The Witch and the Wardrobe

The latest presidential campaign kerfluffle – a sort of “Vice’s New Clothes” story, no doubt you’ve already taken the measure of it yourself – concerns the $150,000-or-so that reporters for the site Politico revealed a few days ago has been spent by the Republic National Committee for the clothing, shoeing, coiffing, and make-up-ing of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. While the New York Times in a front-page article speculated whether $150,000 Wardrobe for Palin May Alter Tailor-Made Image, this latest tidbit about the American style of politics found its way out to foreign lands, provoking much comment there.

Within Europe, I’d have to select coverage on the US-elections blog of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant as among the best (Palin went shopping with GOP credit card), mainly because blogger Bas Benneker suggests that all Palin was doing was taking full advantage of an opportunity that had fallen into her lap (or the lap of her Versace custom-fitted skirt) to pursue the American (Female’s) Dream:

McCain choose Sarah Palin as his running-mate among other reasons because she is so delightfully ordinary. Because Jane the Waitress (Joe’s ex) can identify with her. So it’s logical that Palin immediately after her naming [as Republican vice presidential candidate] did what most ordinary women would do: shop! With the Republican National Committee’s credit card, of course.

And so Palin went for it – she went for it hard, with no diversion to the left or to the right. As Benneker explains, the first stops were the Saks Fifth Avenue stores in St. Louis and then New York, where it seems Palin managed to drop a full third of the total $150,000 expenditure and launch herself well on the way to becoming what Benneker calls “a walking advertising-doll.” (Or maybe he meant “walking mannequin; the Dutch phrase is wandelende reclamepop.) And just so readers can see for themselves, there’s a handy before-and-after picture-pairing there at the bottom of the page. (By the way, “first dude” Todd did pretty well for himself, too, coming away with $5,000 in merchandise from the swanky New York City men’s-wear shop Atelier.)

Offending Scarf

Then there’s the French press: you’d sort of expect the French to have something to say when it comes to questions of fashion and style. As L’Express writes (Sarah Polin costly for John McCain; no by-line), “Coiffing, clothing and making-up she who presents herself as a ‘pitbull with lipstick’ is costing the trifling sum of 150,000 dollars to the Republican camp!” But the key to this article is really in its two photos, supplied by Reuters, both of Palin of course. There she is at a rally in the top one, and the caption reads “White tailored blouse [chemisier blanc], black skirt, large belt, undone hair… Sarah Palin’s style, here in Virginia on 13 October, leaves nothing to chance and doesn’t come for free!” Then the bottom photo is simply a view of two pairs of feet, of which one pair is demonstrably female and is shod, as the caption says, in “red shoes with high heels.” The article manages to add a mention that the expenditure list that Politico got ahold of included $295 for purchases at two stores specializing in baby-clothes, suggesting that someone was also looking out for the interests of the newest addition to the Palin family, six-month-old Trig.

The initial sense of disappointment is great, therefore, in a follow-up L’Express article by Marie Simon (Sarah Palin’s Democratic scarf ) where it is revealed – with corroborating photo and video – how Palin actually sported a scarf with a donkey motif at a recent campaign rally in Reno, NV. Wait a second: That’s the Democrats’ symbol! You spend $150,000 and you can’t even get your animals straight?

But the photographer who took the photo there in the article showing Palin wearing the offending scarf, a freelancer named Max Whittaker, is willing to let Palin off the hook. Naturally, she wasn’t wearing the scarf during her speech, he says, only afterwards when signing autographs for the crowd. “I didn’t see her take this scarf from her bag,” says Whittaker, “it’s most likely that someone put it on her, in the crowd.” And then, when he saw her again shortly afterwards, giving an interview to CNN, it had disappeared.

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