Monday, 19 April 2010

Book review: "Notes From the Cracked Ceiling - Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win", by Anne E. Kornblut

Guest post by Mrs. Tarquinbiscuitbarrel

Notes from cracked ceiling - cover

I keep waiting for some member of the so-called mainstream media (MSM), other than Andrew Sullivan, to take a searching look into all of the dim corners of Sarah Palin's rise to national prominence, and to question what she says about herself, and what we are told about her. Sadly, Notes From the Cracked Ceiling fails to do so, and for reasons with which I am personally, and unhappily, familiar. Kornblut, who has covered all three Presidential elections since joining the Washington Post in 1998, is young (thirtysomething?), ambitious, and is likely to continue to follow a well-worn path to journalistic success.

Unfortunately, MSM journalists, already shell-shocked by grim tidings about their career prospects, tend to proceed cautiously. Any vigorous investigative journalism that might rock a craft as leaky as the S.S. Sarah might very well swamp the journalist--who has no PAC, no slush fund, no television show, no screaming fans--rather than Palin herself. My oldest son, still in his early twenties, has worked for five newspapers, and currently writes for The New York Times. We have fought bitterly about the details of Palin's life. My husband, who was a very successful journalist and editor before rejoining his original profession, has a gentler view of the "Why bother?! Who cares?!" views that our son has shouted at me. "Sarah Palin's never going to run for anything again," says the senior Mr. B. "So I don't know why all of this matters so much."

Evidently, Anne E. Kornblut shares the same viewpoints as the Biscuitbarrel men. Though she writes astutely and perceptively about women as politicians--not just Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, but Janet Napolitano, Nancy Pelosi, Jane Swift, and Meg Whitman, among others--regarding Palin, Kornblut seemed to be treading a cautious path, deviating not a whit from the MSM's Palin memes with which we already are so familiar.

My argument with Kornblut (and her publishers) begins with the book's title. Though yes, both Clinton and Palin were involved in the 2008 election, Palin arrived long after Clinton had admitted defeat in the national primaries and vowed to support Barack Obama. To lump together both women in the subtitle ...And What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, confers co-equal "qualities" upon the two women--one running for President, one named to the Vice Presidential slot on the ticket late in the race, with just nine weeks left to campaign--that we all now know that Palin does not possess. In major races, a candidate's strengths also may prove to be their weaknesses. Although Hillary Clinton has a superior education and professional resume, as well as thirty-five years in the public eye including eight years as First Lady, those very assets did not help her with Democratic voters suffering from "Clinton fatigue," or those susceptible to the powerful appeal of her Senate colleague, Barack Obama.

Where does Sarah Palin fit into that equation? Well, she doesn't, not compared with the other politicians in this book. Govenor Jennifer Granholm was successfully elected governor of Michigan only after her model-perfect looks were "toned down" by black-and-white campaign ads. However, Phi Beta Kappa Granholm also graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. So, Palin and Granholm aren't comparable... okay, I tried. Kornblut's book is at its weakest when she presents the even more feeble reasoning given for Palin's appearance on the Republican ticket. Neither Tim Pawlenty nor Mitt Romney were believed to lend significant support to John McCain's campaign, as would a socially conservative woman who also was called a "hottie."

Regarding the husbands of politicians, Kornblut demonstrates that women are held more accountable than their male opponents regarding the family career and finances. Senator Dianne Feinstein was passed over as Walter Mondale's running mate when the finances of Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, came under the microscope, a fate that also befell Geraldine Ferraro and her husband John Zaccaro after Ferraro was added to the 1984 Presidential ticket.

However, Kornblut slips, and slips big-time, in her completely inadequate account of Todd Palin. Although the e-mails demonstrating Todd Palin's intimate acquaintance with State of Alaska business had been released by MSNBC before Kornblut's book went to press, there was no mention of Todd Palin's co-governorship, just a brief mention of Troopergate. ("Todd Palin said he had simply met with the safety commissioner, not taken part in any effort to pressure him,") notes Kornblut parenthetically. Neither did Kornblut touch Todd's membership with the separatist Alaska Independence Party, Sarah Palin's involvement with Arctic Cat and other donors, the family's dicey receipt of per diem funds to live in their own house, or discuss how the First Dude might have enjoyed special privileges while competing on those eternal snow machine races for which other participants were disqualified. The material was there for the using; Kornblut didn't bite.

Picture below: Sarah Palin on April 8, 2008 -
Footage shot by Israeli filmmaker Elan Frank

Read about Sarah Palin's faked pregnancy HERE.

I would have been shocked had Kornblut not dropped the ball on Babygate, but drop it she did. Though she says that she "and every other ... journalist I know, including Andrew Sullivan" had received the DailyKos posting by ArcXIX, that began, "Sarah I'm calling you a liar. And not even a good one. Trig... is not your son. He is your grandson," she had nothing to add. McCain aide Nicolle Wallace tells proudly of responding to the first reporter who called to ask about Palin's alleged "wild ride" by responding, "'Are you asking me to respond, on the record, to a charge than amniotic fluid came out of her vagina?' He was so mortified, he hung up."

Kornblut adds, "Back at McCain headquarters, where aides had been out of the loop on Palin's selection in the first place, advisers did not know whether to believe the baby was hers. The conspiracy theory ... was reminiscent of the frenetic response a decade and a half earlier" when Hillary Clinton allegedly "had participated in corruption and murder, or secretly been a lesbian." Whoa, Nelly! Anne, honey, what a jump! After Kornblut goes off on a tangent and returns to "refute questions about a faked pregnancy," she appears completely content with the McCain campaign's insistence that Bristol was "five months pregnant" at the time of the RNC, and therefore could not possibly have given birth to Trig. Finis. We all know that no birth certificate has ever been presented to confirm Trig's birth date and birthparents. Kornblut doesn't mention this, either.

Reading this book with an eye to what will interest Palingates, it is clear that the only new material (for me, at least) is Wallace's remark above. There is absolutely nothing else in this book about Palin that we haven't seen a hundred times before. Elaine Lafferty, interestingly enough, shows up as early as page three in Notes From the Cracked Ceiling, when she "showed up on stage at a Palin rally." Subsequently, on page 53, Lafferty (billed solely as "former editor of Ms. Magazine" and not yet on the McCain/Palin payroll, a fact that appears to have eluded Kornblut completely), wrote Hillary Clinton a memo stating, "You ignore the Oprah phenomenon at your peril."

I'm going to quote what is perhaps, for Palingates readers, the money quote of this book: On page 120, after McCain adviser Carly Fiorina had been sidelined "after remarking on television that neither McCain nor Palin would have been qualified to run her former company. Fiorina's treatment only made the women of the campaign feel more isolated. Newer allies, including Elaine Lafferty, former editor of Ms. Magazine and a Clinton supporter, tried to intervene.

"Lafferty was an unusual fit inside McCain's world: a feminist and a Democrat; moved by Clinton's defeat, she offered her expertise as a writer and a communicator after Palin was selected (she had also, five years earlier, coauthored a book with [Greta] Van Susteren)...Now, in late 2008, Lafferty found herself volunteering at McCain headquarters as the Republicans tried to win over disaffected Clinton voters. [Emphasis added.] "I had been obviously brought on to have something to do with women voters, but couldn't get anywhere with that, despite memo after memo after memo," she said. "People would say, 'What do you do on the campaign?' I would say, 'I write memos.

"Lafferty was insistent that Palin could be more effective if she tried to talk more directly to women, rather than repeating her stock lines about being a 'maverick.' "My point was that you've got to use certain language. Women wanted to support her. The ones who are lukewarm can be made passionate, the ones who are passionate can convince others, the ones who are uncomfortable can be brought around. I was trying to push language, and push a speech,' said Lafferty.

"Remarkably enough, Palin did give a speech on women, on October 22, in Henderson, Nevada. It went almost completely unnoticed at the time, buried under a cascade of daily events and viewed cynically by the traveling press corps--another cheap effort to win women over, just as the Palin pick itself had been. Palin was still drawing big crowds, but by then she was such a problematic running mate that few in the political establishment took her seriously...

"If Clinton had epitomized the feminist movement's dream, Palin was in many ways its worst nightmare, and almost all of the national groups--NOW, the National Organization for Women, being the most prominent--rejected her reflexively. That left some big-tent feminists, such as Lafferty, feeling alienated.... when Lafferty wrote a piece for The Daily Beast defending Palin's intellect, she was pilloried in over-the-top terms (one posting on the popular women's site bore the headline, in huge type, "As Far As I'm Concerned, Elaine Lafferty Can Go F**k Herself")..."

The Jezebel author's name, Megan Carpentier, was not mentioned by Kornblut. Neither did Kornblut know, evidently, that Lafferty received $25,000 for "GOTV consulting" from the McCain/Palin campaign on September 30, 2008, a month before "Sarah Palin's a Brainiac" appeared in The Daily Beast on October 27, 2008; Lafferty received another $25,000 from the McCain/Palin campaign on October 31, 2008, as well as subsequent payments from both the McCain/Palin campaign and from SarahPAC. This author started out viewing Lafferty as a volunteer, and did not do the follow-up to ensure that she remained so, or not. In addition to the usual acknowledgments, Kornblut thanks dozens and dozens of people (including Elaine Lafferty), "the gang on the plane," and specifically thanks five separate researchers, as well as "the team at Accentage... turning around transcripts within days just as I needed them." My, my. Quite a luxury, as any midlist author will tell you.

In summary, this is an excellent resource for anyone interested in women politicians, as well as party and gender preferences during elections. It contains material that will make election junkies nod their heads in agreement, and boasts moments of pure charm. For example, when Rahm Emanuel advised Nancy Pelosi not to "get too comfortable with the idea of winning back the [Democratic] majority [in Congress] in 2006, [as] he was superstitious," Pelosi playfully responded, "Jews never put the crib up until the baby is born. In the Catholic tradition, we never take the crib down." Kornblut excels in that sort of anecdote. But Notes From the Cracked Ceiling proved to be profoundly frustrating as a source of information of anything new and revealing on Sarah Palin. So much access! So many resources! And all Anne gives us is the same old, same old! And most depressingly, I'm sure I know why!

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