11.11.08

What Sarah Palin Didn't Say

There was one subject we didn't hear enough about in Part One of the Alaskan governor's media blitz.

So far the interviews with Sarah Palin in her TV media blitz have failed to answer the only question I’m interested in: Now that it’s all over, Sarah, who does look after the kids?

I could never see a shot of the dynamite-looking Palin sashaying out to greet the crowd in those borrowed gladrags without thinking of what it must be like backstage. If it was anything like the early childrearing scene in my own house, the baby was throwing up, Piper was bleating about her missing coloring book, Bristol was sitting sullenly with her iPod giving every one filthy looks, and Todd Palin didn’t notice any of it because he was on the phone.

Frockgate—the revelation that the GOP spent $150,000 on the former hockey mom’s designer duds—only heightened the collective female desire to hear Palin tell it like it really was on the campaign trail, standing there in her pantyhose in the hotel suite, stabbing at her BlackBerry while also struggling into a too-small Galliano jacket that looked great on the hanger but has some fantail flourish at the back that makes her butt look big. “Can someone undo this darn zip! Shoot! Now my hair’s messed up!” Come on, Sarah, fess up! We know it happened!

It was the most ferocious TV assault on a chopping board since Martha Stewart went at it with a defenseless vegetable on the Early Show shortly after she was indicted on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and securities fraud.

I have always suspected that Hillary Clinton wept when she was taking questions from a small group of women at Cafe Expresso in Portsmouth, just before the New Hampshire primary, because of the subtext of the question she was asked: “How do you stay so upbeat and so wonderful?” Surely it was the mere thought of those predawn blow-dry sessions (while Barack Obama got his extra half-hour in bed) that made the steel-nerved junior senator from New York tear up for the first time and reveal the bone-tired effort of it all. Women across the state knew all about that daily effort to look good when you feel like shit. They emotionally identified with Hillary Clinton as they had failed to do in the months before. And they voted for her.

Both Matt Lauer and Greta Van Susteren filmed the Palins preparing a dinner of moose chili in the family kitchen at home in Wasilla. Van Susteren told me that it was clear from her two-day visit that the Palins are a typical American family in which “everyone pitches in” with the kids. The grandparents do their bit, Todd does his bit, Bristol is there to babysit. Palin told Van Susteren, “I have it a heck of a lot easier, though, than most any other woman that I know, though, because of Todd and his—the comfort level that he has in doing a whole lot of the domestic stuff and the kids' stuff and the flexibility that he has. Though he has a very busy work schedule, it's flexible enough where when he is home, he takes over a lot of the house duties and the kids' duties.”

But as every woman knows, assurances like that are only half true. It’s sure to be the governor herself who has to keep the family show on the road. You could tell that from the way she sliced that reindeer sausage. It was the most ferocious TV assault on a chopping board since Martha Stewart went at it with a defenseless vegetable on the Early Show shortly after she was indicted on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and securities fraud.

That’s why the missed opportunity in Palin’s interviews (interviews that will be rich ridicule fodder for other reasons) was her answer to Van Susteren’s most sisterly question about the ordeals of the campaign: “Was it harder on your family, do you think?” “My family's pretty tough,” she replied, “and they—because I've been in local office and state office since '92. You know, the kids have grown up with this. I think they're kind of used to that, which is sort of unfortunate, if you think about it, that they've—you know, they've grown up seeing things said and written about their mom that, you know, even they know hasn't always been true. But I think that they know that that's sort of the nature of the beast of politics.”

Oh, really? Eight-month-old Trig knows? Seven-year-old Piper, who was yanked from school and her friends for two months, knows? I’m unwilling to believe that Palin is an uncaring mother, so this blithe statement of unreflective parenting reflects and reinforces what working women with children seem obliged to tell themselves.

Politically and policy-wise, Palin’s post-election publicity blitz, like her two-month run as McCain’s running mate, demonstrated that she was at least four years, and more likely eight, from being ready for national prime time. But she could play a valuable leadership role—right now—by being honest about and sharing what she really does know about: combining healthy ambition with mothering five kids. Confronting the pain she must have felt—and, even I dare to suggest, the guilt she won’t allow is there—at her own parental oversight when her teenage daughter got pregnant. Struggling with that other decision she has also blown off as an easy call: to continue with her own late-in-life pregnancy when she found she would give birth to a Down syndrome baby. (And it was a decision, “pro-life” platitudes notwithstanding.) If Sarah Palin would address these things honestly with American women and tell it like it really is, she might not redeem the intellectual blunders of the trail. But she might redeem herself, and—who knows?—maybe, someday, win herself national office.

Tina Brown is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times best seller The Diana Chronicles.

Note: This article has been corrected to note that Martha Stewart appeared on the Early Show , not the Today Show as originally published.