Monday, November 01, 2010

No, Sarah Palin is not hot

The question still burns, but the answer remains the same: Sarah Palin is NOT hot.

Among the stranger phenomena of our time -- stranger, I dare suggest, than the Cabbage Patch Doll craze in the 1980s, the popularity of the show "Friends" in the 1990s, the emergence of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer as an essential item in the modern hipster's portfolio of coolness, the rise of Bono and Angelina Jolie as roving international ambassadors of good will or the near improbability of the Boston Red Sox winning not one but two World Series, how Uggs and Crocs simultaneously became must-have fashion items in pre-schools, elementary schools, high schools and colleges and worn by the mothers (mostly) and fathers (sometimes) responsible for taking and dropping their children to these educational outposts near and far -- is how Sarah Palin, two years ago a name unknown to approximately 281,121,906 Americans (that's 281,421,906 minus 300,000 or so Alaskans, or about half the state's population. I'm assuming that at least half of all Alaskans, like most Americans, real or fake, don't know who their governor or mayor is) has emerged as the modern-day Marilyn Monroe -- or Lady Gaga, take your pick -- of American politics.

Granted, Palin cuts a more dashing figure than, say, Elizabeth Dole, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Barbara Mikulski or Condi Rice. But does Palin have that "it" factor that allows her to walk along side of Sheryl Crow, Julianne Moore, Sandra Bullock or her impersonator, Tina Fey, with first-tier MILF (or GMILF or VPILF) credentials?

Dear, God . . . no.

No, no, no and no again. And again. And again. And . . . again and again and again.

The Sarah Palin as sex goddess story line has some bizarre roots, if we are to believe Jane Mayer's account two years ago in the New Yorker on how a troika of conservative pundits in Washington, D.C. fell hard for the Alaska governor after a visit to her home during June 2007 for an afternoon and evening of dining and "flight-seeing." Bill Kristol, the know-it-all know-nothing editor of the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes, another conservative pundit whose most recent professional accomplishment was a fawning biography of George W. Bush and Michael Gerson, an insufferable and righteous Op-Ed columnist (and former W speechwriter) for the Washington Post who manages to find God's work in all things Republican and notably absent in anything Democratic, visited Palin during a stop-over on an Alaskan cruise for conservative contributors and activists. According to Mayer, these three permanent members of the Washington Establishment reacted as most high school nerds do after being summoned to the head cheerleader's house for a Homecoming float party, only to find out that he was the only one invited and her parents weren't home -- in utter disbelief that an attractive (in their view) woman would want to talk to them. Think about the visual cliche you see in almost every movie featuring the story line where the sweet but nerdy boy who has a secret crush on the girl/woman too good to be true ("Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," any recent movie with Katherine Heigel or Seth Rogen, "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," "Manhattan," "Hitch," "Sideways," or, most improbably, "The Graduate"), and you'll understand how Kristol, Barnes and Gerson fell hard for Palin.

Of course, to understand how these fine men found their libidos reawakened by Wasila, Alaska's great claim to fame, you have to understand the completely desexualized nature of Washington, D.C. Picture this: You arrive in D.C. as Sarah Louise Heath as an 18 year-old veteran of beauty contestants and high school basketball with a full head of hair that actually falls past your ears. You decide you want to pursue a career in Washington, so you find the right internship and finesse the system to build connections. You're not motivated by anything other than getting into the game so that you can go to parties where people spend most of the time talking about themselves and the essential services they are providing to the nation. But unlike your peers, you don't trade your fashion-conscious pointy-toe heels that you bought at Pay Less for a pair of square-toed, thick heeled clompers that look like something the head mistress might wear at a German boarding school for gifted pianists. You keep your hair long, don't spend your evenings fantasizing about what it would be like to own a blue suit with matching faux pearls from Brooks Brothers, but you do wink and giggle when a guy says something he thinks is funny or insightful because you know -- just know -- that guys like girls who think they're funny and interesting. You might not be the smartest person in the room, but, because you grew up in the Alaskan wilderness, you understand the fundamental biological and anthropological principles of the mating ritual. You know that men are attracted to women who are, well, physically attractive to them. And you know that men will do stupid things to impress women they find attractive . . . so . . . you . . . run with it!

Is all this that hard to figure out? That men are attracted to women who fulfill some sort of fantasy ideal of the attractive woman? That women are attracted to men who fulfill some sort of fantasy ideal of the attractive man?

In Washington, sex is viewed as something to be viewed, at best, through spread fingers held up against your face, like an awkward scene in a movie that you just can't bear to watch, yet you can't look away from either. How else can you explain the obsession that Washingtonians in good standing in the political-media complex developed over Monica Lewinsky's dalliance with Bill Clinton, or Larry Craig's "wide stance" in an airport bathroom, the reaction of the gray-ladies- who-lunch over the scandalous sleeveless dresses that Michele Obama wears during the city's warm months or the alcohol-infused battles that rage late into the evening in happening bars across the city over who is gay and who is not on Capitol Hill? Why does the Washington Post's "fashion" columnist catch such hell for commenting on the length of Hillary Clinton's hair? Why, why, why?

Because Serious People don't think about sex or give in to their sexual impulses . . . no sir-eee, not in Washington, where selfless men and women have elected, in their minds, to forgo better paying but less worthy careers to promote the interests of the real, often forgotten Americans who are busy sweeping our floors, fixing our washing machines, selling us digital cameras or cheerfully refunding the price difference on that absolutely daring J. Crew sweater purchased 10 days before it went on sale. And when you are working 27 hours a day, 9 days a week on no sleep, fueled by endless supplies of Starbucks and Red Bull and subsisting on food that your palette was educated not to eat, you simply don't have time to worry about whether your boyfriend or girlfriend or wife or husband would ditch their L.L. Bean denim skirt or argyle fleece jacket for something more inviting. Such frivolity is beyond the bandwith of the Serious Washingtonian, particularly for women. If you want to prove your mettle in this great city of serious and tireless thinkers, demonstrate your concern for "the process," and prove once and for all that you've left those table-top dancing days in cut-off denim shorts and figure-flattering tops behind you for good, then, by all means, schedule that appointment with a Talbot's personal shopper and begin the process of desexualization.

And that's what Sarah Louise Heath Palin understands. Washington is a city of serious men and women who have little time for such unimportant things like fashion and style. Among the many things that struck me about Washington after moving here twenty years ago, more so than what seemed like a Volvo in every other driveway in Northwest D.C., where I first lived and also worked, was how people my age -- then 27 -- would want to decorate their apartments and homes with pictures of English hunting scenes or place scented candles in living rooms that smelled like vanilla or lilac or some other fragrance that reminded me of how my least favorite aunt's house smelled in 1968 or boast about the new stuffed red leather chair they just purchased for their "study" (not home office). A guy I once had more than one good time with just two or three years before beamed with pride when he showed me the fancy new globe he bought for his "study."

That's right. A globe.

He told me this on a Saturday afternoon while he was wearing a pressed dress shirt with dress slacks and loafers without socks. At the time, he was working as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill. Boy, did I feel stupid, dressed as I was in jeans, my Sambas and a pullover sweater, all proud of myself that I had hung, just a few weeks before, a framed poster of John Coltrane's first great album, "Blue Train," on the living room wall in our first apartment, thinking that guests arriving for the first time might think it was cool.

"Shit," I thought to myself, "I should have opted for that English country pheasant hunting painting I seemed to find in every Washington home I'd been invited into since moving here.

Not only that, I thought that perhaps I should start wearing soft-soled wingtips and my Timex Ironman running watch when I wore a suit, the better to fit in with what seemed like the dominant fashion sensibilities of the Washington professional. My wife often awoke a night, drenched in sweat that someone had kidnapped her, tore up her Bloomingdales and Saks charge cards and forced her into Joesph A. Bank at gunpoint and forced her to purchase a dozen blue and grey flannel suits with floppy bow ties or a skirt with pineapples on it. And worst . . . worst of all . . . someone had stolen all 34,894,85 pair of her shoes and replaced them with a pair of black and white Spectator pumps, some Topsiders for the weekend or black ballerina flats with a big gold medallion on the toe for just lounging around the house.

It took all of about 46 seconds, but my wife and I made a pact not to go down the L.L. Bean-lined pavement of dressing alike as much as possible. If my wife stole one of my shirts to wear around the house or, as was more likely, as part of a disguise to avoid being identified when she cut through Sears to get to her car in the mall parking lot, then it was for a good reason, not because we had decided to order matching attire from the Audubon Society catalogue. My wife's fashion sensibilities are great where they are, which they should be when you have 233 black T-shirts, 233 black slacks, 233 black sweaters, 233 pair of black boots and 233 pair of black shoes to choose from. I, on the other hand, have never been tempted to dress like a volunteer nature guide or a Deep South or Midwest college fraternity president on the weekends.

So Sarah Palin's hot to those men and some women who entered Washington's spay and neuter program after they arrived to start their busy and important work governing and instructing the country. Remember, this is a city wear men other than Nation of Islam members wear bow ties as part of their serious work attire, not because they're attending a Laurel and Hardy tribute show or auditioning for a part as Professor Kingsfield in a suburban dinner theater-version of "The Paper Chase." That a hard vow to take, especially in your early to mid-20's, when you can still laugh at the Cialis and Lipitor ads on television during sports events rather than squint hard at the lower part of the screen to read about their side effects in greater detail. After a while, the women start wearing theme sweaters with matching earrings, thrilled to play their part in celebrating the change of seasons, while the men start wearing red vests under their suit jackets from Thanksgiving through the New Year. And once you've gone down the road of seeing theme sweaters as something other than a put-on for an office gag party, there's no turning back. Nor is there a brighter horizon for men, who have had to trade their devil-may-care wardrobe of untucked shirts and ill-fitting jeans for "walking shorts" with matching shirts, usually featuring a breast logo identifying the exclusive resort where you vacationed last year with some other couples from the D.C. sub-culture of androgynous but very important professionals.

Sarah Palin is many things. She's inarticulate, not terribly bright or knowledgeable about the job she campaigned for two years ago or the undisclosed job she is campaigning for now or aware that the president has responsibilities that go beyond organizing the snack schedule for her son's Pee Wee minor hockey team. Palin is a xenophobe, uncomfortable around people outside her limited world view and not having ever given a serious thought to anything serious in her entire life.

I asked a gay male friend of mine, of whom Sarah Palin is apparently "very tolerant," whether he thought that she was hot.

"Are you kidding?" he said. "Why do you think I'm on this side?"

Hmmm. "Are you suggesting that Sarah's right, that you're gay by choice and you're just trying to get benefits from the government without getting married, which she doesn't think you should be allowed to do, even though she's willing to tolerate you?" I asked.

"You'll have to ask God," he said. "He decided it for me. That, and the secret gay gene that I was born with that I am honor bound not to disclose the origin of."

I started to ask a gay female friend if she thought that Sarah Palin was hot, but she hit me before I could finish the question.

Yes, Sarah Palin is many things. But hot? That is not one of them.