It's not the crime; it's the cover-up. And it's not the gaffe; it's the response.
At a town hall meeting in Mesquite on April 6, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden suggested that "bartering" with doctors was one way to bring health care costs down. What she meant was that it's possible to "negotiate" with doctors and hospitals for discounts for cash payments, which it is, but the ill-chosen use of the word "barter" instead has touched off a brouhaha that threatens to take down the front-runner in the race to replace Harry Reid.
First, Jay Leno made Lowden's bartering remark a part of his monologue last Tuesday. Then last Thursday, Democrat communications director Phoebe Sweet showed up at the Lowden campaign office with a live goat asking for help in finding a doctor to barter with.
Then this Tuesday the Daily Kos blog wrote: "Sue Lowden, the likely Republican nominee against Harry Reid, is doubling down on her widely ridiculed proposal that people should haggle and barter with doctors to bring down prices. Appearing yesterday on Nevada Newsmakers, Lowden said...."
But here's why it seemed as though Lowden was "doubling down" in that interview. It was taped. The interview was actually conducted last Thursday in Reno before "Goat Girl" showed up and the whole issue went viral. I suspect that had the interview been conducted live on Monday, Lowden would have addressed the matter differently.
Still, the Lowden campaign was molasses-slow in recognizing how bad this "macaca"-like moment really was when it first became public, and agonizingly horrible at defusing it. The campaign has been defensive, angry and argumentative. Compare and contrast that with how Sarah Palin has handled a similar situation.
Remember when it was revealed that Palin had scribbled speaking notes on her hand? That, too, became the butt of jokes and political fodder for late-night comedians. But look at how Palin responded. Instead of becoming defensive or ignoring it, she's used humor to deflect and deflate it.
For example, in a recent speech in New Orleans, Palin stopped in the middle of her remarks, looked at the palm of her hand as though she was reading something on it, and then deadpanned, "Poor man's teleprompter." That brought down the house.
Lowden needs to find a similar way to deal with this bartering issue. And fast. If the campaign's communications team doesn't get its act together soon, by the time Harry Reid really aims the vaporizer at her after the primary, if she should still hold on and win, there might not be anything left to vaporize.
• Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy grassroots advocacy organization.