Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wardrobe malfunction

Carrie Bradshaw, move the hell over. There’s a new fashionista shopaholic champion of New York City, and her name is Sarah Palin.

The word got out early this week that the Republican National Committee, apparently so flush with cash that clothing allowances are back in vogue, has ponied up about $150,000 to outfit McCain’s running mate — the woman known alternately as Bible Spice and Caribou Barbie — with a wardrobe and makeup makeover for the rest of the mercifully short presidential campaign.

Exactly what was bought isn’t clear, but credit MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann with at least a tentative breakdown of clotheshorse expenditures. Olbermann estimated that the campaign spent about $49,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue, $75,000 at Neiman-Marcus, and $5,000 at Bloomingdale’s, for a subtotal of $129,000. Adding to that the prevailing New York state sales tax of 4 percent makes for an apparent total of $134,160. Where the other $15,840 went is anyone’s guess. Maybe the McCain campaign took everyone within earshot of the Palin shopping party to Blimpies for lunch.

The RNC’s Sugar Daddy gesture creates another problem of perception. The McCain campaign, you see, has been hammering challenger Sen. Barack Obama for being out of touch with American values, and for being “elitist” in its relationship with hard-working citizens.

It’s hard to see how the RNC/Palin expedition into deepest, darkest Fifth Avenue reinforces its own sense of simpatico with the American people, most of whom won’t spend 150K on clothes in a lifetime. It certainly doesn’t square with the previous views of McCain himself. In May 1993 the candidate, on the floor of the Senate in his former role as champion of campaign finance reform, thundered against campaign spending on personal items … like clothing and personal expenses.

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It’s a bit of a sore point for the clotheshorse hockey mom, whose family assets were estimated by the Wall Street Journal at $1.2 million.

“Those clothes are not my property,” Palin said on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” tonight. “We had three days of usin' clothes that the RNC purchased. If people knew how Todd and I and our kids shop – so frugally. My favorite shop is a consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska called ‘Out of the Closet’ and my shoe store is called ‘Shoe Fly’ in Juneau, Alaska. It's not Fifth Avenue type of shopping. But RNC purchasing some clothes that are all gonna – they're either returned or they're going to charity. It's not my property.”

McCain’s generosity hasn’t gone unnoticed within the conservative base, either. A high-ranking Republican mandarin of policy and strategy — Chris Matthews of “Hardball” thinks it’s Prince of Darkness Karl Rove — told Politico today that this reckless spend sent the wrong message.

“Lashing out at past Republican Congresses, … echoing your opponent's attacks on you instead of attacking your opponent, and spending 150,000 hard dollars on designer clothes when congressional Republicans are struggling for money, and when your senior campaign staff are blaming each other for the loss in The New York Times [Magazine] 10 days before the election, you’re not doing much to energize your supporters,” said the unidentified GOP architect.

How all this settles with Joe and Joanne the Voter is anyone’s guess. But the Colorforms campaign strategy certainly doesn’t look good. If the clothes a candidate wears and the money spent to buy them could be reasonably interpreted as elitism, Team McCain should be careful in this last dozen days. The empress’ new clothes may contribute to their undoing.
Image credit: Palin: © 2008 Roger H. Goun, republished under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

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