Suzi Parker

Sarah Palin Can Be Your Own Personal Barbie

It's not about sexism, stupid. It's about Barbie.

That's why a lot of women are gaga for Sarah Palin.

Women closing in on the big four-O -- the McCain-Palin target demographic for voters -- grew up role-playing endlessly with Barbie. They spent hours dressing dolls in sexy lingerie, stewardess uniforms, business suits and evening attire while pretending their Barbie was a CEO, a pilot or even -- gasp -- president.

Sarah, as she's called by her female fans, is a 21st century walking, talking, breathing brunette Barbie. Women long to be her friend and have her as a confidante -- the very role Barbie played during childhood. Naturally, women won't admit that Sarah is like Barbie because to do so seems unsupportively shallow and well, sexist, toward the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket.

But Sarah has lived a life very similar to Barbie's.

What girl didn't want to live in the enchanting, ever-changing world of Barbie? Sorry, Hillary, but Barbie was the first to crash the glass ceiling. After all, Barbie was an astronaut in 1965, five years before Neil Armstrong and crew landed on the moon and long before Sally Ride's space adventure. Barbie even ran for president in 1992 -- 15 years before Hillary, the first serious female contender in modern presidential politics, announced.

According to Mattel, Barbie has enjoyed more than 100 careers. In fact, the doll was designed by Ruth Handler in 1959 to assume many roles in life other than fashion model. Sarah followed Barbie's path and has repeatedly reincarnated herself in adventurous arenas that mirror those of the celebrated doll.

Sarah was a high school basketball star, and so hard-core on the court that she was nicknamed Sarah Barracuda. Imagine Barracuda Barbie with her knee-high jock socks and sexy short shorts showing the girls -- and boys -- how to score the winning jump shot. Props to Palin. She beat Barbie onto the court: Mattel didn't premiere a Basketball Barbie until the 1990s.

Mattel premiered a Miss America Barbie in 1974 when Sarah was still a child, and for three years, the doll, complete with her crown, sash, corsage and scepter, sashayed across toy chests in suburbia.

During the 1970s, the Miss America Pageant was one of the most watched televised events hitting its peak in 1970 with 22 million households. Even as women like Hillary Clinton rallied for the Equal Rights Amendment, little girls in Sarah's generation were ignorant of the protests and anticipated the annual dreamy ritual of the swimsuit parades and evening wear extravaganza with a hint of talent thrown in for scholarship.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sarah transformed into a beauty queen during the big-hair '80s. She was second runner-up in the Miss Alaska contest and also named "Miss Congeniality." Barbie would have been proud.

After graduating from college in 1987, Sarah became a sportscaster in Alaska. Barbie beat Sarah into the newscaster seat by only two years. Mattel premiered its TV News Reporter Barbie in 1985 when journalism was at its glamorous heyday in the 1980s, thanks in part to trailblazers like Barbara Walters, Jessica Savitch and Connie Chung.

Sarah first dipped her toe into politics in 1992 when she ran for city council. That same year the Clintons were running for the White House. After he was elected, Bill Clinton opened the door to women in politics and appointed 592 women to Senate-confirmed positions while president -- the most of any president up to that time. It was hip to be a woman in politics in the 1990s. Sarah knew it, and so did Mattel when it unveiled the first Barbie for President doll in 1992.

Regardless of how down-to-earth the McCain campaign portrays Sarah, she still lives a life more like Barbie than Soccer Mom Sue.

Barbie flies a plane and has her pilot's license. Sarah's Ken -- oops, Todd -- owns a seaplane. Sarah was photographed standing next to the plane in Vogue. Don't say that's not Barbie-like.

Sarah ice fishes, hunts and snowmobiles. And she has a lot of them. In 1982, Mattel launched Eskimo Barbie, a tribute to Alaska. You know, Eskimo Barbie hunted caribou and moose outside that Dreamhouse when Ken was racing in the Iditarod Great Sled Race.

Oh, the houses. Sarah commutes between two. The three-story historic governor's mansion in Juneau has 10 bathrooms, six bedrooms and eight fireplaces. Sarah also has a more rustic house in Wasilla -- let's call it a Barbie cabin.

But Sarah has done some things that Barbie never would have considered.

When Sarah was Wasilla's mayor, a strict ordinance was passed about skateboarding on city sidewalks. Barbie would have never outlawed such a thing. Instead, she would have immediately gone shopping at the mall for the coolest skateboard and matching knee and elbow pads.

Sarah married young, and Barbie never married Ken. In fact, she kicked him to the curb in 2004. Will Sarah do the same to Todd if she becomes vice president? Barbie never had children; Sarah is the mother of five. Maybe Barbie didn't think she could have it all and Sarah did.

Girls live vicariously through Barbie. Women now can experience the campaign trail through Sarah in a way they couldn't with Hillary. Whether it matters that she recites the same speech or won't answer questions from reporters or voters remains to be seen.

Come on, Barbie lovers. It's fun to watch Sarah, if for no reason, for her daily hairstyles. At the vice presidential announcement, she looked librarian chic. At the Republican convention, her hair teased her shoulders seductively. On the campaign trail, she wears a perky ponytail. Does she have a pink curling iron hiding in her bag?

Life hasn't always been rosy in Barbie's universe. In 1992, Mattel released Teen Talking Barbie. She got in trouble when she said, "Math is hard." Considering her interview this week with Charles Gibson, Sarah may be thinking the same thing about foreign policy.

The General in His Labyrinth

Before the Iowa caucus, which Wesley Clark chose to bypass, the general was busy wooing voters in New Hampshire with one clear message: I can beat George W. Bush.

The results of the Iowa caucus -- in which John Kerry swept the state with John Edwards coming in second place and Dean a far third -- have changed the game entirely, and Clark's battle now looks a lot more complex.

Clark sits in the middle of a wildfire blazing out of control. On one side, distinguished New Englander Kerry, going for the veteran vote; the other side, the play-nice Edwards vying for the Southern populist vote. Dean is a distant flame, still burning but not near as fierce as it was a week ago. That creates a major dilemma for the Clark campaign, which focused a lot of energy on protraying him as the perfect choice for the anti-Dean voter while assuming that the veteran vote was theirs and that the Southern vote sat on the back burner. Longtime politician Kerry now seems to half-own the veteran vote instead of Clark, a four-star general and former NATO commander.

All week, Clark has had to defend previous controversial statements about his party affiliation, his stance on abortion, his support, or not, of the Iraq war and his statement that under a Clark administration another Sept. 11 would never happen again. Leading into the nation's first primary, defending old statements is not a sane strategy.

Hours after Iowa, Kerry began gaining in New Hampshire polls, pushing Dean and Clark into a battle for second. The backlash in the mainstream media against Dean -- with his surprisingly big defeat and strange concession speech -- has been fierce, and so his drop in the polls is more understandable. But with Clark, the drop is far more perplexing. If he had a strong populist message that was truly resonating with voters, he would be holding steady or gaining. He's been unable to generate much fresh positive news coverage and break out of the Iowa doldrums.

Edwards, a North Carolinian, could give Clark a true marathon run on Feb. 3 when South Carolina, Oklahoma and Missouri -- which Clark was counting on to favor the state's native son Dick Gephardt -- become the focus. Lieberman could be still in the mix, too, especially in Oklahoma where his sister lives.

While it's easy to second guess Clark's skipping of Iowa, the campaign seems to have lost some focus after Monday night, scrambling to figure out what to do. The campaign held a conference call Wednesday, insisting Clark is in this battle for the long haul even if it plays long into March.

"The goal is to win the nomination not beat any candidate," said Craig Varoga, Clark's field director.

He added that there is not one scenario that has not been discussed. Some campaign insiders stress that they never anticipated Edwards gaining strength so early, but rather had prepared for Edwards in February.

The official campaign line is that they have been paying close attention to various primary states while other candidates have focused on Iowa and New Hampshire. Clark's campaign insists that they have organization in places where Kerry, Edwards and Dean don't. True, Clark is strong in Oklahoma but Edwards is gaining and has concentrated on the state's rural areas -- the same strategy he used in Iowa.

And in Missouri, which is now anyone's taking, the Clark camp was caught this week scrambling to find a voter file; they hadn't bought one because it was considered Gephardt's turf. It's problems like that one that increasingly worry Clark's grassroots support, which began urging Clark to run for office last summer.

The Clark campaign has stressed all along they simply want a strong finish in New Hampshire. To get that is tricky. Clark can't attack Kerry because Edwards set the stage in Iowa that nice guys finish second. Clark has to hope that his solo dominance in New Hampshire a few weeks ago and Dean's self-destructing fiasco will place him in a silver place finish.

Novice for President

Little Rock, Ark. -- All candidates should know the first rule of politics: Find your message and stay on it. Wesley Clark apparently didn't get the memo.

Less than twenty-four hours after declaring a run for the White House, Clark flipped his opinion on the Iraq war while traveling to his first campaign stop in Florida. There, on a plane with a handful of reporters, Clark said he would have voted for the war if he had been a member of Congress. Of all issues to waver on as a newly christened politician, this was the one he should have nailed to committed memory.

After all, Clark had preached against the war for months, announcing to the world while a CNN military analyst that the United States needed an international coalition before entering Iraq. He said more imminent threats brewed, North Korea, for example, than Saddam Hussein. Somewhere between announcing his run for president and traveling to Florida, Clark's official opinion flipped.

Then, twenty-four hours later, Clark once again flopped his opinion, telling a crowd of Iowa college students that the war was a major "blunder." He emphasized to reporters in Iowa that he would "never have voted for this war, never." His campaign folk spun, saying the entire incident simply needed clarifying. Maybe. Or maybe not.

Of course, for most of 2003, Clark has been a tad indecisive on key issues.

It took Clark months to declare a political party. With regard to his candidacy, he teased more than a burlesque dancer playing peek-a-boo. In Little Rock, he has also been more than difficult with local media, playing the wishy-washy card numerous times regarding photo shoots and interviews. Last week, Clark told a Little Rock news photographer he could follow him around on the day of his announcement. Then, when the photographer showed up, he was told no. Then, yes. Then, no. And by the end of the day, with only a few shots on his roll, the veteran photographer said, "After eight hours on this campaign trail, I'm ready to get off."

Clark may be a brilliant war planner and a visionary who will create a 100-year plan for the future of the United States but is he a savvy politician? It's hard to transform from insurance salesman to mayoral candidate in a day, much less jump into the crazy chaotic mess of presidential politics and be as polished and media savvy as someone who has been campaigning for twenty years.

Two things are certain: Clark is a novice politician, and the early stages of his campaign seem made up as they go. But Clark and crew have to be ready for prime time now. His coyness, which generated a tidal wave of free media, created an urgency that makes it necessary to look totally together and free of visible foibles this close to New Hampshire's big day.

The Clark splash last week was certainly enough to generate a lead in some polls, a stellar debut for someone who never even ran for student council. Clark plays well on television and people who don't prefer Howard Dean or George W. Bush like the four-star general. Take the South, where Clark's name is all the rage as Southerners like his pro-military background and his hobby as a newbie hunter (since his 2001 return to Arkansas) -- important aspects in a place like Dixie where the Civil War is still fought in re-enactments on weekends and society schedules life around hunting seasons.

But for all the positive buzz, the Clark campaign has a long road to travel, not just the one lined with flag-waving fans and babies waiting to be kissed.

The Clark campaign is a unique one that began in reversal with draft movement volunteers knocking on his door instead of the old-fashion way. Instead of Clark and crew starting with empty offices and establishing procedures, they begin with thousands of volunteers who feel that they "own" the candidate because of their hard work leading up to an announcement.

The volunteers, not Clark, created a network of support, and now the campaign officials have a delicate task -- deciding which ones of the volunteers were fine for the draft movement but not quite good enough for the campaign. Some will be tolerable; some won't. Feelings will be hurt and egos will be damaged. The power dynamic of the campaign is entirely different than John Kerry's or Dean's or even Al Sharpton's.

And with few key campaign leaders in place, Clark could find himself in a critical ambush sooner rather than later.

On Monday, a new allegation was thrown at Clark by Republicans who found a photograph of Clark as a three-star lieutenant general who directed strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. In the photo, taken nearly 10 years ago in the northern Bosnian city of Banja Luka, Clark stood with notorious Bosnian Serb commander and indicted war criminal, Gen. Ratko Mladic. Clark wore Mladic's military cap; Mladic's donned Clark's cap. The State Department opposed the meeting, but Clark insisted.

Such mini-scandals are nothing new.

Bill Clinton was bombarded with them after announcing in 1991, including the smoking marijuana and draft dodging ones. But Clinton had smart strategists in place to deal with such bothers while he preached his message to the masses. Clark doesn't. It's almost a week into the campaign battlefield, and Clark troops have yet to organize fully, still without a campaign manager, a savvy press operation or a headquarters where volunteers can hang their hats.

For every hour that ticks by without people in place, Clark's opposition will enjoy an open season of scandal hunting and allegations on a soldier obsessed with organization who should know better.

Clinton Meets Elvis

Thanks to savvy marketing by the Clinton Foundation, the former president has discovered a new following. Elvis fans have become fascinated with the foundation's latest fundraising tool -- the Clinton cookbook, featuring the Elvis favorite, grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.

By combining a saxophone-playing president with the rock-and-roll god of all time, the Clinton Foundation gets a new fundraising and tourist demographic for the $160 million library, slated to open in November 2004 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The cookbook, which will be available through direct mail sales starting Aug. 29, is the latest in the brilliant scheme to market Clinton as a tourist attraction.

Recently, the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Hot Springs, Arkansas, where Clinton grew up and attended high school, printed 100,000 Clinton trading cards to promote the city. It's the seventh time the city has featured Clinton on a card. This one shows Clinton on the White House lawn in 1999 with his late dog Buddy (named for an uncle who lived in Hot Springs).

Clinton as a tourism entity is a 21st century method to market a former president who refuses to sit still, play golf and dodge the limelight. Instead, he's all about selling himself, but of course he always has been. Remember his appearance on the Arsenio Hall show?

Skip Rutherford, a long-time FOB and executive director of the Clinton Presidential Foundation, is the mastermind behind the Clinton marketing blitz. He says that the former president has always attracted attention on an unprecedented scale. Because of that, it's logical to use him as a pitch man for tourism and the 27-acre presidential library site.

"Clinton has this aura about him," says Rutherford. "James Carville called him a rock star, but I'm not of the belief, if you build it, they will come. I think you have to have a plan and good marketing component."

Presidents always concoct methods to raise funds for their libraries. They have to. There is no other way since presidential libraries are odd entities. Funded by private donations while under construction, the libraries, once completed, are turned over to the National Archives to become dense repositories for a specific moment in history.

Clinton has always played to the pop culture of America, hobnobbing with U2 and Sharon Stone as if they were international leaders. It's no surprise that in Clinton's post-presidency, he does the same.

The new cookbook is a prime example. Meshing recipes as simple as peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with stories of Clinton lore and cooking, the foundation has created a book that will appeal to Clintonites as well as the masses. It features recipes by Bono, actress and Clinton pal Mary Steenbergen as well as politicos like Carville and former White House aides.

With Elvis in the mix, the foundation also draws tourists from Memphis -- a two-hour drive from Little Rock -- to the library. Good news for Clinton, who hopes to attract 300,000 tourists a year to his shrine by the Arkansas River.

The foundation has mastered the art of selling a president with direct mailings that allow the non-profit to reach people who are interested in Clinton and in politics. The foundation can also buy lists that target potential library donors. With that in mind, the foundation sold granite pavers for $35 in late 2001 and into 2002. Those pavers, engraved with names of nearly 8,000 donors, will line the entrance to the library. Donors also had the option of purchasing trees that will dot the library site.

If that wasn't enough, earlier this year the foundation gave fans of the former prez a chance for their names to appear on a steel beam that was placed in the library in May. The price? $35 a pop. To add to that fundraising effort, Clinton journeyed to Arkansas and signed the final signature on the beam in May. Rutherford won't comment on how much money is raised from such projects. Some donors donate more than the standard price when they support one of these efforts. One thing for sure, Rutherford says, these projects work.

"People like to get something for their money," he says. "These types of projects work and gets attention and that's in part because Clinton just generates international and national attention." It doesn't hurt to keep the focus on the former president, either. Since the library won't open until 2004, the foundation, with help from the National Archives, which is cataloging the extensive collection of artifacts and documents from the eight-year presidency, has held mini-exhibits to hold the public's interest.

The first one in 2001 highlighted gifts from around the world and the 50 states that Bill and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had received during the Clinton administration. The next one centered on a White House Christmas, featuring ornaments and decorations from the Clinton years.

This fall, once again at the renovated Cox Creative Center near the future library, another exhibit will launch. This one, a look at Clinton's favorite books, will have an added bonus -- a small display of Elvis memorabilia from the Clinton collection. The perfect hook to feed the fetish of Elvis lovers.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas journalist. Her work frequently appears in The Economist and US News and World Report. She's the author of the upcoming "Sex in the South" (Justin Charles & Co.)

Drafting the General

A group of about 100 people gathered recently on a Monday night in Little Rock to eat chips and dip and discuss their shared passion -- General Wesley K. Clark. The bottom line among the group: They want him as their next president.

Little Rock is significant because this is the place the former allied commander for NATO calls home. Clark was born in Chicago, but grew up in Little Rock from age 4 until he graduated from high school. He returned in 2001, after West Point and a storied military career. This city, which watched Bill Clinton rise to global prominence, has recently become ground zero for the nationwide effort to recruit Clark for a White House run. Other "Draft Clark" groups throughout the country existed long before this Arkansas group, but this is the one that matters the most now.

Jeff Dailey, the son of Little Rock's mayor and a former Clinton staffer, created Arkansans for Clark, an online petition for Clark supporter's that will aid in setting up county committees in all 75 of the state's counties. That group is working in tandem with the Draft Clark 2004 movement, which is now in 42 states with more than 100 chapters.

"General Clark has what it takes to ask Bush the tough questions, to really give Democrats a strong edge," says Dailey, who hopped on the Clark bandwagon after hearing him speak. "He is the kind of leader we need to deal with international and national issues, brilliant and he knows the issues. We are pushing forward and plan to present General Clark with the petitions. "

The Draft Clark 2004 movement feels so strongly about the general's chances for a presidential run that they plan to move their national headquarters to downtown Little Rock in the next few days. Clark supporters from around the country plan to descend on the city and work like a full-fledged campaign to convince the general to run.

A show of loyalty like this in the general's backyard could go a long way toward convincing Clark to plunge into the already flooded field of nine Democrats. Maybe 10, if Al Gore decides to re-enter the fray. The big question: Is Clark a Democrat?

Clark has yet to declare a party and plays coy when asked. Most of his close associates insist he is a Democrat because he bashes George W. Bush. His record, which has been culled together from previous interviews to create a presidential candidate dossier, leans left of center. He's pro-affirmative action and pro-choice. He is against drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and sits on the board of Wavecrest Laboratories, a Virginia-based technology company that has developed a breakthrough electric propulsion system that transforms electrical energy into mechanical motion.

Since exiting NATO, Clark has pontificated around the country about global affairs, appeared regularly as a military analyst on CNN, worked for Little Rock's Stephens Inc., the largest brokerage house off Wall Street, and traveled the world attending conferences and accepting awards. He has also launched his own Website for Americans to talk about critical issues, which serves as the perfect outlet to create a platform and gain media exposure. In September, Clark's new book about the war in Iraq and terrorism hits the shelves, a surefire boost for his name recognition.

Recently on National Public Radio, Clark said that he is seriously considering throwing his hat in the ring for president. He still dodges party affiliation, but his admitted interest in running erodes any previous thoughts that Clark only craved media attention so that he could shore up support as a vice-presidential candidate. Wrong-o. Any former general accustomed to controlling troops and leading European counties doesn't want to hang in the shadow of John Kerry or Joe Lieberman. No, Clark plans to lead his own campaign if it isn't too late for battle.

Clark has said that the one question Americans should ask themselves in 2004 is: Do you feel safer now than four years ago? That answer, he says, is probably no, regardless of the creation of Homeland Security Department and its efforts to step up security in this country. With an experienced military man in the mix, Democrats get a strong inoculation against their weakness on defense issues. Bush can't accuse Clark of being soft on the military, especially since Bush went AWOL from his Guard unit in Alabama. Clark offers Democrats a rare chance to have more credibility on the military than the Republicans, even against a sitting president who has gotten us into two wars.

The general's critics say he should forgo the games about party affiliation and pick one if he wants to be considered a serious politician. They also say he should also have jumped in the race months ago, and it's really too late now. Clark will be incredibly behind in raising money. Most candidates have also hired experienced staff who know the intricacies of Iowa and New Hampshire. Supporters point to Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign when the then-Arkansas governor entered the race in October.

But maybe Clark's grand plan -- slowly building an army of loyal, hard-working supporters from coast-to-coast to win the war against Bush -- is working. They write letters, hold Meet Ups -- the new online method to gain supporters -- and recruit other like-minded individuals to sign petitions to persuade Clark to run. This support keeps the media's attention and lands Clark on the Sunday morning shows.

In Little Rock, Clark confidants say that he told them several months ago he wouldn't run for president unless he was drafted. His request has definitely become reality. Every day more people log on and sign up to work for a man they know little about. That, says many, is what lures them to Clark, a mystery man without the taint of party politics.

Still, Clinton loyalists in Arkansas aren't so sure they want another Arkansan for president. Such a race will certainly serve as competition for the Clinton political legacy in this Southern state that hails its native son as a political god. Rumors in some circles also bubble that a Clark run, and if by fluke a win, hinders Hillary Rodham Clinton's chance for a clear shot in 2008.

Clark tells aides he will make a decision about the future before Labor Day. The Draft Clark groups plan to descend on Little Rock with boxes of petitions in August. They hope their innovative grassroots efforts will convince a man with no political experience to chalk one up for his country.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas journalist. Her work frequently appears in The Economist and US News and World Report. She's the author of the upcoming "Sex in the South" (Justin Charles & Co.)

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