The silliness of the Saks scandal

Apparently, spending money on Sarah Palin’s outfits has become the latest kerfuffle on both sides of the aisle.  The RNC spent around $150,000 in September on wardrobe and beauty supplies for its VP nominee in places like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.  This has supposedly threatened Palin’s middle-class appeal and brought into question the GOP’s spending strategy for the campaign:


The Republican National Committee has spent more than $150,000 to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family since her surprise pick by John McCain in late August.

According to financial disclosure records, the accessorizing began in early September and included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74.

The records also document a couple of big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September.

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September after reporting no such costs in August.

Does this violate FEC regulations?  Only if Palin intended on keeping the clothes — which she doesn’t.  The RNC made clear that the outfits will go to charitable donations, and one might imagine that they could generate some hefty bids if placed for auction after the election.  She won’t keep any of it, unless she buys it back from the RNC.

Mark Tapscott speaks for some on the Right who see this as a betrayal of middle-class values:

Every time I think the campaign professionals at the Republican National Committee can’t possibly do anything else to sink the party, they do something else that simply defies logical explanation. Like taking a candidate who epitomizes Middle American values and spending $150,000 to dress her up in Saks Fifth Avenue finery.

Apparently, they just couldn’t stand the thought of a GOP candidate for vice president actually wearing the same clothes on the campaign trail that she wears in real life. No, they had to go make her look like … one of them.


I think this is a bit overwrought.  Everyone knew Palin would be in the media microscope, her every move undergoing scrutiny.  Thanks to a ridiculous double standard, women who don’t dress well don’t get common-man brownie points — they get pilloried.  Ask Katherine Harris what the press did to her after the 2000 election, ridiculing her make-up, hair, and clothing as a means of political crucifixion.  The RNC understood the reality of the media environment and acted accordingly.  (For that matter, take a look at what the media did to Hillary Clinton or to John Roberts’ children in the past on their clothing.)

Dressing nicely or shopping at Saks or Neiman-Marcus does not disqualify someone from the middle class.  Professionals do not shop for their work wardrobes at Target or Wal-Mart, not even those from the middle class.  Having sold clothing for a time myself, I understand the need to look one’s best when making a new impression, and a Sears pantsuit won’t work on the national-election level.  With the Tanning Bed Media lying in wait for Palin, she needed to make the best impression possible.

Was this a good use of funds for the RNC?  They have had more than a $100 million on hand between the campaign and the RNC in September.  They spent around 0.15% of that on Palin’s wardrobe.  It’s less than they’d pay for a single network-TV spot, and they’ll get more use out of it.

Jazz Shaw, no Palin apologist, is left scratching his head:

People spend what the can afford to spend on clothing. Personally, I tend to wait for a good sale from Joseph A. Banks when you can get a very nice men’s suit for two hundred dollars. But that’s because I’m not exactly made of money. Were I some sort of high powered CEO with a seven figure income, I’m sure that my suits would cost five grand and I’d have some Armani in the closet.

I have no idea what Sarah Palin spent on clothes when she was the Mayor of Wasilla, but now she is in the public spotlight and running for Vice President. She also strikes me as an attractive woman who cares about her appearance and probably likes to dress and look her best. The campaign obviously wants her to look her best for the media and is spending accordingly. They can afford to do it, so why wouldn’t they?


Exactly.  We have much more to discuss than the working-class implications of buying an appropriate wardrobe for the job at hand.  Middle-class values don’t start or end at the closet door.

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