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The Cost of Looking Vice Presidential

Imagine you land a new job, and just as you start — even before you’ve had the chance to prove yourself, let alone figure out how the coffee maker works — your boss stops by your cubicle and says, “Hey, here’s $150,000. Go to town and get yourself looking good.”

That sort of thing doesn’t usually happen in the typical workplace. But for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, it became a reality just after Sen. John McCain picked her as his running mate. Her allowance for clothes, hair and makeup, and for outfits for her family, came courtesy of the Republican National Committee. It’s already the talk of the blogosphere, with some disgusted Republican operatives voicing complaints about spending that kind of money when campaign funds are tight and the economy is a mess.

But let’s hold on. It’s not cheap to look good. Palin couldn’t just hightail it to Wal-Mart. As Joy Behar pointed out on “The View,” Palin can’t shoot her clothes anymore; she’s got to shop for them.

And so, put yourself in her shoes. Like these $595 Manolo Blahniks, the leather high-heel halter pair, in black.

Let’s say you go to Niemanmarcus.com and click on “wear to work.” Up pops “9 to 5 Essentials for Every Working Girl.” The first thing to cross your mind: What working girls are they talking about? Joe Six-Pack types couldn’t afford this stuff. Joe the Plumber could, though, with his six-figure salary.

Moving on, you select the Tahari two-piece dress set, in a fetching shade of purple. That’s $528. Add the Gucci Swing High Heel Mary Jane shoes, for another $575. You’ll need some decent jewelry, and there’s nothing more fitting for a Republican than pearls. You choose the David Yurman Ivory Pearl and Diamond Stud pair for $950. You haven’t even gotten yet to the high-waisted Spanx ($38), plus the hair and makeup. And that’s for just one outfit. And it doesn’t even include some of the higher-priced designer pieces.

Yes, Palin wore an eye-catching red leather jacket to one event, and you can see from this that it probably set her back a least a few thousand dollars. Add up the price of a few of these outfits, plus clothes for her husband and some of her children, and you can see how quickly you get to $150,000.

As a dissenting reader pointed out to Andrew Sullivan, there’s a double standard here, and anyone who went to the high school prom knows what it is. McCain can wear the same black suit to every event, and no one cares. Palin has to look the part.

But the problem for Palin isn’t really the money spent on the clothes. Voters who are shopping savvy might not be too outraged, or even surprised, by the amount. It’s more the question of what part, exactly, Palin is trying to play, as she dresses herself.

If you portray yourself as the common-sense-minded, former small-town mayor, holder of values above and beyond those of the elite, you don’t look so good slapping the plastic around at Nieman’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, whether it’s your money or not.

If you talk to James Dobson about God watching over you in this election, you have to be intimately familiar with church teachings on materialism and excess — and somehow, a $75,000 shopping spree doesn’t fit.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gets away with Armani suits because she makes no apology for them, and they do not contradict the image of power she wants to convey. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke openly of her disdain for the time she had to spend on hair and makeup, getting ready for events. For her, it was all part of the game.

In Palin’s case, the clothes, in a sense, don’t make the woman. She dresses like the elites she disdains, clothes herself in the uniform of what she considers the opposition and then tears into their values with a smile outlined in Chantecaille.

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