Thursday, January 08, 2009

Mis-leading Ladies

Sarah Palin is not a happy camper, or so she told Politico. The Alaska governor thinks that the press is giving Caroline Kennedy preferential treatment. She is interested in seeing how Kennedy "will be handled," and whether the media will use kid gloves.

Moreover, the former Republican vice presidential candidate says there is what she calls a "class issue" behind the scrutiny to which she has been subjected, but she never really expands on what exactly she means by that. She describes herself as "momma grizzly" when it comes to protecting her daughter from the paparazzi, but what she neglects to say is that, for the past several years, she could have been the poster child for the upwardly mobile.

Indeed, since 1992, Ms. Palin rose from a member of Wasilla's city council to being Wasilla's mayor. Then, in 2002, she took aim at the job of lieutenant governor of Alaska, but missed, and went on to chair the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Committee after which she became Alaska's first female governor.

By way of contrast, while she was the daughter of the closest thing this country has had to royalty, after graduating from Radcliffe, Caroline Kennedy went to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she met her future husband, exhibit designer Edwin Schlossberg. Kennedy went on to get a law degree from Columbia University, and co-author two books on civil liberties. She serves on the boards of several notable nonprofits, and has been a steadfast supporter of poetry. But, for the most part, she has spent the past several years gainfully employed raising her children, a fact she readily, and unapologetically, acknowledges (something that might indeed bring a big smile to her father's face).

I guess if one considers "class" a static thing, Governor Palin's argument that the media favors Caroline Kennedy based on her lineage would make sense, but one would have a hard time making that assertion stick in an age when two of our country's presidents were raised by single moms, including Barack Obama, one was a peanut farmer, and another an actor.

Ultimately, then, Palin's observations about class, and treatment, or mistreatment, by the media are misleading, and don't hold water except insofar as they make for compelling irony given her party affiliation.

But, irony aside, Sarah Palin is right about one thing. The media spend a lot more time on our leading ladies then our misleading ones. Take, for example, how little air time was devoted to revelations, last month, that another leading lady, and outgoing secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, in her capacity as national security advisor, helped former White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, cover his tracks when he lied to Congress with his contention that the CIA originated the spreading of false information about Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium back in 2002.

Indeed, Condi Rice has been given a get out of jail free card despite the findings of a House committee that both she and Gonzales misled the public and Congress; Rice in her public assertion that she wasn't aware the CIA had doubts about the Iraq uranium issue before the controversial announcement despite the contention of George Tenet, former director of the CIA, that the CIA sent memos to the White House questioning the Iraq uranium claim well before the broadcast.

Rice has also managed to escape friendly fire when discussion of who approved waterboarding, and other alternative interrogation methods, comes up despite her presence, and participation in meetings at which these techniques, tantamount to torture, were openly discussed, and approved.

Back in 2002, a former CIA deputy reportedly spoke with Rice, and advised her to avoid making any public assertions about uranium enrichment in Iraq, one of the principal pretexts for taking the U.S. to war. Yet, in 2003, Rice agreed that the claim never should have found its way into a speech based on what she had only recently learned when she had that information long before, and suppressed it, thereby deliberately misleading Congress, and the American people.

What is the common denominator between Condoleezza Rice and Sarah Palin? Both women are political careerists, and party apologists, and both have more than the lion's share of talent in the art of deception. In her recent bid for the executive branch, Palin has proven herself to be quite adept at coming across like the girl next door, and the paragon of unpretentiousness, when even Macbeth would envy her singleminded ambition.

And, as another misleading lady, Ms. Rice has managed to deflect the kind of high voltage charges that have been leveled at former attorney general Gonzales, and others in the Bush camp, both in terms of their active efforts to tweak traditional definitions of torture, politicize Justice by using party affiliation as a prerequisite for employment, and try to legitimize an illegal war.

No one will dispute that Caroline Kennedy has had certain advantages from birth, but the insinuation that this progeny of a family that has, for generations, worked to dispell economic, and racial, disparity in this country will in some way work to secure the betterment of others who have the advantage of being born well is flat out misleading and false.

More importantly, no one can accuse Ms. Kennedy of being a misleading lady. What you see is what you get. She has never tried to come across as anything other than what she is--a wife, mother, attorney, lifelong supporter of civil liberties, education, poetry, and humanitarian causes.

Governor Patterson would be wise to give Caroline Kennedy the opportunity to complete the remaining two years of Hillary Clinton's term in the Senate. As Kennedy herself has said, there are many different ways to perform public service, and she would be a refreshing change from those who have made a career of manipulating public opinion in their own favor.