And that’s the problem. Let me explain.
If you missed it, David Letterman avowed the mea culpa on the joke he told about Palin and her family. She was proven right by his apology, and even in drawing slightly higher ratings Letterman must regret the incident.
Let’s focus on the manufactured controversy that occurred before the apology. And it was clearly manufactured. Letterman told a joke that was in especially poor taste and didn’t result in a crescendo of laughter. That could have been the end of it.
Commenting was not obligatory. It was a comedic infraction and she could have easily taken a pass. It’s not like Joe Biden said it!
But Palin decided to engage. Perhaps she felt strongly about it, which is understandable. Yet if her daughter Willow (or Bristol) was so embarrassed, the governor’s speaking out would not assuage that. Instead, by shining a light she exacerbated the instance, hoping to make an example now to cut down future affronts to women later.
Now, Letterman’s line that she was in New York to pick up some “slutty flight attendant” lipstick was hilarious, and not as harmful. It plays on a stereotype. Much worse things have been said about Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
But the joke about her daughter was awful, whichever one he was talking about. (Not for nothing, but you didn’t see A-Rod griping about the joke, and it made him look like an exhibitionist statutory rapist.)
Hence, in her highest profile response, an interview Friday morning on Today, speaking to Matt Lauer, Palin came across well. She still went to 5 colleges in 6 years, but she was sharp and disciplined.
She was ostensibly on the program to shill for a 1,700-mile natural gas pipeline from Alaska through Canada to the lower 48, but a few minutes in Lauer cut to the red meat. And Palin did not disappoint.
She kicked off all folksy-like with, “Don’t disparage flight attendants. They work hard. We love ’em.” That was the appetizer. Then, she brought the pain. “I would like to see [David Letterman] apologize to young women across the country” for contributing to a culture “that says it’s OK to talk about statutory rape. It’s not cool; it’s not funny.” Finally, she took the PTA mom route to the Promised Land: “[This is] a sad commentary on where we are as a culture, as a society, to chuckle and laugh through [such] comments.”
Everything she said is tough to argue against. The problem is that the “Thrilla from Wasilla” was all too happy to take the bait. She knew she would win. Statutory rape jokes and demeaning comments about young girls are indefensible.
This whole episode is a case of John Dickerson’s theory of taking umbrage being the best things you could do during the 2008 campaign. Palin extended it.
Whether it was Barack Obama in traditional Somali/Muslim garb or sexism against Hillary Clinton (and this particular instance did not get enough attention), “Taking offense was the best offense,” as Dickerson cleverly headlined.
Palin takes too much pleasure in igniting the culture wars. Obama and Hillary were canny too. They took offense, they just didn’t look like they enjoyed it. Palin is beaming with joy in split-screens with Lauer.
Interestingly, in drumming up awareness for the Palin-Letterman feud, the National Organization for Women notes, “When Chelsea Clinton was 13 years old she was the target of numerous insults based on her appearance. Rush Limbaugh even referred to her as the ‘White House dog.’ NOW hopes that all the conservatives who are fired up about sexism in the media lately will join us in calling out sexism when it is directed at women who aren’t professed conservatives.”
Palin will keep popping up like this. The media loves covering her. And if I were her chief strategist I would say, “Stay in the news no matter what it takes, however substance-less or artificial the issue.” Since her best shot at a solid presidential run is to keep from disappearing to Juneau, stay in our heads, and convince voters she is a major player.