Saturday, October 25, 2008

Project Dumb-Way

Or...The Tale Of The Would-Be Empress' New Clothes
(Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

In 1952, when then Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson propped his big ol' Size 11s up to give his dogs a rest during a campaign stop, he initiated one of the most famous political fashion brouhahas recorded to that date, and quite honestly to this date.

You see, the lyrical poet of the political class had worn the leather of his shoe sole clear through in his walking miles during campaigning, to where a semi-unsightly hole showed a gasp-worthy bit of sock. The little moment played a bit to Stevenson's “of the people” manque, but coming off the age of Hollywood glamor, with the likes of Cary Grant and Fred Astaire romping about while looking sartorially splendid (think of Grant's elegant steel-gray suit in that decade's “North By Northwest”, and Astaire in “The Band Wagon” and “Funny Face”), it put some people off. Superficial as it may be, Americans get hung up on how our presidents and vice-presidents look. Consider also that Adlai was coming off the old money patrician style of FDR and the clothes-conscious former hanerdasher Harry Truman, and you can see how years of conditioning geared the populace to expect...a little something nice when we see our chief executives in public settings.

Now granted, there have been some who have eschewed style and given the “Mr. Blackwells” of the world the back of their hands—like LBJ and his documented lack of style (The audiotape of him coarsely ordering gobs of cheap-as-hell pants from renowned polyester purveyors Haggar™ is dead-on, real-life cringe comedy when you hear it), and Jimmy Carter's ill-chosen “Mr. Rogers” cardigans for his chats during the mid-seventies energy crisis. For the most part though, there has been an amazing attention to what one wears as a “big willie” in D.C. There was the “just something I threw on” preppy style of the gorgeous Kennedy wardrobe, and the almost Edith Head-esque “Return to Hollywood” glamor of the high-end pieces the Reagans sported. Bill Clinton's deep-gorged Italian-silhouetted jackets, and Al Gore's embrace of the three-button redux look (never mind the unfairness of the “earth-tone” digs he endured) were also nice touches.

No one should be begrudged a level of “dap-ness”. Looking good isn't a crime—it's as much an expression of self as it is a nod to the people around you to say “Do you think I'm appealing?” Folks still, and always will—until we evolve to “Star-Child” status where our mere physical forms cannot contain our “nth level” psionic powers and we become beings of pure energy—often consider each other based on the outer appearance. It is our first impressions for the most we look. So, looking good can matter in a big way, like it or not. And going out of our way to do so is sometimes part of the game.

Which brings us to this election, and the latest brouhaha to sprout dandelion-like from it—namely, the $150,000 dollars the Republican National Committee spent to make-over Sarah Palin for visual public consumption.

$150,000 dollars in just over a month. Clothes. Shoes. Hair, and all that. One-hundred-and-fifty thousand dollars. Thus, the tale is told...

The life of a vice-presidential candidate may be gruelling, but it can also be glamorous - $150,000 glamorous.
The Republican National Committee has reportedly spent about that amount on Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's wardrobe since she was chosen as John McCain's running mate less than two months ago.


It looks as though Mrs Palin's "the heels are on, the gloves are off" comment was more firmly based in reality than was previously thought.

In the midst of a financial meltdown, those from what Mrs Palin called the "pro-America areas of this great nation"- the Middle America of Joe and Jane the Plumber - have been staying away from the stores.


Retail sales decreased by 1.2% in September - the most dramatic drop since 2005. High-end stores' sales have reflected this fall.

But the RNC, for its part, has been bucking the trend.

The party treated Mrs Palin to a one-day $75,000 shopping trip at swanky department store Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis.
A romper suit and hat with matching ears for Mrs Palin's baby, Trig, was bought at another shop in the city for $92.

The committee also dished out nearly $41,850 in St Louis, and $4,100 for make-up and hair consulting.

Altogether the RNC spent about $150,000 on clothing, hairstyling, make-up and other "campaign accessories" in September, after Mrs Palin was selected as Mr McCain's running mate.
This adds up to more than double the average American household's yearly income.

Now...why has this tidbit of the trail become such an issue?

Well, our own Sara—who were she in a policy or any other debate theme with Governor Palin would see said debate called on cuts, carnage and cumulative damage to the addle-pated Alaskan candidate from words alone—lays out the sartorial issues in detail down below a tad. And beautifully I might add. I thought about going that route with my take, but I'm glad Sara the brilliant went with her breakdown first. Mine is going to be a little bit different. So again, we ask: “Why has this tidbit of the trail become such an issue”?

Is it because of sexism? I think not. Remember the supernova-heat hell John Edwards caught for getting a $400 haircut? Or the Clintons being raked over the coals for alleged expensive coifs on the road that tied up California air traffic? The issue wasn't gender so much as it was the appearance of over-indulgence for the sake of vanity.

The difference with those cases however are starkly defined from the Palin clothes-horsing. You see, Bill and Hillary and John Edwards didn't try to write off the bills for their prettification on someone else's dime. And what's more, the amounts they spent pale like an arctic ice sheet compared to the numbers Sarah Palin gidddily ran up in less than a month. $150,000 dollars for a month's worth of wardrobe. Why does this resonate with people?

We live in a fashion-conscious culture where the public watches “Project Runway”, and has an inkling about what things cost. A culture where “What Not To Wear” is known down to the level of the amount contestants are given to spend to re-vamp their wardrobe—approximately $5,000—three percent of what Sarah Palin dropped on her sprees at Neiman-Marcus and Macy's. It also resonates with people because of that annoying, mosquito-like flitting bugaboo called hypocrisy. Palin has spent her more etmyologically lucid moments prattling on about her “Hockey Mom”-ishness, her so-called folksiness and ability to connect with the “common folk”—a dumpster-load of talk of Johnny Lunchpails, Joe Six-packs and Plumbers, and the Susie Housecoats, and Sally Run-in-her-stockings who gosh-you-betcha make Amurrrka, “Amurrrrka”. Fred-the-this, Jane-the that. Everyone but Kiddie TV's “Bob The Builder” and Good Times' “Ned The Wino”. Palin's attempt to play at populism is given a big, Fat Bastard-sized lie when this supermarket spree she went on is looked at just a little bit.

Where in the Wide World Of Sports is Lady Lynn Forrester De Rothschild with her Swarovski-encrusted hammer of fury at elitism over this bullshit? Michelle Obama goes on “The View” in a $200 dollar dress available at an online store, and she's an elitist? But Sarah Palin goes buck-wild like a dollar sign-eyed Wilma Flintstone, running down a Bedrock street with her arms piled high with Mastodon furs while yelling “Cha-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-rrrrrrrge it!”, and she claims she's the one you more easily can see handing cups of Sunny Delight to your kids off the back porch?

Nanook, please.

Again, I begrudge no one their right to by “fly”, but don't sit there and try to tell the American people you're “All About the Wal-Mart” when you just dropped 150K in a month on duds in places “Real America” is going to be hard pressed to buy jack-doodle-shit from this coming holiday season. One hundred and fifty-K. On. One. Sorry-ass. Month's. Worth. Of. Shopping.

But hey, I do have a heart. You see, I can understand the reason for a bit of an “upgrade”, when fashion disasters like the one below happen...

“Clouds in my coffee?” No problem. Clouds on your OVERCOAT? Oh sweet Jesus...

When you are wearing a coat that looks like a background still from a grainy, old “Deputy Dawg” cartoon, you undeniably do need some help with your gear. Seriously. But to show you the idiocy and scattershot nature of the McCain campaign, don't you think it would have been a safer, and savvier move for the rictused Cindy to call upon one of her numerous couturiers, or a designer friend or two to help poor cloud-coated Sarah out of her fashion fix? Maybe have them lend her some nice stuff Harry Winston-style for the campaign's stretch run? Where were the rich republican members of the pearls and cashmere set with their pulling together to get Sarah some nice duds? Perhaps a call to a major retailer like Ann Taylor, or Barami—sheeeeit, Dress Barn, dammit for a simple promotion deal where she wears their stuff in return for playing them up on the trail as being “Where hockey moms like me shop, youbetcha!” Get that retail segment goin' kids. Good for the economy.

Unless, maybe...Cindy actually doesn't give a rat's ass about the trashy Palin and couldn't be bothered to lift a finger for her on this front, and designers and retailers didn't want their “brands” to be associated with the decidedly un-cool, and un-sublime Ms. Sarah too. Hmmmmmm.

More likely though, is this simple explanation: The GOP's noted inability to think things through rationally just moved them to do what they always do—namely throw a shitload of money at a “problem” and figure that maybe, God would just sort it all out later. In the end, it would have been better had a chunk of that money been spent on a few large-print copies of the constitution and an easy-to-remember newspaper and magazine subscription or two. Just sayin'.

But no. They sent this fool into Neiman-Marcus where she dropped $75,000 on one spree, to Macy's where she melted $42,000 of plastic, and another $4,000 on make-up, leading one to ponder the question, “Can a supposedly snarling pitbull actually tell the difference between a $1.50 tube of Lip Smackers® and a $150 tube of Socialite Collection Burnt Cinnamon collagen-enriched gloss and plumper?”

Here's the thing—as Sara noted, for all that money spent, it ain't gettin' homegirl much. What I know about womens' clothes indicates that there was little thought to the “bang-for-the-buck” insofar as what they spent and what she got. Our own doyenne of the ladies couture set points out that for a LOT less, Palin could have replicated the same look. But of course, she didn't. Whoever got the commissions on those sales must be laughing up their 3/4 length, rouched silk sleeves. It could ironically be that's the right's infamous “trickle-down” effect in action...I don't know. But what I DO know is that this is a P.R. nightmare for Team Dumbass. You know it is when they desperately switch the subject to the thing they just got through saying they didn't want to talk about—the economy, as they pooh-pooh the “triviality” of bringing this pish-posh up.

And I am amazed at the ham-fisted handling of this thing from A to Z. I'm no campaign consultant, but couldn't this have been turned into a “Rally 'Round Our Sarah” thing with a publicized effort to get maybe 150,000 republican women to send a dollar each to outfit the proud barracuda?

“Two Pairs Of Mules For Sister Sarah! (CLICK HERE TO DONATE)”?

Wouldn't a simple thing like that have been a neat way to tap into the abiding love for the new-politics standard-bearer who allegedly so “energized the base”?

Unless maybe...“ahem!”, that so-called energy is actually much more spark than shattering bolt and the “huge” support is in reality so thin that a campaign such as that would have been embarrassing when it failed publicly? Hmmmmmmm a-gain.

Even with the probable failure of such an initiative, the timing of the plan put in effect could not be worse. Companies are cutting jobs with the gusto and attention to detail of a boot camp barber who's five hours late starting a three-day furlough, and for Palin and the GOP to drop this sort of coin for something so literally superficial is to remove the tires from the truck full of nitro and drive it full-tilt “Wages of Fear”-style down a rutted mountain trail.

A disaster.

$150,000 is a lot of money any damn time. But when Americans are seeing their retirement money burn and ember away, as their present job becomes a waiting game for that dreaded unscheduled Tuesday “organizational meeting” to come, that kind of expenditure ain't never gonna wash. And the “we're going to give the stuff to charity” after--the-exposure dodge is just that. If you think Sarah Palin had any intention of giving so much as one thread of those vines back, I have a lovely fucking bridge in Alaska to sell you, with one end moored to the land, and the other trailing off into the fog of Limbo City, Population: Zero. See, this ain't the first time missy's hooked a vacuum cleaner up to a money-swollen teat and sucked it all away for herself. She's been illegally duking the state of Alaska out of gobs of Benjamins for flying her loved ones all over the place for non-governmental events. She finagled a way to get the builders of Wasilla Sports Complex arena to build her a new house too, on the down-low and pretty much gratis. So spare us the pity about her P.R.-hyped financial predicaments and hardscrabbble background and how in the end, she's just a poor, scuffling “Hockey Mom”. She's a Grade-A chiseler and knows exactly what she's doing when she signs on for every little perk she can grab. I mean...a Louis Vuitton bag for her seven year old? While folks are Coinstar™-ing stray change from their seat cushions to expand their household budgets?

“Hockey Mom”, my ass. “Hokey” is more like it.

She isn't a damn thing like the people she's playing at playing to, these mythical “Real Americans” she sees from her bangs-over-the-bubble head. You strip away the “Little House On The Prairie” gel from the lens and you see she's really batting and winking her eyes not at the virtuous and tolerant Charles Ingalls, but at a dingy-shirted Archie Bunker. And folks, even he's kind of bent outta shape about the spree. Not fer nuttin', there!

All that money spent— for what exactly? Oh yes, clothes and acccoutrements, but make no mistake—the RNC and John McCain were trying to buy something else for her here. Namely, some class. And that, “my friends”, is something that doesn't come off the shelf or rack. My father, God rest him—used to tell me about how a poor man with class in his Sunday Best always looked better than a buffed-up Park Avenue swell who had none. “Class is something you have in you. You get it from good home training. Respect for people and yourself. It's a way you carry yourself in life. And you can't buy it, not for all the money in the world. Ever.”

Lord, but people still do try. Thus, with three swipes of an RNC Debit Card, the VP candidate's story went from that of the sacrificing, ascetic fantasy image of “Sarah, Plain and Tall”, to “Sarah The Would-Be Empress...And Her New Clothes.”

I think we all know the moral of that old tale, don't we? How unbound hubris and a misplaced sense of infallibility is the worst sort of adornment of all...and Palin's remake / script flip here in 2008 is a nice, modern take on it—showing how the ill-gotten garments of a hypocrite can expose one just as surely as proud and stupid nudity. How it can expose you utterly.

As a deluded despot...and a fool.