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The Devil Wears Lipstick


When John McCain first an nounced Sarah Palin as his running mate I figured well, hell, maybe Cheney shoots his hunting buddies, but John McCain just shot himself in the foot.

Then the news just kept getting better—and weirder. First there was the Internet shocker claiming that Sarah Palin’s youngest child is really her daughter’s child. Ruined campaign for sure, now.

But that story was trumped by the facts: Bristol and the baby (and the soon-to-be? husband). Campaign finito, I thought.

Then there was Palin’s own version of troopergate—still under investigation.

Journalists began kicking up their verbal heels. Gloria Steinem called Palin “Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.” Ellen Goodman called her “a bridge to nowhere.”

Even conservatives took a few swipes, with Dr. Laura Schlesinger expressing her disappointment (like we care?) in McCain’s pick and George Will mincing no words in denouncing both McCain and Palin.

Conversations among my family and friends zig-zagged from hilarity to disbelief, to anger, to shock and disgust. But chiefly, I must say, we were smug.

McCain’s a laughingstock, we said, insulting the Hillary hold-outs with his choice of a woman who, until she defeated her lackluster opponent for governor, was most recently mayor of her hometown—one about the size of Mechanicville. The religious right will go to town on this one: a woman with five kids who’s so busy having a career she can’t teach her children about abstinence?

Those first few days were ones of hope and gloating.

Then Palin-Nation began. And continues, seemingly, unabated. The self-described “pit bull with lipstick” is on her way to becoming the Republican’s golden girl.

Daughter Bristol’s pregnancy, which I thought would surely raise some eyebrows among conservative evangelicals only raised Palin’s support level. Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dobson embraced her, dismissing Bristol’s pregnancy as mere evidence that “she and her family are human.”

Mike Huckabee said Palin’s inexperience was on a par with other vice presidential candidates—which ought to give us pause. Yet by Palin’s own admission she claims she doesn’t understand the job: “As for that VP talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day?”

Huckabee elaborated, saying that, although she probably doesn’t know now, she’ll learn the name of the president of Turkmenistan before being officially veep’ed. Sweet.

And the groundswell keeps swelling. Not because people are clear on her actual qualifications for the job—which even the McCain people seem to feel are a bit shaky—but on how they feel about her.

They like her because she was a wannabe beauty queen who made it into Vogue in her 40s. They like her because she knows her way equally around a shotgun and a breast pump. They like her for her pouffy-do and motorboat windshield glasses.

At a rally in Missouri, Former Clinton supporter Ann Breshears told the Wall Street Journal why she now supports Palin: “She’s like the people I know. Her husband snowmobiles. We drive tractors and fly airplanes.”

Spoken like another thoughtful voter.

So when she sends out her clever little verbal javelins—“Terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America. . . . he’s [Obama] worried that someone won’t read them their rights”—folks love it. Never mind that the reading of an individual’s rights is what separates the United States from—well, lots of places we decry as inhumane.

Another of her thin—but popular—political insights was when she described her job as a small-town mayor. “It’s sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ ” she said, “except that you have actual responsibilities.” (And nobody seems to know who said it first, but I love the retort: “Jesus was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor.”)

Yet what’s really behind her rhetoric? Or doesn’t it matter since she’s pro-oil, pro-life, pro-marriage and, dad-gummit, pretty hot for a 44-year-old?

Frank Schaffer, author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back, thinks we should give those questions some thought.

“We have seen the next Mussolini and she’s wearing a skirt,” he writes. “Don’t let Palin’s ‘hockey mom’ image fool you. Sarah Palin is the face of a post-democracy America, post-constitutional and post-freedom America. She is the home town ‘little Austrian’ vice presidential candidate to a cancer-riddled old man who, chances are high, won’t see the end of his first term in office. . . . The woman who said that we don’t need to read people their rights may well be the next president.”

So far it strikes me that Sarah Palin is a running mate far too inexperienced for our own good and far too self-assured for her own. There are only a handful of weeks left during which we can learn all about her views on policy and her past experience. But all we’re learning, right now, is all about Sarah Palin. And there are more important concerns than that.

—Jo Page

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