The seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks came abruptly. Most of the political world had just returned from the conventions in Denver and the Twin Cities. In the immediate hours leading up to that day, we had all succumbed to talk of lipstick and pigs.
In case you live in a cave in Afghanistan (in which case, maybe you don't want to know or I shouldn't be telling you), Barack Obama, during a campaign event on Sept. 9, said, "You can put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig." The crowd pretty clearly took the words as a swipe at the Republican ticket, harkening back to Sarah Palin's comment in her vice-presidential acceptance speech that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick.
Although I had hoped Palin's official response would consist of simply hitting the podium in the midst of applying makeup at her next campaign rally, the McCain campaign instead reacted with a juvenile ad, using footage of anchorwoman Katie Couric complaining about sexism, insinuating that Obama's use of the cliche stemmed from sexist roots.
Obama's comment was silly. The response was silly. Thank goodness we have the luxury of being silly.
Or do we?
As the lipstick was put back in its purse for a day, or at least for the morning hours of Sept. 11 when MSNBC took time off from showing Keith Olbermann rants to air footage from that day in 2001 we remembered. We remembered those who were murdered. We remembered our fellow citizens fighting at home and abroad. We remembered that three of the four candidates vying for the White House have children serving; Palin's son left for Iraq that very day.
During that week seven years ago, fellow JWR columnist Kathleen Parker wrote: "Our behavior toward one another in recent years our splintering into groups and bickering over blame now should be a source of embarrassment as well as an inspiration never to go back."
We should be embarrassed and inspired.
On one hand, it's a great thing that we can take the time to care about silly matters. As one reader e-mailed me: "I woke up this morning with a prayer of gratitude in my heart that the top story of the day was the silly 'lipstick on a pig' saga. What a blessing that we're not waking up worrying about anthrax attacks and bombs and wondering if it's safe to send our kids to school. God bless George W. Bush and our men and women in arms that have kept us safe these seven years."
True and fair enough. But we have an important decision before us. And as we get distracted by lipstick and pigs, let's remember, too, that there will be bombings and battle plans.
What worries me about Obama is not his use of hoary old sayings, but his judgment. He's running for the position of commander in chief, after all.
In his acclaimed best seller, "Dreams from My Father," he wrote: "I know, I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless: how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way as it does the lives of children on Chicago's South Side, how narrow the path is for them between humiliation and untrammeled fury, how easily they slip into violence and despair. I know that the response of the powerful to this disorder alternating as it does between a dull complacency and, when the disorder spills out of its proscribed confines, a steady, unthinking application of force, of longer prison sentences and more sophisticated military hardware-is inadequate to the task. I know that the hardening of lines, the embrace of fundamentalism and tribe, dooms us all."
That worries me, not because I am without compassion for hardship. There is humiliation and fury on Chicago's South Side. And there is humiliation and fury among Muslims and Catholics alike in Pakistan. But Hamas' hatred for the Jews in Israel is a specific and evil thing that does not need to be understood as much as it must be condemned and stopped.
And the men who murdered 3,000 of us on Sept. 11, 2001, hate those who live on Chicago's South Side as much as they hate the wealthy folks who work on Wall Street.
Seven years after the attacks on my city and our country, no lipstick can gloss over the truth: There is a war on. And I'm not sure Obama and his Democratic colleagues the bunch that ostracized Joe Lieberman for daring to support our troops, who have done successful work in Iraq thanks to leaders like him get it.