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September 10, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Ollie North Effect

I began working in Washington in May 1987, just in time for two major events in American political history: the Bork nomination and Oliver North's testimony at the Iran-Contra hearings.

One could write volumes about the differences between Bork's mishandling of the media and North's success, but I have no plans to do that. I'd just like to refresh your recollection about North's testimony.

If you still don't know what I'm talking about, read the retrospective at Extreme Mortman from last year, regarding the 20th anniversary of North's testimony. A sampling:

More than mere testimony in a scandal that rocked the Ronald Reagan presidency, it was the last great nationwide media event before the Internet changed politics. This was all television, in its purest grand form.

With 60 million people watching, it bumped soap operas. But this was far better than any other daytime drama. This was real life.

In the Washington Post, Tom Shales called Col. North the “television champion.”

And why not? North testified in his military uniform, featuring six rows of medals on his chest. He got emotional and misty-eyed at the right moments, with a to-die-for catch in his throat. The picture of North taking the oath is one of the great political images of the modern era.
And more:
And Time magazine said about North: “He played brilliantly upon the collective values of America, upon its nostalgias, its memories of a thousand movies (James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, John Wayne in They Were Expendable) and Norman Rockwell Boy Scout icons.”

Even Eleanor Clift dropped her jaw, saying on “The McLaughlin Group”: “I think he touched a chord in all of us. He’s Rocky, Rambo, Patton and the boy next door all wrapped up in one.”

Democratic leader Sen. George Mitchell was smitten, too: “Most Americans are taken by his personality.”
The committee obviously expected to eat North's lunch. They figured North would play the bad guy for them, but the attempt to browbeat him went awry. The public overwhelmingly supported North.

In fact, so popular did Col. North become that men and boys began getting haircuts like his:
THE Oliver L. North craze that has swept the country has swept me along with it in a way you will never believe.

It has taught the barbers I deal with how to give me the kind of haircut I have been battling to get from them for the past 10 years.

That's right. It's the "Ollie" haircut, which I understand has become almost as popular as Colonel North himself.
I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. Like North, Palin was subjected to politically hostile fire; she's shown toughness and charm in fighting off her opponents; and the public -- or at least a lot of the public -- has been taken with her.

So much so that people are analyzing her fashion statements, and I'm totally not making that up. You really need to read this post from the LA Times "entertainment" section (i.e., the entire newspaper) called "Sarah Palin: Politics of fashion." (via JWF) The post has 14 photos of Palin, with some dead-serious fashion commentary and an accompanying vote (Misses the target / VP bull's-eye / Too beauty queen / Too backwoods). My favorite commentary is not what JWF likes ("the wild woman within"), although that's pretty good. What I like is this helpful advice from a "trend forecaster":
The big question is how she will update her look, as the election draws near and a possible formal inaugural looms? Will she lighten up the dark eyeshadow and too-obvious lip liner?

It’s probably not advisable. Trend forecaster Tom Julian, official fashion voice for the for over a decade, doesn’t think Palin should frouff up drastically. “A complete head-to-toe makeover might make her look more acceptable for the fashion magazines," Julian explains. "But it would also cause voters to doubt her authentic loner image.”
Here's one of the photos.

I say: Don't mess with Sarah, but the fashion writer says "Fastening overkill." (Wait until Robin Givhan of the Washington Post gets her claws into her.)

Finally, just as with Oliver North, people are even getting Palin haircuts, though probably not the women on MSNBC.

Oh, and I should point that The Ollie North Effect can be abbreviated as The ONE. Hmmmmmmm.

Extra: Some diarist at Kos got this connection even before I did.