John and Jackie Kennedy first brought the cult of the celebrity into the White House, but it’s hard to imagine a major national magazine would have published an exposé of them – or of any other politician – quite like the one on the Palin family that’s appearing in the latest Vanity Fair (via Feministing). You can’t access the whole article online; the Frisky has more excerpts than Vanity Fair actually provides. But basically the article consists of Levi Johnston talking trash about the family who very nearly became his in-laws. He portrays Sarah Palin as a neglectful mother and her marriage to Todd as a sham. After reading the excerpts, I headed straight for the shower. (Literally! I’d been doing the blogger-in-a-bathrobe routine.)
Even if Levi’s accusations are all accurate, they don’t have any bearing on Sarah Palin’s political credentials. She’s managed to totally discredit herself in that realm without his help. What this does signal, though, is a new nadir in conflating our politicians with our celebrities.
It’s bad enough that Jerry Spring fancies himself a politician. Now our politicians’ lives are grist for the Jerry Springer Show.
I don’t think that the Republicans have cornered the market on this, though Palin is the most egregious example of style and surface totally trumping substance. John Edwards had much better policy chops, but he also traded on his looks and made decisions that raised the National Enquirer’s credibility – no small feat.
Ironically, the same Republicans who brought us Palin tried to portray Barack Obama as a shallow celebrity in the summer of 2008. Yes, he has good looks, charisma, and a certain glamour. The big difference? He has dignity and an impressive intellect. I say this even though I’m pissed at him. He let the bankers dictate the financial bailout. Now he’s lost command of the health care debate, and to turn it around, he’d need to channel the eloquence of his speech on race during the primaries. But even at his worst, Obama doesn’t provide fodder for the tabloids, unless you’re inclined to believe the birthers.
In the long run, I’m afraid we’re going to see many more Palins, male and female, white and black, Republican and Democrat. And I don’t have the slightest clue what to do about it. We can keep demanding better media. We can teach our children to look beyond superficial qualities. We can keep trying to educate the next generation to think critically, one young mind at a time. I’m afraid it won’t be enough.