Well, I ain’t a mean girl
But I’ve known a few
They’ll make you cry, baby
And then blame it on you
They’ll hate you if you’re pretty
They’ll hate you if you’re not
They’ll hate you for what you lack, baby
Then they’ll hate you for what you’ve got
-Mean Girls by Sugarland
Former Wasilla, Alaska mayor John Stein helped Sarah Palin launch her political career back in 1994 when she ran for City Council. Once Palin got what she wanted, though, Stein found himself on a different kind of list.
But when she announced her candidacy for Stein’s seat, vowing to overturn the city’s “old boy” establishment, a different Sarah Palin emerged. “Things got very ugly,” recalled Naomi Tigner, a friend of the Steins. “Sarah became very mean-spirited.”
The Wasilla mayor’s seat is nonpartisan, and Mayor Stein, a former city planner who had held the post for nine years, ran a businesslike campaign that stressed his experience and competency. But Palin ignited the traditionally low-key race with scorching social issues, injecting “God, guns and abortion into the race—things that had nothing to do with being mayor of a small town,” according to Tigner.
Attacks on Stein’s reputation—and his marriage—ensued:
Even though Palin knew that Stein is a Protestant Christian, from a Pennsylvania Dutch background, her campaign began circulating the word that she would be “Wasilla’s first Christian mayor.” Some of Stein’s supporters interpreted this as an attempt to portray Stein as Jewish in the heavily evangelical community. Stein himself, an eminently reasonable and reflective man, thinks “they were redefining Christianity to mean born-agains.”
The Palin campaign also started another vicious whisper campaign, spreading the word that Stein and his wife—who had chosen to keep her own last name when they were married—were not legally wed. Again, Palin knew the truth, Stein said, but chose to muddy the waters. “We actually had to produce our marriage certificate,” recalled Stein, whose wife died of breast cancer in 2005 without ever reconciling with Palin.
“I had a hand in creating Sarah, but in the end she blew me out of the water,” Stein said, sounding more wearily ironic than bitter. “Sarah’s on a mission, she’s an opportunist.”
Stein wasn’t the last political leader to be used and tossed away by Palin. David Talbot writes that Palin has a pattern of courting, then rejecting, many “powerful political patrons” in the name of political expediency.
Reading Talbot’s story in Salon brought back memories of an old Hebrew story involving a wily woman, known chiefly for her beauty, but also for her gift as wise manipulator. The deuterocanonical book of Judith tells the story of Judith who uses her compelling beauty to ingratiate herself to Holofernes, the general of King Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Holofernes is set to raid Judith’s home town of Bethulia. Judith prevents the attack by going to Holofernes and convincing him that she has turned against her homeland and will help him in his attack. Once she gains his confidence, she gets him drunk and beheads him when he falls asleep.
Her exploits are enshrined in song in Judith 16:7-9
She anointed her face with perfume;
she fastened her hair with a tiara
and put on a linen gown to beguile him.
Her sandal ravished his eyes,
her beauty captivated his mind,
and the sword severed his neck!
Judith is hailed as a hero by her people and given Holofernes’ tent, dinnerware, bowls and furniture in Judith 15:11 as a reward—just as Palin has taken the spoils of the men she has run off the side of the political road.
Certainly, those left in Palin’s dust would have no problems seeing the similarities between her and Judith—the captivating beauty, the friendly persuasion followed by the sharp sword at their political necks. But, while the similarities may be striking, there’s something, though that makes me think the comparison is unfair—to Judith.
Even though the Judith story is a fable, since the Assyrians did, indeed, invade and conquer Judah—Judith is hailed as a heroine for saving her people from oppression. Palin seems to have used her beauty and wiles to simply advance her own lust for power, despite who gets trampled on in the rush.
In the end, perhaps Palin is no Judith—she’s just a mean girl.