the Obama campaign in the good graces of those voters who genuinely have tired of slash-and-burn politics. But Cutter's statement is more along the lines of what Democratic operatives are pining for: shining the spotlight on McCain's record and putting his campaign on the defensive. Clearly, there is material Obama can work with on this front. In addition to the instances cited by Cutter, McCain has told offensive jokes about Chelsea Clinton's appearance and reportedly once called his own wife a "trollop" and a "cunt." If the lipstick comment is still in the news tomorrow, expect more of the Cutter line of response than the one used by Casey.