Grant that the editors of Newsweek hate Sarah Palin. We have every reason to believe that the choice of photo of Palin in shorts represented an attempt to diminish and belittle Palin, to portray her as a cheesecake bimbo, the political equivalent of Lindsay Lohan. Palin herself writes:
The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention - even if out of context.That this is "sexist," OK. Gotcha. But does Sarah Palin want to assume a feminist victimhood posture, to say that she is being oppressed by the patriarchy?
No, I think not. Excuse me for suggesting that the way for Palin to leverage this -- to "re-brand" herself as they say -- is to lean into the curve. The better response would be along the lines of:
"Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I have legs. And, yes, I've been told they're very nice legs. Exactly why the editors of Newsweek decided that showing me in shorts was appropriate for the cover of their magazine is for them to explain -- and good luck with that. I guess I'm trying to figure out what side of the double-standard applies here. Levi can get naked for Playgirl and still be taken seriously, but Newsweek thinks it's something scandalous to show me in running shorts? Just wait until I grant my first in-depth foreign-policy interview to Maxim!"Or something to that effect. The governor signifies her self-awareness that she is something of a political and cultural novelty -- a conservative woman who is a viable presidential prospect. She is aware that her good looks are both an asset and a potential liability, and that liberals want to portray her as a trailer-trash airhead, the "Caribou Barbie," etc.
She gets the joke, and she turns it back against them. Nothing disarms an attack so well as self-deprecating humor. It's like the way Reagan joked about his own extremist reputation: "The Republican Party needs both its right wing and its far-right wing."
To use the word "sexist" against Newsweek is to accuse enlightened liberal elitists of violating their own egalitarian standards -- which is all fine and good. But "sexist" also sounds like one of those grim, humorless Women's Studies professors ranting at a campus "Take Back the Night" rally.
Ick. Don't go there, governor. You are a happily married Christian conservative pro-life woman who -- oh, glorious coincidence! -- looks good in shorts. Your husband is a certified USDA prime slice of hunkalicious beef, your son is a soldier in Bravo Company, and your daughter is a single mom with a selfish douchebag ex-boyfriend.
All of which is to say, you are the 21st-century all-American woman, a symbol to which a lot of moms can relate. Just think of the enormous untapped electoral potential in the "My Daughter's Ex-Boyfriend Is A Selfish Douchebag" Coalition.
Lean into the curve, governor. Be yourself. Relax and have fun. Avoid the humorless feminist victimhood pose. If Hillary Clinton couldn't make that work against Obama, the media sure as heck won't let you use it, so let it go.
When you wish to call attention to the media's double standard -- both the male/female thing and the liberal/conservative thing -- always do so in a way the displays confidence and good humor. Invite the audience to laugh with you, and give them an opportunity to laugh at the media. And let the media laught at themselves. You might be surprised how many people in the press corps think their peers take this Serious Journalism stuff a bit too seriously.
Don't ignore your critics, governor, but don't let them undermine your confidence, either. You are winning. Just don't forget: Lean into the curve.