Full disclosure: I am a fervent Obama supporter and feel with every fiber of my being that Sarah Palin is wrong for the job, twelve ways to Tuesday. Her belief in fossil fuels, but not fossils makes me close my eyes and search for breath. Don't even get me started on the right to choose...
But the clothes. The criticism that she spent $150,000 on clothes and other grooming in the last few months... I have to cut the woman slack on that. Yes, it seems like an exorbitant sum. Stupendously stupid, especially with job losses and the financial crisis. But let's consider something: before she burst out of metaphorical nowhere, she was -- by comparison -- rarely photographed and even less frequently scrutinized. And she was certainly not applying to be the understudy to the Job of All Jobs. It was probably no issue if she wore the same outfit twice or three times or more often in any given month. Who cared?
But her audience changed overnight, and the backlash potential was suddenly huge -- bigger than any one of us can possibly imagine. Let's put this in a different perspective. Let's say you are a modestly successful, relatively unknown author who gets the call that your new book is going to be an Oprah pick, and you are going to be on her show. What do you do? You immediately dump thousands of dollars into updating your website and instantly hit Saks/Neiman/insert-whichever-store-here. You buy the most expensive pair of shoes you have ever owned. You get not only a hair cut, but an expert coloring job, and definitely new make-up. Of course you do. You are about to be presented to millions of people trying to convince them to buy and read your book. And then, if you are lucky, to tell their friends about it. In anticipation of a global stage (it's Oprah, remember!), you need a major makeover for that one day.
Running for office isn't so different. Except it isn't just one day on camera -- it's day after day on a very high pedestal off of which many hope you will tumble. An ill-fitting suit will overshadow what you say. Bad shoes will make a bigger headline than your message (which truly may have been a good thing here - did we really need to hear that she thinks the Vice President is in charge of the Senate? Is no one helping her?). The RNC had no choice but to heavily invest in Sarah Palin's image. Tom Matzzie, Democratic strategist, told the Huffington Post, that spending that kind of money "shows that Palin ain't like the rest of us." Well, actually, it shows that in this respect she is. (Much that it pains me to admit.) Cindy McCain already had the clothes and jewels. Palin didn't. And this should have been the bigger headline.
Humans have dressed for occasion since we dressed at all. I recently was invited to a dinner at the home of a very influential woman whom I admire greatly. My desire to impress her with my professionalism and poise was paramount. Later, when recounting the evening to my girlfriends, one of the first things asked (after "What was she like?") was, "What did you wear?" My response to my friends: "Thank God I had bought a new clutch and tailored slacks." (Be honest female readers, didn't you just concur to yourself with a, "No doubt!")
I am willing to bet that no one is documenting how often Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or John McCain wear the same navy suit -- because no one cares. They probably have a few of each style, and two dozen light blue tailored shirts of the exact same style and cut, and they are always being reverently cleaned. But it's the same suit. There is a double standard here: if Sarah Palin tried to wear the same jacket more than once, maybe twice, it would be news. If she looked schlumpy it would be big news. Recently Great Britain's Princess Anne made BBC news for recycling a dress from over 20 years earlier. Sarah Palin had to be outfitted for 67 days of non-stop global spotlight. You betcha she accessed major resources for her and for her family. The RNC knows that our elections are largely popularity contests, and that image matters often more than substance to a significant percentage of voters. It's a sad statement, but incontrovertibly true.
I dislike Sarah Palin's veep bid for many, many reasons. But not for this. Too bad campaign finance rules prevent her from keeping the clothes. A $150,000 wardrobe would have been a nice consolation prize when she heads back to Alaska on November 5.
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