Is Obama Buckling Under Pressure?

There’s been a huge buzz over Obama’s essentially unfunny jokes featuring lipstick on a pig and stinky old fish. The question: did he or didn’t he mean the jabs to refer to Sarah Palin? Only Barack Obama knows for sure, and he’s not telling.

But even if we assume the most benign explanation -- that he meant to allude to the McCain campaign in general and not Palin in particular -- the crowd’s quick and delighted whoop of laughter at his remarks indicates many listeners saw them as a dig at Palin. Palin’s earlier joke about pit bulls and lipstick had gotten such widespread coverage that the connection was immediate and visceral.

One can only conclude that either Obama knew exactly what association he was conjuring up (in which case his judgment should be questioned), or he was unaware of what should have been glaringly obvious to him (in which case his judgment should be questioned). For a man who is supposed to be both intelligent and sensitive, he seems to have become profoundly tone-deaf.

The race for the U.S. presidency is one of the longest and toughest in the world, a marathon of travel, speech making, handshaking, interviews, and close scrutiny of every utterance by critics eager to pounce on errors real or imagined. It takes an exceptional person to want to be president in the first place. But it takes an even more extraordinary one to stand up to the rigors of the campaign, both physical and mental.

It’s a remarkably grueling process that ends up grinding down all those who are not made of the toughest steel. This assures us that whoever becomes POTUS is probably exhausted by the time he or she takes the oath of office. But the whole thing is also good practice -- and an excellent proving ground -- for the long tough slog that is the presidency itself.

A contender’s demeanor and stamina in the campaign can tell us a great deal about his or her grace and judgment under pressure. And in this respect, Obama looks more and more like a man who is not holding up as well as he should be. This is odd, because his youth ought to give him a special advantage in this regard.