So what are we to make of "lipstick-pig-gate"?
Some "gaffes" tell us something important about a candidate’s character or views. When Jesse Jackson called New York "Hymietown" in 1984 it aroused suspicion of anti-Semitic attitudes, which were confirmed when at the convention Jackson and his forces opposed a proposed plank in the Democratic platform that criticized anti-Semitism. Jackson said such a plank was "unnecessary." Strange, coming from the "Rainbow" coalition guy normally so "inclusive" of any perceived grievance. (Mondale caved on the plank, by the way.)
In 1980, Carter’s increasingly desperate personal attacks on Reagan backfired badly, leading to the media meme that he was "mean." It revealed a self-righteous, nasty streak to Carter’s character that was evident to people who followed him in Georgia. It finally caught up to him in 1980.
Obama’s lipstick-streak yesterday doesn’t really rise to this level. It was clumsy in the extreme, and it suggests he is rattled. But if so I suspect he’ll make more such mistakes, and the cumulative effect will then become more significant. But maybe he will settle down and get his groove back. This one seems pretty small potatoes to me. Michael Kinsley famously remarked that a "gaffe" is when someone unaccountably tells the truth. Not in this case; classify this a "flub" rather than a "gaffe." A "gaffe" in Obama’s case was his statement more than a year ago that he’d meet Admadinewhackjob without preconditions (since modified, of course).
Yesterday Richard Cohen had a good column about how weakly Obama responded on the ABC This Week show on Sunday; he is starting to remind me at time of Dukakis in 1988.