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Condoleezza Rice lipstick ‘smear’ inspires backlash

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

While the Republican National Convention will likely be best remembered for Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair as if it were American President Obama, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certainly deserves an honorary mention for an eloquent and inspiring speech Wednesday evening that, for many people, was overshadowed by a makeup malfunction.

It's an embarrassment that women know all too well: lipstick on the teeth.

In the hours since, fashion pundits have been questioning the appropriateness of the cyber-fest of mockery of this all-too-familiar faux-pas, a criticism that gives new meaning to the term "smear tactic."

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As Charlotte Cowles of New York magazine's Cutblog rightly argued: "Criticizing or even commenting on the looks of female politicians is slimy business. The golden rule is to ignore how they look – or, if anything, point out its insignificance."

On Twitter, Vogue's André Leon Talley dismissed the lipstick fuss as much ado about nothing: "If Professor, former Sec. of State, Condoleeza [sic] Rice had lipstick on her teeth, so what. She spoke with true eloquence and raised the bar!"

Now, some might note that within 24 hours of Mitt Romney announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate, fashionistas attacked Ryan's ill-fitting sport jacket, suggesting it portended a lack of sharpness that is essential to his youthful image.

"If Mr. Ryan was chosen to bring youth and vigor and a kind of Ayn Rand boldness to the G.O.P., as the commentators kept saying, then his jacket was killing it," wrote Cathy Horyn in the New York Times.

But the difference between a lipstick smudge and an oversized jacket is significant: one is entirely unintentional, the other is entirely avoidable. Judging by Mr. Ryan's appearances throughout the convention, his aides have yet to schedule some quality time with a tailor.

Thankfully, consensus about Condi outside the often-spiteful Twitter peanut gallery seems to be sympathy – because for every Nelson (you know, the bully character on The Simpsons) yelling "ha ha" at the television, there's a woman drawing on those famous celebrity tabloid words: "She's just like us."

Mr. Ryan still has ample time to upgrade his wardrobe. Then again, as politicians so often love to point out, it's all just lipstick on a pig.

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