Few characters are as deeply ingrained into the cultural fabric of the United States as GI Joe and Barbie, those standard bearers of 1950's Americana.
GI Joe -- the rugged army grunt who shoots down enemy combatants in the blink of an eye and isn't afraid to brag about it later -- is the archetypal American man. And Barbie -- impossibly busty, blonde-haired and long-legged -- is the ideal representation of femininity.
They both represent a certain two-dimensional picture of American life, or life as it should be, where all the women are drop-dead gorgeous and all the men happily rush off to war, to fight against unnamed and ever-shifting 'baddies'.
It's not uncommon that a young boy's first shaky steps are accompanied by a GI Joe figurine, teaching Junior the ins and outs of war.
And for young girls, who better to serve as role model than scantily-clad Barbie? To be sure, little Sally absolutely MUST learn how to walk in six inch heels.
Thing is, toddlers don't vote. And we all put away those toys by the time we reach middle school because GI Joe and Barbie aren't real. Women don't all look like Barbie and not all men are suited for endless, mindless combat.
But, evidently, the Republican Party missed the memo. How else can you explain them trotting out a ticket comprised of a real life GI Joe and Barbie and expecting Americans to take the bait?
See, Senator John McCain is very much a war hero. He was tortured in North Vietnamese prison camps, where he was held for over five years, but refused to use his father's (naval admiral John S McCain Jr) considerable clout to ensure an early release. This is very much admirable. But McCain's also a hothead, who finished fifth from the bottom of his class in the US Naval Academy. He's in the past claimed that he will 'hate the gooks' for as long as he lives, has jokingly said that, if President, he would "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!' and confesses to not knowing enough about the economy. He's likely the staunchest proponent of the war in Iraq and, to this day, is adamant that invasion and subsequent occupation were necessary for US security. That alone should be enough to give any undecided voter pause.
But then there is Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who as vice-president would be 'one heartbeat away' from the presidency. Generally, this wouldn't be a clinching point; but given Senator McCain's advanced age (72 years old) and his bouts with potentially deadly skin cancer, it's important to search the woman's background and beliefs with a fine-toothed comb.
Aside from serving as Governor of America's most sparsely populated state (largest in land mass, fourth smallest in population) for a whopping 20 months, Governor Palin was previously mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population 5,000). And before that? She majored in journalism at the University of Idaho, and she was a beauty queen.
In the immortal words of Mugatu (Will Ferrell) in 2001's Zoolander, 'I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!'
That's the reaction I had while right-wing bloggers, columnists and cable news commentators fawned over the selection. Apparently, in her year and a half on the job, Palin had delivered her fifth child, battled entrenched corruption, restored decency and conscientiousness to governance, cut frivolous spending, stimulated Alaska's economy and earned a host of other accolades. They hailed her as a 'reformer, a real American who would energise the conservative party base'. Of course, the honeymoon period lasted barely a day, as stories began emerging that painted quite a different picture of Governor Palin.
Let's take them one at a time:
She was issued her first passport, at the time well into her forties, only last year. A central point of the Republican argument against Barack Obama is his lack of considerable foreign policy experience (though Obama serves on the US Senate's foreign relations committee). Meanwhile, they tag a woman for vice president whose only ever trip out of the States was to visit US troops in Iraq? And the Republican response is that, as Governor of Alaska, she's governed a state in close proximity to Canada and Russia.
Governor Sarah Palin has, throughout her career, advocated abstinence only education and vehemently opposed safe sex education. Rather than teach teens about how birth control can prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, Palin and the rest of the far right insist that children be taught only that they shouldn't have sex until marriage. She also is opposed to all forms of abortion, except when the mother's life is in clear danger. Even in cases of incest and rapes, she's opposed to abortion rights.
She's currently under investigation to see if she overstepped her bounds in insisting her former brother-in-law be fired as an Alaskan state trooper, which did not fall under her jurisdiction.
She's made a point of saying 'country first' in painting Obama as an out of touch elitist. But her earlier membership to the Alaskan Independence Party says otherwise. This, the party with the motto 'Alaska first, Alaska always'. The founder of the AIP even advocated the secession of Alaska from the United States and her 'damned institutions'. For those familiar with the Reverend Wright scandal, revel in the irony.
She says she told Congress 'thanks but no thanks' to the 'Bridge to Nowhere' plan, when in reality, she was before it before she ever was against it. The bridge would have connected a small Alaskan town (7,500 population) to a nearby airport via the Gravina Island Bridge, but its $400 million price tag was considered far too excessive. Though she makes much of her politically advantageous opposition to the plan, she fails to mention that when she was still campaigning for governor, she repeatedly expressed support for the deal. That's not to mention the huge sums of money that flowed into Wasilla's coffers while she was mayor, with precious little to show for it.
She's made her entire campaign about her family, about how everyday Americans would identify with her life. By using her special needs child and her Iraq-bound son as political props, Governor Palin has opened the door to further inquiry into her private life. And, so, with that door already ajar, journalists from around the country have crept inside to see what else is in the closet. What have they found? A giant skeleton.
Her 17-year-old, unmarried daughter Bristol is pregnant! Though the Palins insist they are proud of their daughter for decided to go through with the pregnancy, the whole issue is disconcerting. Palin has made a living by touting the religious right's version of education, where creationism is taught alongside Darwin and where safe sex is not a suitable thing for teens to learn. Now, her own daughter is pregnant, the perfect piece of evidence to emphasise a point that empirical studies have long declared: teaching safe sex works, teaching abstinence doesn't.
All of these things, from her lifelong National Rifle Association membership, to her insistence on drilling for oil in Alaska, to her creationism and pro-life credentials align perfectly with the most rightwing elements of America's Republican base. How dare she then make reference to Hillary Clinton's 'glass ceiling' comments, in a naked attempt to cull frustrated Hillary supporters to the McCain/Palin ticket
The most absurd net result from all this posturing is that now Republicans are lecturing Democrats about putting women in high authority and the negative effects of sexism. If Palin were a man, there's no question that she would never have even been mentioned, let alone chosen. Therefore, this amounts to a paternalistic, condescending bone tossed to the American people, and nothing more.
McCain's long had a reputation as a maverick, but now Americans will and should question whether they can trust a man whose first high-profile decision was such a clunker.
And it's not that the Republicans were without options. The presupposed leader for the position was Mitt Romney. In Romney, the Republicans had an economics expert who not only has worked in the highest levels of the private sector, but also as Governor of the state of Massachusetts, a tiny state which packs a much larger punch than far-flung Alaska. But rumours of personal enmity between McCain and Romney plus Romney's Mormon faith were enough to derail hopes of this logical ticket.
And what are they saying, those Republican operatives, when their microphones are believed to be turned off? "It's over," was how Wall Street Journal columnist and Republican Party shill Peggy Noonan described the race, in speaking to Republican strategist Mike Murphy on Wednesday night. Murphy, for his part, said that "It's not going to work," in reference to the Palin selection. Neither high profile Republican realised their words were being picked up by an MSNBC microphone.
So, there you have it. Republicans, in choosing a woman, argue that they are the true party of feminists, even if their female candidate is anti-choice, pro-military, pro-guns, pro-religion in the public sector, anti-sexual education and is, in general, diametrically opposed to everything the feminist movement has achieved for American women.
But, of course, only a Republican vision of feminism includes buttons that read, 'Hottest governor' and 'Hoosiers for the hot chick', like we saw Wednesday night, proudly worn by delegates to the third day of the Republican National Convention in Minnesota.
If she weren't made out of plastic, Barbie herself would be proud.