By MAUREEN DOWD
McCain advisers have been scathing about the “sexism” of critics who dismiss Sarah Palin as Caribou Barbie.
How odd then, to learn that McCain advisers have been treating their own vice presidential candidate like Valentino Barbie, dressing her up in fancy clothes and endlessly playing with her hair.
In 1991, with Americans fretting about a shaky economy, Poppy Bush visited a J. C. Penney and bought $28 worth of tube socks and a toddler’s sweat suit in a desperate effort to seem in touch with the common folk. Palin might have followed that example and popped into Penney’s to buy some new American-made duds. She is so naturally good-looking, there is no need to gild the Last Frontier lily.
Instead, with the economy cratering and the McCain campaign running on an “average Joe” theme, dunderheaded aides, led by the former Bushies Nicolle Wallace and Tracey Schmitt, costumed their Eliza Doolittle for a ball when she should have been dressing for a bailout.
The Republicans’ attempt to make the case that Barack Obama is hoity-toity and they’re hoi polloi has fallen under the sheer weight of the stunning numbers:
The McCains own 13 cars, eight homes and access to a corporate jet, and Cindy had her Marie Antoinette moment at the convention. Vanity Fair calculated that her outfit cost $300,000, with three-carat diamond earrings worth $280,000, an Oscar de la Renta dress valued at $3,000, a Chanel white ceramic watch clocking in at $4,500 and a four-strand pearl necklace worth between $11,000 and $25,000. While presenting herself as an I’m-just-like-you hockey mom frugal enough to put the Alaska state plane up for sale on eBay, Palin made her big speech at the convention wearing a $2,500 cream silk Valentino jacket that the McCain staff had gotten her at Saks.
At that point, Palin should have been savvy enough to tell those doing her makeover that she was a Wal-Mart mom. The sartorial upgrade was bound to turn into a strategy downgrade, as Palin pressed her case as a homespun gal who was ever so much more American than the elite, foreignish Obama, while she was gussied up in Italian couture.
Politico broke the news that the Republican National Committee spent over $150,000 on a “Pretty Woman”-style shopping spree for Palin, including about $75,000 at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis and nearly $50,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and St. Louis.
Palin advisers did their best to spin the fashion explosion during the economic implosion, telling The Times that she needed new outfits to match the climate changes across 50 states.
Republicans once more charged the media with sexism for reporting on Palin’s Imelda Marcos closet. “No one would blink if this was a male candidate buying Brooks Brothers suits,” said William F. B. O’Reilly, a G.O.P. consultant.
It doesn’t wash to cry sexism now any more than it did at the beginning, when the campaign tried to use that dodge to divert attention from Palin’s lacunae in the sort of knowledge you need to run the world. The press has written plenty about the vanities and extravagances of male candidates. (See: Haircuts, John Edwards and Bill Clinton.) Sexism would be to treat Palin differently, or more delicately, than one of the guys.
The governor who spent all her time talking about how she had cleaned up excesses in Alaska, and would do the same in Washington, also went over the top on hair and makeup. As a former beauty pageant contestant and sports anchor on TV, Palin already seemed on top of her grooming before the McCain campaign made her traveling makeup artist, Amy Strozzi, the highest-paid individual on the campaign for the first two weeks of October. Ms. Strozzi, who earned an Emmy nomination for her war paint skills on the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance,” made $22,800 for the first half of this month.
Governor Palin, who used to get her hair done at the Beehive in Wasilla and shop at an Anchorage consignment shop called Out of the Closet, paid her traveling hairstylist — recommended by Cindy McCain — $10,000 for the first half of October.
In The New York Times Magazine today, Robert Draper reveals that the campaign also hired a former New York stage and screen actress, Priscilla Shanks, to be her voice coach for the convention. The expense was listed in finance reports as Operating Expenditures and Get-Out-The-Vote consulting. Apparently getting out the vote includes teaching a potential vice president the correct way to pronounce “nuclear.”
The conservative big shots who have not deserted Palin and still think she can be Reagan in a Valentino skirt are furious at those who have mishandled the governor and dimmed her star power. They mourn that she may have to wait now until 2016 to get rid of the phony stench of designer populism.
Makeovers are every woman’s dream. But this makeover has simply pushed back Palin’s dream of being president.