Thursday, October 23, 2008

Politicians and their Wardrobes

On learning that Sarah Palin spent $150,000 in campaign funds on hairstyling, clothing, and accessories, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Sarah Palin and the Republican National Committee, charging them with violating the FEC rule prohibiting candidates from federal office for using campaign funds to purchase clothing. Questioned by reporters about this, John McCain tersely replied: "She needed clothes at the time. They'll be donated at end of this campaign. They'll be donated to charity."

The Anchorage Salvation Army announced that it would be delighted to be the beneficiary. So now I envision a charity fashion show, auctioning off clothing worn by Sarah Palin during the campaign. Will the Valentino-Garavani jacket she wore to the debate go for more than the outfit she wore on SNL, I wonder? I can even imagine Tina Fey agreeing to model the clothing for them. Wouldn't that be fun!

Another Republican, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman (who is running against Al Franken), has been under fire because Nasser Kazeminy, a wealthy donor, bought expensive suits for him. And it turns out that Palin's personal shopper is a close Coleman connection, one Jeff Larson, whose firm is involved in engineering the McCain campaign's robocalls---and whom Coleman tipped for the juicy plum of running the Republican National Convention last summer. Are these instances of politicians helping themselves to sartorial perks a signal that candidates should be grilled by the media about whether or not they buy their own clothes? I don't know. The media never bother to explore the issues and the candidates positions more than superficially as it is. Asking candidates about their clothes might simply further distance them from discussing the issues. And yet...

While in one sense, such gossip is irrelevant, in another, such details offer the public a clear index of the values and attitudes rife among politicians and lobbyists-- values alien to everyone but the most elite. I'm sure Palin feels entitled to a new wardrobe: this, after all, being a "natural" perk of power, just as the investment bankers who exuberantly participated in the subprime mortgage pyramid scheme feel entitled to multimillion bonuses as their companies and clients are all going bankrupt and failed CEO's always seem to be given golden parachutes when they're fired for incompetence. The McCain-Palin position is that Bush didn't go far enough in redistributing income from the middle to the very most upper classes-- they're demanding even more redistribution (and must be laughing their asses off at "Joe the Plumber's" naivete in thinking that Obama's plan to raise taxes on millionaires will hurt him personally). Since robbing the middle class to give to the rich has become an absolute ethic of the Republican Party, Republican politicians must find it galling when they get called on the perks they believe they're entitled to.

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