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Printed from the Charlotte Observer - www.CharlotteObserver.com
Posted: Saturday, Sep. 13, 2008

We haven't come a long way, baby

MARY NEWSOM
Published in: Opinion

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I had barely heard of Sarah Palin before Aug. 29. Almost all I knew was that she sued the Interior Department last month to keep polar bears off the Endangered Species List. Today, only 14 days after John McCain named her his running mate, I've heard enough. Too much. TMI on SP.

The orgy of Palin-ology – not just from reporters, but from pundits and political spinmeisters, from the whole raunchy realm of online information – has left the Alaska governor so overexposed that by Nov. 4 I have to think even her staunch fans will feel the way you do after gorging on Godiva.

The whole episode has been creepily misogynistic. It shows, again, how incapable the American public is of dealing rationally with political women.

I'm no fan, but …

Understand, I am no fan of Palin's politics. She and I differ on virtually every issue on which I have heard her position.

Understand, also, that I am aghast – I mean, jaw dropping to the floor – at how cavalierly she uses hypocrisy and succeeds. Sure, hypocrisy is a political stock-in-trade. They all do it. But Palin has people cheering that she cut taxes in Wasilla – when she also raised them. (Property taxes were cut; sales taxes raised.) She brags about fighting federal pork, and people lap it up like kittens at a saucer of cream, yet Alaska, under her governorship, was 10 times greedier for earmarks than any other state. She is beloved for fighting wasteful spending, yet billed taxpayers for more than 300 nights when she stayed at her own home.

Further, I am horrified at her inexperience in foreign affairs. Did you see her micro-expression of fear Thursday when ABC's Charles Gibson asked her about the “Bush doctrine” (that pre-emptive strikes are OK) and Palin obviously was lost?

All that said, the frenzy about Palin is scary. It's a caricature of the myriad of unsavory ways women in politics are demeaned and belittled. Traditionally, it's first ladies who get the psychotic public scrutiny – all those cookie scandals and the obsession with hairstyles and weight gain.

Consider the thousands of scurrilous e-mails telling gullible people Michelle Obama – a corporate lawyer – is a Marxist. Fox News referred to her as Obama's “Baby Mama” – combining racism and sexism into one fabulous phrase. Cindy McCain, meanwhile, is mocked as a too-rich, too-tightly-wound Stepford wife.

Clinton took a drubbing

In 2004, Teresa Heinz Kerry was portrayed as a neurotic foreign nutball. And let us agree that I simply don't have space here for even a much-abridged version of how Hillary Clinton has been treated. Being called “Lady Macbeth” was one of the nicer things said about her. And how many of the people who today are complaining that Palin isn't being treated nicely also drove around with bumper stickers saying, “Life's a Bitch, Don't Vote for One”?

The news media are not blameless in this. Even at the sober New York Times, columnist Maureen Dowd called Clinton “emasculating” – a term never applied to male politicians. Remember the hoopla over Clinton's “cackle” – a word never used except for hens or witches?

But the news media reflect as well as lead. It's not just commentators, but voters asking whether Palin ought to run at all, with a special-needs infant, a pregnant unwed teen daughter and three other kids. That's not often – or ever? – asked about male candidates.

And yes, almost all of us are guilty of some snarkiness about women in the spotlight. I catch myself at it, too, I'll admit. I mean, did anyone else notice while Michelle Obama was giving her excellent speech and showing old photos that her eyebrows had gone from then-bushy to now-svelte? See? We women can be just as vicious and trivial as the men – maybe more.

Sexy librarian lap dancer?

So I do not believe Palin will be the last female politician in this silly snipe-fest. But she's today's target. Consider this, from Salon.com's Cintra Wilson, who compared Palin to those “cutthroat Texas cheerleader stage moms.” She wrote: “McCain's running mate is a Christian Stepford wife in a sexy librarian costume . …” She compared Palin to a Carmella Soprano for the GOP, who “sees, hears and speaks no evil of the boys in her old-boy network for whom she does this ideological lap dance.”

A lap dance? Doesn't that strike you as insanely over the top?

Mary Newsom is an Observer associate editor. Write her at the Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28030-0308, or at mnewsom@charlotteobserver.com.

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