The inevitable backlash to Todd Purdum's Sarah Palin profile has begun: Bill Kristol called it a "hit piece" and outed Steve Schmidt as the source of the postpartum depression gossip. But, given Purdum's Bill Clinton profile, perhaps that's premature.
Having read both profiles, I think it's possible that Todd Purdum is just a jerk obsessed with politicians' reproductive organs, an itchy finger on the "narcissist" trigger (project much?), and a love of wallowing in anonymous sources. Not convinced? Let's look at the evidence.
Their sex lives
One would think, based on reputation alone, that there wouldn't be much to dissect about Sarah Palin's sex life... and, yet, Purdum's fascination with Bill Clinton's cock carries over to the Alaska Governor's reproductive tract.
Even though Purdum conceded that there is no evidence that Clinton has been anything less than faithful to his wife lately, he couldn't resist speculating about it with absolutely no evidence.
But among the not-so-small cadre of Clinton friends and former aides, concern about the company the boss keeps is persistent, palpable, and pained. No former president of the United States has ever traveled with such a fast crowd, and most 61-year-old American men of Clinton's generation don't, either. "I just think those guys are radioactive," one former aide to Clinton who is still in occasional affectionate touch with him told me recently, referring to Burkle and (to a lesser extent) Bing. "I stay far away from them."
Another former aide, trusted by Clinton for his good judgment, said, "On the sort of money, women, all that stuff … I'm the bad guy. All this stuff is kept away from me. Whatever they're doing, they definitely view me as somebody you cannot confide in."
A longtime Clinton-watcher, who has had ties to the former president since his first campaign for governor of Arkansas, said of Clinton's sometimes questionable associations, "I don't know what to make of any of that, if it's a voyeuristic experience, or if he's participating in it."
See? Aides who are so close to Clinton they know (or think they know) what he does with his dick are concerned that he might be doing something with his dick, so he must be doing something with his dick!
On Palin, Purdum professes himself amazed that a pre-menopausal — and attractive — woman could ascend to political heights.
The clouds of tabloid conflict and controversy that swirl around her and her extended clan-the surprise pregnancies, the two-bit blood feuds, the tawdry in-laws and common-law kin caught selling drugs or poaching game-give her family a singular status in the rogues' gallery of political relatives. By comparison, Billy Carter, Donald Nixon, and Roger Clinton seem like avatars of circumspection. Palin's life has sometimes played out like an unholy amalgam of Desperate Housewives and Northern Exposure.
Another aspect of the Palin phenomenon bears examination, even if the mere act of raising it invites intimations of sexism: she is by far the best-looking woman ever to rise to such heights in national politics, the first indisputably fertile female to dare to dance with the big dogs.
Hmm, well, off the top of my head, I would guess that former beauty queen and Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand might object to Palin being called the best looking (or only fecund) women elected to high political office, if Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin didn't qualify as only one of 435.
But Purdum likes to dispense with sexytime early in his pieces, so he can get straight to the
One might think that a reporter who has spent much of his or her career covering politics and political figures would be less quick to diagnose abnormal narcissism in politicians, but Pardum is practically making a career of it. Surprise! People that seek elected office and/or believe they can make a difference in the world hold themselves in high regard!
First up, Bill Clinton, who's a narcissist for thinking (like nearly everyone who's ever cheated or committed a crime) that he could cheat and not get caught — or, like every President before him, not get outed to the American people. Purdum says:
It is also possible that all these influences have combined to make the cavernous narcissism that has always driven Clinton, for better and worse, at last consume the man almost completely. It was Clinton's political genius to position the Democratic Party, for the first time in a generation, as the champion of those who "work hard and play by the rules." In his own life, he has always followed only the first half of that dictum, and has never been fastidious about appearances, in ways charming and not.
So, Clinton's a "genius" (in Purdum's judgment) with too high regard for himself? Maybe because everyone keeps calling him a genius?
Sarah Palin, too, is an apparent narcissist for seeking to obtain higher public office and screwing people over to get there, just like almost every politician has done since time immemorial.
More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin's extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of "narcissistic personality disorder" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-"a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy"-and thought it fit her perfectly. When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig's condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God's, and signed it "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father."
Right, I'm sure a bunch of politicians in Alaska keep psych texts in their offices. And goodness knows no mother or father has ever written an overly cutesy email about their child to friends and family — she obviously thinks she's God Herself.
If I cited every anonymous source used by Purdum to allow him to publish rumors and gossip about Clinton and Palin, I'd have to go on for days. Suffice it to say, Purdum is a lot less interested in what people will say off the record when they've no fear of reprisal — like the postpardum depression comment about Palin that Kristol links to senior McCain adviser Steve Schmidt or the many "close" Clinton associates who suspect him of still fucking around — than finding people to say too many interesting or enlightening things on the record. When the only "news" a long profile like this makes is that McCain adviser Mark McKinnon — who famously dropped out of the McCain campaign because he said he wouldn't work against Obama — helped with debate prep, either one is rehashing really old stories (which Purdum does in both pieces — does anyone care that Clinton went jogging with Mondale's hot daughter once in the nineties?) or indulging in sensationalistic rumor-mongering.
Although Palin-haters will no doubt cheer the piece and Palin-fans will decry it as a piece of left-wing journalism, I hope that no one ignores the fact that Purdum took the template he used for his Clinton hatchet-job, filled it in as though it was an Alaskan-themed Mad Libs, and published it. That might make him a hack, but it doesn't make him a partisan one.
Related: Kristol: Liberal Media and GOP Hacks vs. Palin [Weekly Standard]