Homespun. Folksy. Straight-talking. These may be just a few of the endearing terms pundits have used to describe Sarah Palin. But there's another, more salient, tag floating around the Alaska governor, a secret weapon that was on winkin' and twinklin' display during the debate. Few Beltway commentators would dare call this stealth device by name, but the ever-crafty McCain/Palin camp seems to be counting on it to help pull its overmatched ticket across the finish line come November: "MILF" appeal, as in "Mother I'd Like to F…."
Oh, I know what you are thinking, but as Chris Rock might say, don't kill the messenger. Our pop culture universe has been so coarsened that the supposedly flattering "MILF" designation has bled into our presidential politics.
What else could explain conservative writer Rich Lowry's saliva-soaked posting on the National Review Online after the Oct. 2 debate between Palin and Joe Biden: "I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, 'Hey, I think she just winked at me.' And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling, it was almost mesmerizing.'"
Apparently, the appeal even transcends gender. "I don't want to vote for her," comedian Margaret Cho told CBS' "The Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson on Friday night. "But I do want to have sex with her. … Don't you?"
Even before the debate, there were signs of a MILF-oriented vibe to the frenzy surrounding the 44-year-old Palin. Of course, the "Hottest VP from the Coolest State" buttons on view at the Republican National Convention gave us a hint we might be heading down the icky path where sweaty, horny adolescent boys ogle over married, middle-aged women who "look good for their age, heh heh." A recent Google search turns up more than a dozen "MILF"-related porn sites and blogs.
At one non-porn blog, MagazineMilf, founded by an anonymous 34-year-old mom and former Conde Nast editor, readers can find gossip about the MILFs among celebrities and in New York's magazine publishing world. When I asked its proprietor if she considered Palin a "MILF," she laughed and said yes—but added that it didn't mean the governor was qualified to be vice president.
During the Sept. 13 season opener of NBC's "Saturday Night Live"—the same broadcast in which Tina Fey debuted her devastating Palin parody—a character named "Alaska Pete" calls the vice presidential nominee a "Super-MILF" and "soon-to-be "GILF"—as in "Grandmother I'd Like to. …"
To which I say, WTF!
But does this mean enough Americans will vote for the VPILF to put the McCain-Palin ticket in the White House?
The McCain campaign seems to think so. While we all were snickering about Palin's scary-bad interviews with Katie Couric, someone bought up MILF-oriented domain names and turned them into pro-McCain-Palin properties, as in: www.voteforthemilf.net, and www.voteforthemilf.org. Click on those addresses now, and you end up at the Wikipedia page with a boilerplate explanation of Internet domain names. But for several weeks before the Web address mysteriously began to be diverted, those addresses used to bring you to JohnMcCain.com, and the official Web site of the Republican presidential nominee's campaign.
Then there are blogs such as www.VPILF.com and http://vpilfdaily.com/ that are proud as punch to encourage you to view Gov. Palin as a VPILF-in-waiting. They'll sell you Photoshopped snaps of Palin in skimpy outfits, and T-shirts that read, "Vote for the Hot Mama." Despite all the Palin merchandise they hawk, it is hard to tell if these blogs are pro-Palin or just trying to cash in. Their presence may speak to a segment of voters who are happy to indulge their VPILF fantasies shrouded in the anonymity of the Web but would never say it to a news reporter or pollster.
How did that acronym worm its way into our popular lexicon, without much outcry from even the most politically correct vigilantes among us?
Back in my day, a well-put-together woman of a certain age was more politely referred to as a "Mrs. Robinson," as in the Anne Bancroft character who seduced the much younger Dustin Hoffman in Mike Nichols' award-winning 1968 film, "The Graduate."
Its cruder variation apparently surfaced on college campuses sometime during the 1990s, according to Grant Barrett, editor of a "slanguage" Web site called Double-Tongued Dictionary, and host of a public radio program, "Way with Words." Then it popped up in the 1999 hit film "American Pie," when two overheated male characters salivated over a snapshot of another male character's attractive mom. From there, Barrett says, it seems to have quietly seeped into popular usage.
There may be an upside to all of this, Barrett goes on to argue. "On some level, I kind of like this increase in this kind of attention to older women. … It's not just to be a mother, it also refers to 'a woman of a certain age,' an older woman who looks good, and who is wise about the world. Underneath is the suggestion that perhaps she can teach you a thing or two in bed."
Progress! It's so heartening to see how much we've learned from the conversation around sexism in this presidential campaign.
Amy Alexander, the Alfred Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute, is completing a book about race and media. She can be reached at AmyAlex63@gmail.com.
Amy Alexander, an award-winning writer and editor in Silver Spring, Md., is the author of four nonfiction books, including Uncovering Race: A Black Journalist’s Story of Reporting and Reinvention. She has produced stories for the National Journal/Atlantic, NPR, The Nation, The Root and other outlets.