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Is a Pig With Lipstick Really Still a Pig?

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I don't know why nobody is talking about this.

The lunatic controversy over whether Barack Obama called Sarah Palin a pig misses the real point. Look at what Senator Obama actually told his Virginia audience Tuesday, contrasting John McCain's status-quo stands with his maverick, change-agent posturing:

"That's not change. That's just calling something that's the same thing something different. You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig."

Now, as I said, it's beside the point that the McCain campaign unveiled a brand-new "Palin Truth Squad" to claim Obama's words amounted to a porcine slur against Gov. Palin herself. The point here is objective truth. Science.

Politicians -- including John McCain himself -- have used this "lipstick on a pig" line for years. I found references going back to the mid-1980s. My favorite is attributed to the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards in an interview with Larry King: "Larry, you can put lipstick on a pig and call it Lurlene, but at the end of the day, it's still a pig."

Lurlene. Classic.

Anyway, the saying is commonplace -- not the sort of thing any rational campaign would concoct an ad to denounce.

But does anyone know if the saying is true. Is it even partly true? Has anyone ever managed to put lipstick on a pig? If so, were scientists present? Is there solid experimental evidence that a pig wearing lipstick is really still a pig?

Anyone who thinks it's crazy to pose such questions did not watch the GOP convention and see the speech by Palin, who now has her very own Truth Squad and must hereafter be presumed to be a trustworthy source of information on everything. In her speech, she asked the GOP delegates if they knew the difference between a hockey mom like herself and a pit bull.

Now, hers was not the sort of "rhetorical" question a small-town Alaska mayor might ask her city librarian about banning books. No, this was a real question. And Palin gave the roaring Republican audience an answer: "Lipstick."

Lipstick, it seems, can transform a volatile, human-face-eating dog into a qualified candidate for vice president of the United States of America.

So how can Senator Obama smugly claim that a pig in lipstick is "still a pig." Maybe a pig in lipstick is a crossing guard or a cosmonaut or an exotic dancer named "Marie, the Flame of Florida."

We can't afford to overlook these possibilities. Not at this critical moment in our history. Lipstick might just be the key to everything.

I mean, putting lipstick on a drowning polar bear might create some special mutant kind of thespian polar bear that can act in live-action Coca Cola commercials and subsist entirely on spilled oil and cruise-ship exhaust. Given that possibility, Gov. Palin is so right to fight against special rights for polar bears.

And thank goodness the newly-adopted GOP platform calls for banning the use of embryonic stem cells in the quest for treatments and cures for some of humanity's most awful afflictions. How, in good conscience, could we allow such research before we are certain that the same sorts of cells can't be synthesized using some lipstick-related process? My guess: Put some lipstick on a Cymothoa exigua and you'll get more stem cells than you know what to do with.

Though promising, all of this is speculative. What's indisputable is that the ongoing manufactured controversy has led to the discovery -- or rediscovery -- of some wonderful things. Type "lipstick on a pig" or various parts of the phrase into Google or newspaper archives or collections of quotations and you unearth some gems:

* The lipstick-less phrase "on a pig" brings up a November 1961 story in a Fresno newspaper chronicling what should rightfully be the most famous event in history: a cameraman who survived a fall from an airplane by landing on a pig.

* The pig-less phrase "lipstick on a" yields a 1949 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headlined "Men Like Lipstick on Women." In it, readers learn this: "Put lipstick on a man and he certainly looks like a jerk -- but of all the cosmetics in a girl's bag, her little lipstick probably does the most for her, with the possible exception of perfume."

* The entire controversial phrase brings up a 1998 quote by Republican Congressman John Boehner: ''There was really no clear agenda for the year. And when there's no agenda and there's no real direction, what happens is you can't -- you really can't have a message. You can put lipstick on a pig all day long, but it's still a pig.'' That's got to take the cake. For dedication alone. Not just lipstick on a pig. Lipstick on a pig all day long.

* Marlon Brando was once quoted saying, "I have eyes like those of a dead pig." Hard to know what to say to that.

* A May 2008 op-ed piece in the Anchorage Daily News called for "a reliable, modern port to meet our growing needs." The writer noted that Port of Anchorage staff have warned against continuing to "put lipstick on a pig" by simply paying for upkeep on their aging facilities.

A new port sounds expensive. Thank goodness for Alaskans they have a governor with a proven track record of hiring lobbyists to bring home federal funding through congressional earmarks. What's her name again? Help me out because I sometimes confuse her with the Republican VP candidate who keeps railing against earmarks.

I'll think of it eventually. Maybe a little lipstick would jog my memory.

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