Like Jessica, I devoured Todd Purdum's blistering report in the current issue of Vanity Fair about Sarah Palin that draws on sniping from former John McCain aides, shrugging statements of disownment from acquaintances in Wasilla, and sorrowful head-shaking from the Republican intelligentsia. The wide-ranging "profile" of the woman who almost stood second in line to the presidency pre-empts the forthcoming book that netted the Alaskan governor seven figures. And, having undergone the saga of the 2008 presidential campaign-particularly the post-Labor Day sprint that made up Palin’s first months in the public spotlight-it’s astonishing to think that there could POSSIBLY be more to the story.
And yet, writes Purdum:
N]o serious vetting had been done before the selection (by either the McCain or the Obama team), and there was trouble in nailing down basic facts about Palin’s life. After she was picked, the campaign belatedly sent a dozen lawyers and researchers, led by a veteran Bush aide, Taylor Griffin, to Alaska, in a desperate race against the national reporters descending on the state. At one point, trying out a debating point that she believed showed she could empathize with uninsured Americans, Palin told McCain aides that she and Todd in the early years of their marriage had been unable to afford health insurance of any kind, and had gone without it until he got his union card and went to work for British Petroleum on the North Slope of Alaska. Checking with Todd Palin himself revealed that, no, they had had catastrophic coverage all along. She insisted that catastrophic insurance didn’t really count and need not be revealed. This sort of slipperiness-about both what the truth was and whether the truth even mattered-persisted on questions great and small.
Palin’s lies are rather despicable, but perhaps par for the political course. What really stands out is the swirling background drama (Palin’s "life has sometimes played out like an unholy amalgam of Desperate Housewives and Northern Exposure," says Purdum) that is completely divorced from "politics" as we understand them. Sure, Bristol Palin’s baby (and Sarah’s own last son) implicate big social questions, but more than anything the sideshow, and her handling of if, tags Palin herself as being fundamentally unserious, and unpolitical.
Even Meghan McCain, daughter of Palin’s former running-mate, was a bit confused about how to treat the family during my brief run-in with her at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. "Do you think I have to go talk to him?" she asked, about Palin’s husband, Todd. No one, it seems-particularly the political folks in this article-want to be within ten feet of the sideshow, either.
Is that fair? Not really-politics has always about second acts. But Palin famously "didn’t blink" before charging headlong into the embarrassing stint in the national spotlight that Barack Obama, Purdum reports, knew she wasn’t prepared for. And compare her lack of self-awareness to the GQ -narrated plight of Levi Johnston, father of her grandchild:
The reason Levi often seems like he has about seventy-five English words with which to process and articulate these experiences and their effect on his interior life is that he has been thoroughly traumatized by them.
What’s Palin's excuse? As this article demomonstrates, the governor seems to have no idea what havoc her preening and ignorance wrought on both female politicians and the GOP brand. She breezily tweets about her kids and her plans for Alaska-that welfare state in the sky-without realizing what an opportunity she's missed. And in that respect, she has been as irresponsible with her party as John Edwards, who blundered into a presidential campaign with a love child in tow
(Cross-posted at The Browntable .)
Photograph of Sarah Palin by Michael Nagle/Getty Images.