By now, Americans have grown accustomed to Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio saying (and doing) what most hard-line conservatives are only thinking. So when Sheriff Joe tweeted that he gave Sarah Palin a pair of pink underwear, right-wing eyebrows weren't the only things being raised. Of course, this episode is just the latest to highlight the enduring appeal of Sarah Palin to right-wing America. In a nutshell (and with apologies to decency and decorum), conservative women want to be her; conservative men want to do her.
As it turns out, Arpaio's Palin PantyGate isn't quite what it seems. As CBS News noted, "Arpaio is famous for making his inmates wear pink underwear and using pink handcuffs." Still, Americans could be forgiven for assuming otherwise. After all, Sarah Palin's Republican admirers have made no secret about either their drooling reactions to her looks or their sexist attitudes towards the women of the Democratic Party.
That was mad abundantly clear in August, when the Republican Party of Minnesota's fifty-sixth Senate district debuted a web video proclaiming the GOP's women are "hotter" than their Democratic counterparts:
It leads with images of prominent Republicans such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin, and Michele Bachmann; the soundtrack, naturally, is the Tom Jones chestnut, "She's a Lady."
Then, there's an abrupt switch to the other side of the aisle. The theme is subtly conveyed with the strains of the Baha Men hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?" Photos of Michelle Obama, Janet Reno, Rosie O'Donnell and Hillary Clinton flash on the screen.
That brief chapter is just one in a long-running irony. While her defenders and Palin herself claim the half-term Alaska governor is the victim of sexism on the part of the "lamestream" media, the men and women of the conservative chattering classes never fail to put her supposed sex appeal front and center.
Just one day after Rush Limbaugh proclaimed, "I love the women's movement - especially when walking behind it," Fox News host Chris Wallace in February added his voice to the long list of Sarah Palin's willing objectifiers:
IMUS: When you interview her, will she be sitting on your lap? (LAUGHTER)
WALLACE: One can only hope. (LAUGHTER)
Sadly for Wallace, he'll have to get in line behind National Review editor Rich Lowry.
Last November, Lowry greeted the appearance of Palin's book by basking in her "roguish charm":
It's September 2008 all over again. All the same players are lining up to put a good hate on Sarah Palin. She's like an isotope designed to course throughout our politics and culture, lighting up press bias, self-congratulatory liberalism, Christianity-hating secularism, and intellectual condescension wherever they are found.
The contempt of her enemies only increases the ardor of her fans.
And none is more adoring, it turns out, than Rich Lowry.
As you may recall, in October 2008 Lowry reported on his near orgasmic bliss watching Sarah Palin's debate performance against Joe Biden. The impact of a vice presidential candidate winking at him left a breathless Lowry weak at the knees:
I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.
As Lowry suspected, he's not alone. At the Weekly Standard, right-wing worker-bee Matthew Continettti has dedicated himself to protecting his queen. In his new tome, The Persecution of Sarah Palin, Continetti defends the "young, attractive, and pro-life conservative mom who connected with ordinary Americans" from the left's campaign of "distortion, exaggeration, fabrication, vilification, ridicule, and abuse." Disgusted that Palin on the one hand is branded a "true Stepford candidate," Continetti argues on the other:
If you had gone into a chemical laboratory to concoct a politician whose background and manner would sound liberal alarms, you probably would have come up with someone like Sarah Palin.
To be sure, given that opportunity the usual suspects among Palin's bathwater drinkers would be sure to manufacture a right-wing American version of Princess Diana. Rush Limbaugh, who in 1993 famously called the young Chelsea Clinton a "dog," blasted the likes of NBC's Andrea Mitchell for simply observing Sarah Palin is "not deeply read. She hasn't thought through a lot of these policies, and you have to do that." As he groused in July:
Okay, and I hear this from a lot of people on our side, too. Primarily women, primarily women. And I think many of them have been in Washington too long. "Lord knows she's attractive." That's the rub. That's the rub. Well, it's not the whole rub, but it's part of what grates on 'em. Trust me, my friends. Trust me. When your poster chick is Barbara Mikulski, you get the drift. When your poster chick is Nancy Pelosi. I don't care, pick one.
(To illustrate his point, Limbaugh features side-by-side photos of Sarah Palin and Democratic Rep. Barbara Mikulski.)
Palin's apparent sex appeal isn't limited to the men of the right. Ann Coulter, too, made clear that if loving Palin is wrong, she doesn't want to be Right:
The peculiarly venomous hatred of Palin is driven by women of the left and their whipped consorts. All that needs to happen is for a feminist to overhear two Nation readers saying, "I hate to admit it, but Palin is kind of hot" and ...
WHAT??????????? YOU CALL THAT HOT? I'LL HAVE YOU KNOW WE'VE GOT A MEGA-SUPER HOTTIE IN DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. AND NEED I REMIND YOU AGAIN OF THE RAW SEX APPEAL OF RACHEL MADDOW?
Democrats are a party of women, and nothing drives them off their gourds like a beautiful Christian conservative. (How much money has that other beautiful born-again, Carrie Prejean, been forced to spend on lawyers to respond to liberal hysteria?)
(Unsurprisingly, the public statements of Sarah Palin and Carrie Prejean are virtually indistinguishable.)
No doubt, the Republican Party's leaders past and present share Limbaugh and Coulter's adolescent assessment of the beauty of the right and the beasts of the left. After all, in 1998, Palin's running mate John McCain followed in Limbaugh's footsteps, joking, "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno." (McCain later apologized to Hillary and Bill Clinton, though not to Janet Reno). For his part, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in May 2009 laughed off Time magazine's selection of Sarah Palin as one of America's most influential people:
"But was that the issue on the most beautiful people or the most influential people?"
That July, Politico asked leading figures from the left and right "Are women in politics still routinely demeaned in the news media, or is it all about Sarah Palin?" (Grover Norquist argued that "Sarah Palin is not being attacked by the establishment media because she is a woman," but because she's a "possible leader of Reagan Republicanism.") Earlier this year, former Bush press secretary and new Obama appointee Dana Perino left no doubt where she stood on the question:
"There is a special burden for women in politics. And we saw that even for Hillary Clinton. And especially if you're an attractive woman and a conservative woman, then that burden is even greater."
"Fair or unfair, I think she does herself a disservice to even mention it...When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism or, you know, maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, man, that doesn't do us any good. Women in politics, women in general wanting to progress this country. I don't think it's, it bodes well for her -- a statement like that...It bothers me a little bit hearing her bring that attention to herself on that level."
(In that case, Sarah Palin the on-again/off-again feminist might want to speak to Delaware Senate candidate and ardent masturbation foe Christine O'Donnell, who told CBN this week, "I'm not whining but there certainly is a double standard especially when it comes to conservative woman.")
But far from producing crippling cognitive dissonance among her heavy breathing supporters, Palin's transparent hypocrisy and stunning contradictions only deepen her hold over them. For the likes of Rich Lowry, no Palin transgression could wipe the starbursts from his eyes. No Palin failure could ever lead to a political divorce. Instead, the louder the objective criticism of grows, the more the right-wing objectification of her becomes.
But that won't make her President of the United States. Given Palin's sky-high disapproval ratings, that would require either divine intervention or, in John Heilemann's telling this week, a Michael Bloomberg third party candidacy in 2012.
But for all the speculation about her White House prospects, it was Republican strategist Michael Murphy who months ago summed up Sarah Palin's hold on the conservative mind and its media mouthpieces alike:
"If Sarah Palin looked like Golda Meir, would we even be talking about her today?"