Whatever Vanity Fair pays its national editor, Todd S. Purdum, he earns every dollar with expertly crafted hit pieces. His lengthy takedown of Bill Clinton last year was satisfying for readers long troubled by Clinton's various indiscretions, political and otherwise.
Now Purdhum has turned his withering gaze on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whom Purdum depicts as coming entirely too close to the vice presidency, simply by becoming Sen. John McCain's running mate. Her ambition and ruthlessness would give Lady Macbeth good competition, if Purdum's account is to be believed.
Mark Hemingway, spouse of my colleague Mollie, has begun investigating who leaked so many campaign insider's details to Purdum, and possibly why. Some of Purdum's shots simply are cheap, regardless of their ultimate sources.
He dismisses Palin's future publisher, Zondervan, as "the Bible-publishing house," which apparently tells us all we need to know about the company that also publishes Philip Yancey, Rick Warren, Shane Claiborne, and dozens of academic texts.
He mentions that Palin's hometown newspaper "recently published an article that asked, 'Will the Antichrist be a Homosexual?'" but doesn't make clear that it was an opinion column by an independent Baptist pastor rather than front-page news.
He drags up the case of Wasilla's librarian who was fired, without mentioning such trifling details as these from FactCheck.org: "She was also re-hired the next day and never claimed that Palin threatened to oust her for refusing to ban books."
He notes that Palin confessed, at a pro-life dinner, to brief thoughts about abortion when she learned that her youngest son, Trig, had Down syndrome. Then he adds this bombast: "It is almost impossible not to be touched by the rawness of her confession, even if it is precisely this choice that Palin believes no other woman should ever have, not even in the case of rape or incest."
Most voters recognize the difference between a politician's pro-life ideals and what actually is possible in a culture well to the left of Western Europe on abortion laws. Ah, but Palin believes laws should forbid abortion unless a woman's life is at stake, which makes her a bad person.
This, however, is the most grotesque paragraph:
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. When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig's condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God's, and signed it "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father."
I never knew the DSM IV was such popular reading among the pop psychologists of Alaska -- especially in an Alaska that Purdum repeatedly portrays as a cultural backwater. As for that letter to friends and relatives, if Purdum cannot distinguish between sentiment and self-aggrandizement, he needs to broaden his reading habits -- if only to include the occasional Christmas family letter or Snopes.com's Glurge gallery.