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Democrats Paint Lipstick On A Caterpillar

There are few things more depressing in covering politics than the explosions of false umbrage that seem to flare up with increasing frequency. The best, or rather worst, one of the 2008 campaign had to be the McCain campaign's fainting spell when Barack Obama called Sarah Palin a pig. You don't remember that? Well, he didn't call her a pig, exactly. Here's Politico's report at the time, with the ensuing, absurd back and forth:

Amie Parnes reports from Lebanon, VA:

Obama poked fun of McCain and Palin's new "change" mantra. "You can put lipstick on a pig," he said as the crowd cheered. "It's still a pig."
"You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still gonna stink." "We've had enough of the same old thing."

The crowd apparently took the "lipstick" line as a reference to Palin, who described the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull in a single word: "lipstick."
UPDATE: The McCain campaign is now saying Obama called Palin a pig, which he didn't. The Obama campaign notes that "lipstick on a pig" is a fairly common idiom Obama often uses, as in a recent Washington Post interview. McCain has also used the phrase.
Though on a day when Obama's surrogates were joking that Palin's record can't be concealed with lipstick, it was hard for those following the campaign not to hear the echo.
UPDATE: Obama aide Anita Dunn responds to the McCain campaign's claim that Obama compared Palin to a pig:
Enough is enough. The McCain campaign’s attack tonight is a pathetic attempt to play the gender card about the use of a common analogy – the same analogy that Senator McCain himself used about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care plan just last year. This phony lecture on gender sensitivity is the height of cynicism and lays bare the increasingly dishonorable campaign John McCain has chosen to run.

Ridiculous, right? Well, today the Democrats tried much the same thing. The offending statement? RNC Chairman Reince Priebus's defense, on Bloomberg TV, of his party against the charge that it is waging a war on women: "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars."

Preibus' point is pretty clear, and agree or disagree with the validity of the "war on women" charge, you have to appreciate his effort in injecting a bit of color and irony into his retort. But the spinmeisters on the other side couldn't resist making him pay for the crime of using figurative language.

Here's EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock:
Just when you think it couldn’t get any more insulting, Republicans outdo themselves. I can’t even believe I have to explain that comparing women to bugs is offensive, but since Republicans seem to need that, here goes. Women are not sluts. Or caterpillars. Our concerns are not fictional and your attempts to restrict our rights are not fantasy. We are your mothers, wives, sisters, friends and well over one half of the voting population. And we will be heard this November when we replace these unbearably out of touch Republicans with Democratic women who actually believe that we’re people.
And Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter:
Reince Priebus’ comparison of Republican attempts to limit women’s access to mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, and contraception to a ‘war on caterpillars’ shows how little regard leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have for women’s health. We already know that Mitt Romney would ‘get rid of’ Planned Parenthood and supports the Blunt Amendment, which would give any employer the ability to deny their employees coverage for health care services like contraception because of their own personal beliefs. Does he stand with Reince Priebus—the leader of the Republican Party—when he compares the debate over vital health care services to a war on insects?

Come on, guys. Seriously? This kind of stunt is pretty much guaranteed to lose you credibility. And then next time when there's a gaffe or insult with real substance behind it -- like "Etch a Sketch," or Rush Limbaugh's verbal assault on the Georgetown student -- people will be that much less likely to pay it any attention. When you're crying "insect" at a harmless use of figurative language, you're really just crying wolf.

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis