Given that political campaigns consist mainly of people throwing buckets of urine at each other, it ordinarily would come as no surprise to hear Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin described as "a pit bull with lipstick."


But there’s a twist. This is no insult delivered by Barack Obama’s campaign, no vile slur from what President Bush calls the angry left. This is the sales pitch. This is the advertising slogan. And it’s a winner! The excitement at the Republican convention in St. Paul, such as it was, and the polling bounce the Republicans enjoyed afterward, was credited almost entirely to Palin. Why vote the GOP ticket? "Pit bull with lipstick," that’s why.

Lay aside party affiliations. Disregard any virtues that Palin herself may have or lack. Consider the thing purely from a marketing perspective. Does nobody find this alarming?

Anyone who has listened to expert commentators argue about the campaign understands that presidential elections have nothing to do with the way candidates would perform in office and everything to do with the way their buzzwords perform in the market for swing voters. How do "Change" and "Yes we can" stack up, day to day, against "POW" and "Maverick"? That’s the telling question, and the candidates themselves are as irrelevant to the analysis as a pair of Nike sneakers is to "Just Do It."

So slogans matter. We know this. Again, never mind your opinion of Palin. What does it say about us as a nation when somebody runs "pit bull with lipstick" up the old flagpole, and multitudes of citizens salute? What kind of person hears "pit bull with lipstick" and thinks: Boy, howdy! Sign me up for one of those.

The catch phrase’s success raises the obvious question: What do you want to do with the pit bull after you’ve put the lipstick on it? Only one answer suggests itself, and it is not pretty.

As if pit bulls’ public relations headaches weren’t already grim enough.

One might expect Libertarians and socially liberal Democrats to turn a blind eye to the implications: "Ah, geez, buddy, whatever rings your bell, I guess. Just not in front of the kids." But Republicans are supposed to stand up against this kind of moral relativism, not cheer it on.

From a mile away, any champion of family values should have recognized a slippery slope. Might not pit bulls be merely the first foot in the door? Might they not function like a gateway drug to the harder stuff, as marijuana leads to heroin?

Sure enough, by mid-September the whole country was all cranked up about putting lipstick on pigs.

This is decadence on a Roman scale — nay, a biblical scale. It is corruption of the sort that topples empires, flash-fries cities and turns witnesses into pillars of salt. No wonder the American financial sector is now collapsing around our ears. One minute, "Larry King Live" devotes a full hour to the subject of swine in makeup: "All right, who’s got the lipstick, and where do I find this pig? How about it, America? Let’s go to the phones." The next minute, Lehman Brothers plunges into bankruptcy, AGI Insurance requires an $85 billion federal bailout, and Merrill Lynch leaps, with its last gasping breath, into the arms of Bank of America. Coincidence?

And where is the candidate who will appeal to our better selves and draw us back from the brink? Where is the leader who will cry: "Enough! Step away from that Cover Girl cosmetics display and leave these poor animals alone!"

Never has America so needed a strong shepherd. And not that kind of shepherd, either.

Jack Gordon is a freelance writer in Eden Prairie.