Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Sarah Palin, does style matter?
The last few posts have invited a lot of criticism of Sarah Palin based on her appearance and some of the comments were less than charitable.
Why are we so unforgiving and pick on her clothes, shoes and hairstyle so ferociously?
Sarah Palin is not unattractive. She has good bone structure and a good figure for a 45 year old woman who had many children. Good for her.
I observed three stages in her fashion style: she went from that poor taste, drab look we saw in the first collection of photos posted in "Sarah Palin's dress sense" to a very polished and professional look in the second collection of photos on the same post and now she appears to have settled for looking "hot".
Her fashion sense only becomes remarkable when taken in the context of her record as a politician.
There have been several eccentric politicians who departed from the norm in the fashion department. When they're competent and effective, they're remembered for their records, their bad taste in dressing a minor quirk in the great scheme of things. If they don't have a solid record of achievement, they're quickly forgotten or enter the realm of comedy and that's that.
We live in a world of fast communications. Anybody in the public eye is filmed or photographed relentlessly and the results are broadcast far and wide in an instant. Rightly or wrongly, image matters.
There are exceptions.
I started thinking about dress codes, trying to find examples of people who broke with convention.
I remembered the headteacher (principal in the USA) of my sons' primary school. Mrs Dexter dressed like a barmaid (or worse), in loud, glittery dresses, her hair was a very peroxided shade of blonde, her jewellery and make-up completely over the top, her car was a sporty silver number, etc etc. Her image didn't go with her position.
But she was a very successful educator, ran the school very efficiently and there were long waiting lists for places in the school. The parents and the children loved her. There were jokes about her appearance and style, we went to parents evenings laying bets about her next outrageous dress. These jokes were made affectionately, everybody respected and trusted her judgement.
The day she retired, thousands of parents and pupils (past and present) gathered to say goodbye. She didn't disappoint the crowd: in her most garish dress, make-up and jewellery, she toured the playgrounds in an open car, nicknamed the Dextermobile, waving and beaming at everybody.
Did her image matter? Yes, at first. Once her record was proven, nobody could care less how she dressed or presented herself. If she had dressed conventionally, people wouldn't have such a vivid memory of her, she would have been only one more efficient educator.
Can we say the same about Sarah Palin?
Drab, polished or hot, where does she stand? If we had never seen Sarah Palin and only had her record, speeches and interviews to go by, what conclusions would we reach?
- She couldn't run Wasilla without an administrator. She ruthlessly fired qualified, competent people and replaced them with friends and people from her church. She famously said: "I'm the mayor, I can do whatever I want until the courts tell me I can't."
- Running for governor on an ethics platform, she chose a former Big Oil lobbyist as her running mate. In the debates she either had prompt cards or strayed from the topics.
- Once in office, she repeated the Wasilla drill: hired and fired in the same style, high school friends in, dissenters out. Troopergate, Dairygate, ethics, expenses, all these became part and parcel of her record.
- Anti-environment and anti-wildlife.
- The campaign for the vice presidency brought forth many inconcistencies: bridge to nowhere and the non-existent gas pipeline, for example. The governor who professed to embracing bi-partisanship came across as deeply divisive. Her well documented rallies attracted a large number of racist people; she made inflammatory speeches accusing the then Senator Obama of having terrorist connections.
- The very few interviews she granted to the media were a complete disaster; she was pranked by some Canadian comedians and would have carried on the conversation with "President Sarkozy" for much longer if the comedian had not identified himself.
- She paraded her family, day in day out, using them as political props; announced to the world that her teenage daughter was pregnant to silence the rumours about her fake pregnancy.
- After the campaign, the same woman who had criticized Hillary Clinton for whining about the media proceeded to whine non-stop about the media.
- She repeatedly sacrifices Alaskans in order to position herself for a 2012 run for the White House.
- Her family appear regularly in the tabloid press.
- Every speech and interview come with a large serving of word salad, where she makes sweeping statements about things she can barely understand.
This list could go on forever. Read it once making a mental image of a frumpy, conservatively dressed, physically unattractive woman. Then imagine a polished, smartly dressed woman, then finally think of the latest "hot" version she chose to project.
Does her image matter? Are we being unkind, or has Sarah Palin made poor choices in clothing and style?
If her record had been impeccable, could we have learned to live with whatever style she chose and love and respect her in the same way Mrs Dexter was loved and respected despite the "out of character" appearance?
Would Dave Letterman and other comedians have picked on her and her appearance had she been an effective and sincere politician?
Departing from the norm is a privilege to be indulged only by the super competent...
Americans had to suffer embarassement on a regular basis during the eight years of the Bush administration. He dressed correctly but let himself down every time he opened his mouth.
Sarah Palin would be a double whammy! She would be an embarassment with or without opening her mouth!
Interesting article on Sarah Palin, by Kathleen Parker.