23oct08Media and US elections analysis

By Daniel Politi, Slate Magazine

The New York Times leads with a comparison of how each of the presidential candidates would use American power abroad if elected. A close look at their proposals often finds contradictions “that do not fit the neat hawk-and-dove images promoted by each campaign.” For example, Barack Obama has expressed much more willingness to threaten the use of U.S. ground troops in Pakistan than John McCain. Still, it’s important to remember that campaigns “are usually terrible predictors of presidential decision-making.


The NYT fronts, and everyone mentions, the latest kerfuffle from the campaign trail that had to do with the revelation that the Republican National Committee spent around $150,000 on clothing for Sarah Palin and her family since September. Campaign operatives tried to minimize the commotion and said the clothes from such high-end retailers as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue would be donated in November. But even some Republicans spoke up and expressed shock that aides would be so careless as to not think through how this would look to voters living through an economic downturn, particularly when the campaign has worked so hard to portray Palin as a working mom who understands the problems of middle-class Americans. Some think this could go a long way toward destroying Palin’s carefully constructed image, much like John Edwards suffered after the whole mini controversy regarding his $400 haircuts.

As much of an easy and fun story it is to cover, what’s $150,000 anyway? Yes, as the LAT points out, it’s about 75 times more than what the average American spends on clothing a year. But, it’s clearly loose change when you consider how much is being spent on political campaigns this year. USAT fronts a new report that reveals the total cost of campaigns to send newly elected politicians to Washington is on track to reach $5.3 billion. That figure, which includes expenditures by the candidates, parties, and outside groups, would represent a $1 billion increase from 2004. And if that’s an eye-popping figure, consider that it’s still less than the estimate of how much Americans will spend on Halloween this year, a whopping $6 billion.

Clearly, it’s not just about the money, but about what the clothes represent. The WP‘s resident fashion expert Robin Givhan, who calls the expenditures “some seriously bad judgment,” says that the wardrobe choices made for Palin are “evidence of a tin ear for the symbolism of popular culture.” People define themselves through their fashion choices, which is why a “smart retailer stands for something,” writes Givhan. “And in our culture Neiman Marcus stands for ‘elite,’ not for ‘Everyman.’ “





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