But even as her political credibility plummets - not even a gutsy performance in the vice-presidential debate could quite banish the memory of those cringe-making interviews with Katie Couric - and her effect on the presidential race, once electrifying, seems to have played itself out, her cultural potency remains extraordinary. A gift to comedians and satirists, a horror to the feminist establishment, an icon to the Republican base, she has also become, in a literal sense, a pin-up.
Actually, she always was - Alaska magazine put her on the cover with the strap-line "America's hottest governor" as long ago as February, months before the wider world was aware of her existence. But last week's announcement by Hustler than a Palin-inspired porn film was in production confirmed that, whatever else might be said about the would-be VP, she's definitely a sexpot.
The project, said to star nineties porn starlet Lisa Ann, with the legendary Nina Hartley in the supporting role of Hillary Clinton, is due to be released in time for the election next month. Perhaps the world will have tired of Sarah Palin by then. And doubtless the product will be as predictable and seedy as most porn. In one scene, the Alaskan is addressing the crowd while, out of sight, Mrs Clinton in performing oral sex on her.
Hustler isn't alone in finding Sarah Palin an object of sexual fantasy. Within days, perhaps hours, of the announcement at the end of August it seems like years, doesn't it? The most memorable showed her in a stars-and-stripes bikini holding a large gun. Remarkably, there were some who thought the picture genuine. And indeed, while it was not remotely plausible, the image did represent a concise but accurate summation of Palin's appeal to many Americans, patriotic, gun-toting and hot.
Absent from this mock-up was the image that Palin herself has stressed - the down-to-earth, hard-working "hockey mom", a modern twist on the most traditional of all female roles, the Wife and Mother. Rather, the fake photograph combines two previously incompatible archetypes of American womanhood: The tough, pragmatic frontierswoman - Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane or, on another level, the heroines of Little Women or Little House on the Prairie - was a woman who worked on equal terms with their menfolk and, incidentally, achieved the vote decades before the women who lived a more sheltered life in cities.
She belongs to the heroic past, with little more connection to the lives of most American women than the secluded women of 5th century BC Athens bore to Clytemnestra.
In Alaska, on the other hand, such women or at least a watered-down version of them might still be found; and so while Palin has spent most of her life in offices, it's her moose-hunting that attracts most attention.
She speaks to that part of the American psyche that once massacred the buffoloes and still believes in gun ownership. But she's also that equally patriotic figure, the cheerleader something Palin never actually was, so far as I can tell, preferring to play basketball: As a former beauty queen albeit a runner-up she embodies a paradoxical feature of American conservatism, one that has always adapted overt sexuality in the cause of hearth and home - and, not infrequently, strong religious principles.
Big hair and lipstick, rather than burkhas, provide the semiotics of the Bible Belt. In Slate, Tom Perrotta claimed claimed that Palin "embodies a powerful new Christian right archetype", the "sexy Puritan".
He even found a point of comparison with the early and supposedly, though implausably, virginal Britney Spears - though, as Perrotta concedes, that "didn't work out so well". The miniskirted conservative commentator Ann Coulter would perhaps have been a more appropriate comparison. Sexy Puritans engage in the culture war on two levels—not simply by advocating conservative positions on hot-button social issues but by embodying nonthreatening mainstream standards of female beauty and behavior at the same time.
The net result is a paradox, a bit of cognitive dissonance very useful to the cultural right: You get a little thrill along with your traditional values, a wink along with the wagging finger. Somehow, you don't feel quite as much like a prig as you expected to. Perrotta, author of The Abstinence Teacher, mentions his surprise while researching the novel that, instead of the prune-faced plain Janes he expected to encounter, he instead met a succession of hotties.
There was, for example the "slender young blond woman in tight jeans and a form-fitting T-shirt—she wouldn't have looked out of place at a frat kegger— [who] bragged about all the college boys who'd tried and failed to talk her into their beds". He goes on, What the Sexy Puritan movement represents, I think, is the realization on the part of some cultural warriors on the right that to be seen as anti-sex—and especially to be seen as unsexy—is a losing proposition in contemporary America, even among evangelical Christians most troubled by the fallout from the sexual revolution.
What Perrotta misses, in his lucid analysis, is that the "sexy Puritan" is nothing new. It's as old as the Beauty Pageant or the high school prom. It belongs to the American cult of wholesomeness as much as it does to socially conservative positions on subjects such as abortion or pre-marital sex.
It's not so much a matter of packaging old-fashioned messages in an appealing manner: What this means, among other paradoxes, is that the plastic Barbie-doll, or her real-life equivalents in the manner of Anna-Nicole Smith, is as much a product of American traditionalism as a Sunday-school teacher. Which brings me straight to the next fantasy-Palin, which derives directly from the first. This large painting of a full-frontally naked Palin, holding an even bigger gun, standing on a polar-bear rug and posing by an open window, can be seen in all its glory in Chicago bar-room.
The painter, Bruce Elliott who also co-owns the Old Ale House, which doubles up as a gallery for his softcore erotic art claims that he was inspired to create the painting while watching his daughter Grace who modelled for him "performing an uncanny Sarah Palin impression. Elliot is a confirmed Obama supporter, who calls Palin a "real nasty piece of work" but admits to finding her attractive. I would love it if the secret service called me up.
The Washington Post's fashion editor, Robin Givhan, was fairly dismissive. At the same time, thinks Givhan, the shoes provide solid evidence that "she's using prettiness and cuteness to her advantage. And without any hesitation. That took some thought. In a similar vein, a sex-toy company has brought out an inflatable Palin "love-doll". Elsewhere, Gawker reports that Sarah Palin is this year's must-have Halloween costume.
Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls has said that she could have a place in the group. And she's hot," says Scherzinger. And a San Francisco burlesque artiste i. I would post it up but it's rubbish. Hugh Hefner, meanwhile, invited Sarah Palin to pose for Playboy. At only half Hef's age, one might think Sarah a bit old for him his conquests are usually in their early twenties but he's clearly into her.
Along with the carefully tied-up hair, they form a key part of the Palin image, and they send what may be an intentionally double message. Palin is on record that she chose that particular hairstyle because she thought it would help her be taken seriously: But the outwardly restrained, inwardly smouldering sexy librarian - another cultural archetype - is in there too.
At one level, Palin's sex-appeal doesn't require much explanation: But that doesn't quite explain the sheer visceral excitement she has produced, the way in which her sexual attractiveness has - on both sides of the political debate - become an issue. Regardless of how the race ends - regardless, too, of Palin's own limitations, many of which have been painfully exposed - she may well turn out to have transformed the possibilities for women in politics.
And she has done so by canny manipulation of her sexual image. No doubt it is in response to such success that Newsweek placed an unflattering close-up of Palin's face on their cover. Some of her supporters certainly seem to think so. Palin has the successful woman's knack for appealing to men without alienating women. To women she says, I'm one of you, but a smarter, sassier, more successful one of you. To men, she stands for manly things - huntin', shootin' the dropped gs are integral , flag-wavin', Bible-believin' all-American self-reliance, but at the same time she's all woman.
A real woman is not a simpering, fainting, corsetted princess, and she's not an air-headed, airbrushed, silicone-implanted sex object either. But nor is she Harriet Harman. Like a reverse James Bond, Sarah Palin is a woman that women want to be and men want to fuck. A feminist, but not a Feminist, she annoys many pampered progressives with her unapologetically traditional views.
But those views, too, are sexually alluring. Hers is a world in which men are men and women are women. If Sarah Palin is the sort of woman men fantasise about, she is also and this is important the sort they respect. There's no contradiction between the two. In fact, Sarah Palin would probably have little problem exercising supreme power. It's a myth that men resent taking orders from women. Men spend most of their lives taking orders from women - mothers, nannies, teachers, wives, nurses and, these days, quite often bosses as well.
The kind of feminist who labours under the delusion that this sort of authority is anything new - who thinks that, because the number of situations in which woman are able to exercise authority has greatly increased, the way in which they do so must necessarily change - is far more likely to experience a glass ceiling than a woman like Sarah Palin who merely carries on as she always did, who naturally expects men to do what she tells them and, as a result, finds that they do.
Successful female leaders have tended to discover that their position was not so anomalous as they might have thought, because they fell naturally into the already-present archetypes of matriarchs and goddesses. Some have inspired hatred - usually from left-wingers - as a result, such as Mrs Thatcher who was never forgiven by feminists for being so clearly but uncomfortably a woman. Admiration, envy, and salacious gossip are also recurring themes.
In the case of Cleopatra, her ascendency over Mark Antony was presented by Roman propagandists as emasculating, but it's unlikely Antony himself saw it that way; or Cleo herself, for that matter. By contrast, some modern female polticians have attempted to react against such stereotypes, not by presenting themselves as would-be men but by rejecting both male and female images.
The results are rarely attractive to either sex: These women, who are so recognisable in New Labour, have their male equivalents, who eschew traditionally masculine forms of self-presentation, and are equally unattractive as a result. The political equivalent of eunuchs, they want to appear entirely rational and up-to-date; instead they come across as boring and complacent.
To some people, of course, even discussing Palin's sex appeal is insulting. But successful male political leaders trade off their sexuality every bit as much as actresses do: Sexuality and sex are different, but linked: The so-called F-factor is usually subliminal. The difference with Palin, perhaps, is that the subliminal message has been made manifest. Trailer released on Youtube. It includes the hoo-hoo moment!