At a birthday party in the piñons – warm autumn afternoon turning chilly as the sun set behind the plateau – I greeted a friend and couldn’t help noticing his T-shirt. It came from Alaska. It had a very big mosquito embroidered on the breast, and the words “Bite Me.”
It occurred to me that this was a Sarah Palin T-shirt. Not only did it accurately express an Alaskan cussedness, but it suggested a possible motto for the Republican vice presidential nominee, a woman who described herself, remember, as “a pit bull in lipstick.”
Not very ladylike, “Bite Me.” But then, this lady is a veritable muskeg bog of contradictions.
She wasn’t very ladylike in her St. Paul acceptance speech. (Yes, I know, somebody else wrote the words. But she delivered them with a snarl that didn’t appear to be faked.) In fact, it was the most sarcastic, mocking speech I’ve heard in a national campaign in a long time. Just one example: “What’s he [Barack Obama] gonna to do after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet?”
When the press found a few things in Palin’s resume to question, the McCain camp spun immediately to the offense, claiming that any criticism of the candidate was “sexist.”
I am, of course, using the term ladylike with tongue firmly in cheek. My feminist friends would reject the word out of hand. And they’d be right. Hillary Clinton was certainly not ladylike during her primary run.
No, I use it facetiously, to illustrate the sneaky way Republican masterminds want us to think. As Time’s Jay Carrey wrote recently, they want to “take their candidate’s message directly to the people – on their terms, without all that poking and prodding and skepticism. That’s propaganda.”
It is propaganda. It’s: Don’t go digging around in this woman’s record! Don’t be demanding that she answer questions or submit to the scrutiny that every other candidate should bear! Just swallow what we give you! Bite me!
They want us to believe that Sarah Palin can be both a beauty queen and Phyllis Schlafly. That she can be a reformer and a hustler of bridge-to-nowhere pork. That she can be both a values mom and… oops… a staunch opponent of sex education. That as vice president she would be a strict constructionist who could somehow also tell Americans that they have to “get right with God.” That she is in fact an ethical person when her own hometown newspaper says that she is the kind of person “who will look you in the eye and tell you that black is white.”
If Sarah Palin is such a paragon, why has she been kept away from the press, in fact refused any kind of interview or question-and-answer session? On Sunday ABC’s “This Week” featured Barack Obama. CBS’s “Face the Nation” put questions to John McCain. And NBC’s “Meet the Press” grilled Democratic veep Joe Biden.
Who’s missing? It’s been nine days (it’ll be 11 days by the time you read this) since Sarah Palin’s nomination, and she hasn’t once stepped out from behind her scripted stump speech.
But wait! This just in: On Sunday Sarah Palin’s people announced that she will offer her first televised interview to that journalistic pit bull Charlie Gibson of ABC News. It’ll happen in Alaska, some time later this week. At the governor’s discretion.
What is this, Brangelina offering first baby pics to Us magazine? Is this how democracy works now? The fourth estate reduced to accepting handouts? Will the campaign approve a list of questions? Will the nominee, like a Hollywood studio, hold final editing rights?
The woman deserves to be raked over the coals. (So does the compliant media.) Not because she is a woman or because she’s a conservative and I’m not. But because we need to know what she’s made of, what she really accepts to be true, how she thinks on her feet, what kind of president (God forbid) she would make.
At some point in our birthday celebrations we got a call from a friend in Alaska. She wished the birthday boy well, and she wanted to say hi to as many revelers as she could. When it was my turn to speak into the cell phone, she told me she was mortified by the whole Sarah Palin business. She was embarrassed, Dixie Chicks-style, to be lumped together as Alaskans.
This woman, this friend of ours, could have been a beauty queen. But she chose a different path. And she can field dress a moose.