It's tempting in a pop-culture, byte-wasting, quarter-hour-per-column Maureen Dowd kinda way to cast Secretary Clinton as the Peggy Olson of national politics: talented, under-appreciated and driven - and just as tempting to put Sarah Palin in the Joan Holloway role, ticketed by wise-cracking white-haired Republican men for her physical assets and discarded after the fact. Tempting, but we'll let it pass.
Except that Newsweek went with the full Joan on its cover this week, fronting essays by Evan Thomas and Christopher Hitchens, pieces that are also accompanied by a photo of a Palin doll dressed in full schoolgirl-slut porn costume. That picture alone - never mind the Runner's World cover shot Newsweek chose from among the thousands of stock Palin photos available - gives lie to editor Jon Meacham's disingenuous note: "We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do. We apply the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard."
There's plenty of Palinology to oppose, of course - but I think it's telling that Newsweek buried the cover on its web page just this afternoon, after playing it huge for a day. I suspect it's because of complaints from Palin directly, and from her followers (few voices on the left said a word, more on that in a moment). After all, the conservatives are hideously split on the Palin phenomenon; your permanent establishment types are scared to death that Palin and Glenn Beck's tea party know-nothings will take over the Party of Reagan. The radical right loves her.
But it's the cultural split over Palin that's so damned interesting. Why has this failed Vice-Presidential candidate captured so much attention - left, right and center? There were no Lloyd Bentsen porno dolls. And if you dislike Sarah Palin intensely - as half the Republican Party does, joined by all of the Democratic Party and 99-percent of the media - why feed this blooming cult of personality so assiduously?
What makes a respectable national magazine run porn doll photos of a 45-year-old politician? What makes commenters on liberal blogs dive into the deep-end ooze of bitter and crude sexism?
In truth, Hillary Clinton has to secretly love the Palin phenomenon - because Palin has replaced the now wildly-popular Secretary of State as the female public figure most likely to drive grown men (and some women) to crazed and angry obsession. (You suspect Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama also admire that high pick that Palin's setting at the top of the political key).
To say that Palin is a lightning rod is to say the Empire State Building is a walk-up; her strange white heat wattage could power some of the more under-populated red states. It's turned writers like Andrew Sullivan into cackling Cody Jarretts, howling frenetic ghouls doing the full self-destructive Cagney at the top of the massive gas storage tank that comprises the political blogosphere.
"Made it, Ma! Top of the world! I'm the world's authority on Sarah Palin's uterus!" That's essentially the single-Tweet version of Sullivan's entire blog of late, as he picks up his detailed Baedeker of the Alaskan's reproductive history to coincide with the heavy breathing in political circles around Palin's get-even-with-McCain memoir, Going Rogue.
The attention meter is stuck on eleven and honest to God, it's like dropping a live toaster into Godzilla's bathwater.
Since the days of Richard Nixon, the American right has been fueled by the resentment of elitism - very successfully, I might add. By mocking Sarah Palin, by sticking her on the cover in shorts, and portraying her inside the magazine as a porn doll, Newsweek is attempting to reduce her to an object - easily packaged, handled, and defeated. But the effect is the opposite; that kind of stuff only makes Palin more popular. Look at the book sales and Oprah's numbers. And conservative fans of Palin's golly-gee social conservatism aren't the only ones noticing the sexist taint in much of the Palin criticism.
I agree with Hitchens when he savages the central theme of Matthew Continetti's book, The Persecution of Sarah Palin, "that liberal dislike of his heroine is no more than a distaste for those who hail from outside America's coastal metropolises; a revulsion toward people who do not aspire to adopt the norms, values, politics, and attitudes of the Eastern cultural elite." The revulsion is clearly there - Hitchens himself generously employs the term "hick" in his essay, thereby earning the coveted merit badge of the coastal clans and applying a little more electricity to the publicity monster. But that revulsion doesn't explain all - it doesn't account for the hard-core right-wing policy, religion-based political and social blinders, and the sheer lack of preparation and study that typifies the Palin public brand. All that is real, and not for second do I find Palin an appealing political figure.
But when the left goes all "iron my shirt" on Sarah Palin - or stands aside in silence in service of some greater goal (and we've seen this movie before) - not only does it dunk progressive values into a cesspool, it empowers her so-called movement. Need some proof? Read Rick Perlstein's Nixonland - the whole game plan's there.
It's not popular for liberal bloggers to defend Sarah Palin, but Media Matters and Julie Millican did just that yesterday with a Newsweek-ripping riposte. "Newsweek offers some interesting analysis of Palin and her appeal in its November 23 issue," wrote Millican. "Unfortunately, its sexist treatment of Palin's physical appearance distracts from any legitimate arguments the magazine and its contributors wish to make." And Melissa McEwen, the great feminist blogger of the world, neatly captures the "she asks for it" aspect of some of the left's attacks on Palin. "If a woman is 'bad,' that justifies using sexism against her and she had no right to complain. The fauxgressive mantra." Digby, meanwhile, catches CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin talking up Palin's "gams" like she's Moe from The Simpsons.
They were voices in the wilderness. Most liberal bloggers either said nothing, or defended Newsweek. The comments on some of the pro-feminist blogs were depressing. "Then it comes down to, 'Is she f*ckable?'" writes one commenter at Digby's place, seriously attempting to mock the GOP's fascination with Palin. The typical 19-year-old South Park fanboy frat kegger viewpoint came from (shockingly) Gawker: "She wants to be the hot mom, and she wants to be the emerging political power center. She wants those two identities to reinforce one another, but she doesn't want anyone to screw with the messaging."
No, bumpkin. She wants to be President of the United States.
And, to borrow an analogy that would surely appeal to any Gen X hockey mom, you're playing Messier to her Gretzky.