Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sarah Palin’s Manolo Blahniks Walk All Over Joe the Plumber

To the consternation of Republicans, the story of Sarah Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe is in the news for a second day in a row.

This story has “legs,” if you will, not because of Democrats. And it’s no ordinary Sarah Palin scandal. No – with all unlikelihood, it could be Palin’s $1,500 Neiman Marcus blazer that exhibits the unkindest cut of all.

First of all, it should be said that Democrats aren’t pushing this story. If most Democrats are like me, they think Palin looks pretty snazzy in those duds, and are secretly happy for her. Maybe it’s the gay gene, but I can’t look at the story and think anything other than: well, good for her. She may hunt Polar Bears, intimidate officials and be in the bag for big oil, but at least she knows how to wear a pump. And if we’ve got to see her talking insufferably about foreign policy on TV, at least she has the decency to look good doing it.

No, it’s Republicans who find the story terrifying – and it’s their terror that’s keeping it in play.

But why, you may ask, are Republicans so afraid of a few designer blouses?

The reason: Joe the Plumber. McCain has staked the closing days of his campaign on the idea of recreating himself as the most unlikeliest thing of all: A Republican populist. And to do this, he needed a powerful symbol that could sell the public on the idea that tax-cuts for millionaires were a “populist” move. Enter Joe the Plumber.

Joe the Plumber – like Sarah Palin before him – was to be inflated into a symbol of the conservative working man. And McCain was making some headway with this. After all, it could reasonably argued that raising taxes on anyone, in the midst of an economic collapse, is not the most perspicacious thing to do. It takes a lot of persuasion and subtlety for Obama to make this argument, and McCain and his manager, Schmidt, are certainly not running a subtle campaign. McCain, in fact, has staked everything on running a culture war campaign, vilifying the “lily livered liberal elite” while embracing the NASCAR, moose-hunting minions who he hopes will identify with the Republican side of the so-called “war.” All right – so those NASCAR fans would actually do better under Obama’s tax plan than his. But do they realize that? With the power of symbols like Joe the Plumber, McCain hopes that they sure won’t.

Now comes the story of Sarah Palin’s designer wardrobe. Republicans remember how $400 haircuts sank John Edwards. And so they’re panicking: not because Democrats are making it an issue. But because it undercuts the us-versus-them symbolism of their campaign, and threatens to reveal the inherent contradictions in their populist platform. How can Palin be a NASCAR woman of the people wearing a Neiman Markus wardrobe? And if you start to question that…maybe you need to actually look at the platforms, too.

The problem is, Palin does pretty well for herself in Alaska. And she wears Neiman Marcus nicely. She’s no more a poor Appalachian housewife than Joe is a real plumber. In fact, if anyone can claim to be on the lower end of the financial spectrum in this campaign, it’s Joe Biden. And when you examine the Republican platform closely, the people it benefits most are more likely to be those Hedge Fund swells in New York rather than the flannel wearing populi sitting in the NASCAR stadiums.

This is why Republicans are panicked. The Palin wardrobe outs her as a secret Prada fan, actually quite at home in New York armed with an RNC credit-card in her pocket – which may be what many hard-core, lower-income Republican faithful secretly fear about their leaders. And certainly not what the moose-hunting Wal-Mart shoppers, who’ve taken the “evil coastal elite” theme to heart, now want to hear. So now the Republicans have had to spend two precious days trying to explain away the wardrobe, when they wanted to be hammering away with Joe, and their whole end-game strategy is in jeopardy. But they should have known: When you base your campaign on a symbol meant to hide a contradiction, be careful: all it takes is a little thing like a pair of heels, and the whole thing can turn around, and make the contradiction become the symbol.

these shoes were made for moosehunting...

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