Republicans are hoping that the revelations about Sarah Palin’s big shopping spree will be a minor sensation that will fade after a news cycle or two. I don’t think so. This one will stick, and it should.
Palin is not the only politician to find herself in this spot during this election season–or to learn the hard way how these narratives can resonate. John Edwards had trouble getting his antipoverty message across when the media was obsessing on his house and his haircuts. Senator Gordon Smith might be having an easier time in his re-election race in Oregon had he not fancied a set of vintage golf clubs enough to pay $1.25 million for them.
And it is worth mentioning that there is a double standard at work for a woman candidate. Her clothes have to look nice and fit well; every hair must be in place. At one point when I was traveling on the Hillary Clinton campaign, the photographers covering her discerned that she was putting her pantsuits in a rotation, and posted a calendar at the back of the plane predicting which one she would wear on any given day. The candidate herself spied it and burst out laughing when she realized that, yes, she was wearing exactly the one they had expected. That would never have happened to a man. Who notices whether he has on the navy suit with the pinstripes, or the one without?
But Palin’s spree through Neiman Marcus and Barney’s doesn’t exactly square with the image she has been trying to sell us of the everywoman hockeymom who sold the state’s airplane and fired the Governor’s mansion chef. The GOP base loves Palin, and may rally behind her once again. But the news couldn’t have come at a worse time for the McCain campaign, in a week when the campaign itself has been trying to divide the country between the “real” America and everyone else. The contrast between Palin’s extravagance and the decisions that many American families are having to make in this scary economic time could hardly be starker. When you are introducing yourself to an entire nation, it helps to remember that authenticity is not just a matter of style.
UPDATE: My snarky friend Tammy Jones (a Project Runway addict well known to followers of our debate liveblog) writes:
So she can dress a moose, but not herself? You’d think Caribou Barbie would be making her own wolf-pelt blazers or something. And nice loyalty, as a governor, to shovel $150K into Minnesota’s economy instead of her own. Isn’t there a Nordstrom’s of Nome??
Sure, they’re giving all the clothes to charity. What about the hairstylist, though? Is there a Highlights for the Homeless program out there?