The shopping-spree fallout

THE SHOPPING-SPREE FALLOUT…. The Politico broke the story late on Tuesday about the RNC spending more than $150,000 on apparel and accessories for Sarah Palin and her family over just seven weeks. Yesterday, it was quite a topic of conversation. I was especially interested, though, in what Republicans would do to spin the embarrassing revelations.

The initial response from the McCain campaign was that this wasn’t important in light of the serious challenges facing the country. That’s a nice try, I suppose, but it seemed kind of silly given the source — this is the same campaign that’s spent the last several months talking about a ’60s-era radical, celebrities, arugula, lipstick, and sex-ed for kindergarteners. It’s a little late in the day to whine about the importance of substance.

This, however, is an even worse excuse.

Others said the issue was tainted with sexism, given that male politicians often spend thousands of dollars on suits.

“She had a legitimate need to purchase clothing to get her through three months of grueling campaigning in the constant spotlight of television cameras,” said William F. B. O’Reilly, a Republican consultant in New York. “No one would blink if this was a male candidate buying Brooks Brothers suits.”

For goodness sakes. John Edwards, a man, spent $400 on a haircut, and the political world was obsessed with the story for quite a while. It had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do Edwards’ image as someone working families can relate to.

Similarly, Sarah Palin has been presented as a regular person, right off of Main Street, who rails against big-city “elites” who live outside “pro-America” parts of the country. A $150,000 shopping spree might undermine that message a bit.

I can appreciate why this story is embarrassing, and coming at a bad time, but they’ll have to do better than the sexism excuse.

Post Script: John McCain argued on the Senate floor in 1993, “The use of campaign funds for items which most Americans would consider to be strictly personal reasons, in my view, erodes public confidence and erodes it significantly.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.