Todd S. Purdum has really outdone himself.
The Vanity Fair national editor most recently known for publishing a withering criticism of the Clintons during the 2008 presidential race has chosen a new target for summary destruction: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
This is no mere attack on the Governor’s policy positions, nor on her performance during the 2008 campaign – nor even on her performance since. Purdum, in this article, plies his very best Luca Brazzi impression – hopelessly pathetic, yet reliably purposeful in ‘whacking’ the opposition.
In spinning his yarn, Purdum goes well below the belt:
Palin is unlike any other national figure in modern American life—neither Anna Nicole Smith nor Margaret Chase Smith but a phenomenon all her own. 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.
First, I think we might all agree that Palin is nothing like Anna Nicole Smith. Since that puzzling non-sequitur is agreed upon, let’s deal with the meat of this statement. Billy Carter came under senatorial scrutiny for allegedly taking money for promoting the causes of Libyan dictator Mu'ammar al-Gadhafi to the President of the United States, his better-known brother Jimmy Carter. While he was acquitted, his actions were hardly circumspect.
Donald Nixon’s many sins include his acting as a conduit for campaign contributions to his brother, from accused embezzler Robert Vesco.
Roger Clinton was a drug dealer, and pled guilty to charges to that effect.
These three characters were comparative “avatars of circumspection”?
Moving on, Purdum writes:
The top McCain aides who had tried hard to work with Palin—Steve Schmidt, the chief strategist; Nicolle Wallace, the communications ace; and Tucker Eskew, her traveling counselor—were barely on speaking terms with her, and news organizations were reporting that anonymous McCain aides saw Palin as a “diva” and a “whack job.”
This quote, irritating as it is, is merely a setup for a later assertion:
Some top aides worried about her mental state: was it possible that she was experiencing postpartum depression? (Palin’s youngest son was less than six months old.)
One might ignore the jab about being a diva – after all, then-candidate Barack Obama said:
"Like any politician at this level, I've got a healthy ego."
However, quoting anonymous sources to imply that a national political figure may, in fact, have been mentally unstable during a campaign is beyond any stretch of journalistic integrity. And yet, Purdum is not content to smear Palin with the ethereal possibility of postpartum depression:
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.
It is amusing to consider the idea that random, unidentified constituents would, unbidden, pick up the copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that they just so happened to have sitting on the bookshelf, and wonder if Sarah Palin suffered from a mental disorder.
For the sake of argument, however, let us simply settle on the fact that failing to identify these people – or their expertise in the field of psychiatric medicine – leaves this paragraph as a near-libelous attack on the mental state of a public figure.
Bottom line, this is an indefensible political drive-by shooting. Mr. Purdum should take care not to forget the cannoli.
William Kristol has written a short, albeit typically smart piece on this same Vanity Fair hit-piece. He claims that it was former McCain staffer Steve Schmidt who made the accusation about postpartum depression.