The Note: Lipstick on a Campaign

Cue the serial condemnations: It's unfair, dirty, nasty, despicable politics. We all hate it, and it has no place in a presidential campaign.

It also just might work.

Team McCain is in over-the-top outrage mode -- shocked, offended, and aghast at the sexism, ageism, fill-in-the-blank-ism being directed at John McCain and Sarah Palin, real and (more than slightly) imagined.

Good luck keeping track of all the indignities (and the McCain campaign would prefer that you didn't try to keep score).

"Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign launched a broadside against Sen. Barack Obama yesterday, accusing him of a sexist smear, comparing his campaign to a pack of wolves on the prowl against the GOP vice presidential pick, charging that the Democratic nominee favored sex education for kindergartners, and resurrecting the comments of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.," Jonathan Weisman and Peter Slevin write in The Washington Post.

McCain seems content to have the race focus on personality and process -- not, heavens forbid, actual real issues. "Another day. Another roll in the mud," writes the New York Daily News' Michael Saul.

By making discredited and untrue claims about Obama -- and pretending that outrageous, offensive things are being widely circulated about Palin by the Obama campaign -- Team McCain is pushing the limits of its claim to an open, honest, positive campaign.

"I just can't wait for the moment when John McCain -- contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat -- talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment," Time's Joe Klein writes. "Talk about putting lipstick on a pig."

"Tactically, it is clear, and it has been frequently noted, that McCain learned well the lessons from his last run in 2000," ABC's Andy Fies writes. "McCain may want to keep Bush at a distance . . . but not his tactics."

"McCain's campaign called Obama's 'disturbing,' 'desperate,' 'offensive,' and 'disgraceful.' Obama's campaign fired back with 'pathetic, 'perverse,' 'dishonorable,' and 'shameful,' " The Boston Globe's Scott Helman reports. "Though McCain has more often been the aggressor, the back-and-forth -- to borrow a recent McCain campaign description of Obama running mate Joe Biden -- has reached 'a new low.' "

Yet here's the point: Obama taking Palin's bait is Obama shrinking in the public eye.

"It's a matchup he'll lose. If Mr. Obama wants to win, he needs to remember he's running against John McCain for president, not Mrs. Palin for vice president," Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "If Mr. Obama keeps attacking Mrs. Palin, he could suffer the fate of his Democratic predecessors. These assaults highlight his own tissue-thin résumé, waste precious time better spent reassuring voters he is up for the job, and diminish him -- not her."

No groove in sight: "McCain allies think they have succeeded in knocking Obama on his heels since he accepted his party's nomination in Denver two weeks ago," Weisman and Slevin report in the Post.

Said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: "They really are in a meltdown."

Maybe not quite, but they are scrambling -- and did Obama make anything better by trying to explain the "lipstick on a pig" remark on Letterman?

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