As Senator John McCain rolled down a New Hampshire highway today in his "Straight Talk Express" campaign bus, he listened to a description of the latest attack on him by his chief rival in this state's primary, Mitt Romney.
He smirked as he heard the former Massachusetts governor's assertion that McCain wanted to allow illegal immigrants to remain permanently in the United States.
Asked how he intended to respond, the Arizona Republican said: "Never get into a wrestling match with a pig. You both get dirty -- and the pig likes it."
If you've never heard that adage before, I'm not sure what rock you've been living under. I'll admit I don't think it's as popular as "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." But still, it's a classic. So when I saw that headline in the Boston Globe, I assumed that it was a complete dud which would draw no attention. I tended to agree with Captain Ed, who said,
So no, John McCain did not call Mitt Romney a pig. He gave a cliche answer as a demurral from further engagement with Romney in sniping about immigration, and the proverb explained why; it's a battle neither one of them will win, especially in sound bites. Anyone who has graduated from high school before 2007 would have realized the context and the meaning of the remarks.
And yet it seems that people jumped on the bandwagon. And we're not talking about Democrats here... McCain's opponents in the GOP had supporters who seem to be trying to load this tidbit into the canons. Hugh Hewitt is a big Romney supporter, and over at his Town Hall blog, Patrick Ruffini put the quote out there without context, saying only "it looks like the pressure may be getting to [McCain]."
Byron York of the Korner Kids repeated the quote and went so far as to casually pin it as intentionally insulting.
But that name-calling, like the "phony" ad, doesn't seem nearly as effective as an ad starkly contrasting Romney with himself.
Over at Time, Mark Halperin also repeated the quote without any comment whatsoever, seeming to indicate support for the insult meme.
I wouldn't have imagined it would go this far. People have been using porcine references on general topics without actually calling people "pigs" for a very long time. Chaucer made references to The Miller in comparison to a Sow and has long been quoted as a general comment on society. The list goes on forever.
This is, unfortunately, one type of fallout from the primary process. I'm a big believer in this, of course, as the primaries are the only way that regular voters can have a direct say in choosing the nominee for their party. I dislike it when the two big parties hold a coronation for their next candidate with vast sums of money and media control before the voters ever step into a booth for the first time. However, if you are a candidate and you're simply not resonating with the voters, all too often the next step is to try to tear down your opponents at every step. The concept of saying, "Well, the voters seem to like the other guy's message better, so I think I'll just drop out and support them" is as foreign to politicians as the idea of giving up on pork belly earmarking.
McCain must be moving up enough in some of the polls to keep the attention of the other candidates. That's really the only explanation I see for their supporters grasping at straws like this.