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Everything I Need to Know about the 2008 Presidential Election I’m Going to Learn from Us Weekly

Look, I know it. You know it. We all know that I’m voting for Barack Obama in November. Consumption of campaign coverage only confirms my position and, frequently, fills me afresh with rage that is, at this point, superfluous. Time spent reading about the candidates is time wasted. And yet…

And yet, I can’t quite turn away. So, rather than stop reading about the election altogether, I am restricting myself to tabloid coverage. It’s short, easy-to-read, and filled with information I’m unlikely to get from the New York Times or Daily Kos.

For example, the September 15 edition of Us Weekly opens with a photo spread of Michelle Obama. Glowing with praise for her “simple and chic” style, for her rejection of “first lady suits”, the magazine uses a Moschino wrap dress and that Thakoon number Obama wore the last night of the convention as a metaphor for the type of change we can expect from an Obama presidency.

Compare and contrast this with a quotation from Hillary Clinton from “Loose Talk”: “To my supporters, my champions, my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits: From the bottom of my heart, thank you.” It’s true that, when it comes to fashion, Clinton does not come close to Obama. But the gentle self-mockery shows us that the junior senator from New York is a good sport and a gracious loser. It invites Democrats to go forward with our chosen candidate without forgetting about Clinton. It might even encourage us to think “Majority Leader”—or, even, 2016?

The real story in this issue, though, is the cover story: “Babies, Lies & Scandal”, in which Us Weekly gives Sarah Palin the type of treatment usually reserved for Britney Spears (which is kind of funny, given the McCain campaign’s juxtaposition of Barack and Britney).

The story hits all the Palin highlights, and adds some material you might not see in “the mainstream media”. It begins with Palin giggling along on the air as an Anchorage shock jock calls one of the governors rivals a “bitch” and a “cancer”—that last one being especially charming, given that said rival is, in fact, a cancer survivor.

There’s Troopergate, of course, Palin’s alleged involvement with the Alaska Independence Party, her relationship with Ted Stevens, and the fact that she was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. (It would have been nice if Us Weekly also mentioned that, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin oversaw the construction of a sports complex on land somebody else owned and resisted the then governor’s plan to make it illegal to force rape victims to pay for their own rape kits, but you can read about that here if you’re interested.) This being Us Weekly, though, the heart of the story is pregnancy scandals.

Although we all know by now that Trig is not Bristol Palin’s baby, Us Weekly provides a handy recap of the rumors, including side-by-side photos of Palin looking quite large in an earlier pregnancy and quite slim while six months along with Trig. The “Anatomy of a Scandal” sidebar also reminds us that Palin did not disclose her last pregnancy until her seventh month. (Us says that she “shocked coworkers”; it doesn’t mention that Palin’s constituents—the people of Alaska—might have been interested in this development.)

I appreciate that Us quotes the former president of Juneau’s NOW chapter saying that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is “a textbook case of how abstinence-only doesn’t work in practice, even if your mom’s the governor”, but my favorite part of the article centers around Bristol’s baby daddy. Leave it to the journalists of Us Weekly to go straight to Levi Johnston’s MySpace page, which includes such charmingly conservative sentiments as “I’m a fuckin’ redneck [who likes] to go camping and hang out with the boys, do some fishing, shoot some shit, and just fuckin’ chill, I guess” and “Ya fuck with me I’ll kick [your] ass.” Small-town values, indeed. Oh, and he writes, “I don’t want kids.” That part actually makes me feel sorry for the guy, and for Bristol—not just because they’re having a baby they might not be ready for, and not just because they’re going to have a marriage they might not be ready for, but because Palin is undoubtedly going to continue to drag them onstage as a testament to her Republican-style “family values” even as she asks us to respect her family’s privacy.

September 12, 2008 | Permalink

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