Why Sarah Palin should appear on Letterman’s show
posted at 2:17 pm on June 16, 2009 by Patrick Ishmael
A lot has been said already about David Letterman’s comments on Governor Sarah Palin’s daughters. And some aren’t going to like what the title of this post suggests, but I do think it’s worth exploring the possibility that the Governor would appear on the Late Show, now that he has apologized and Governor Palin has accepted.
When Letterman first offered to have Palin on, I think everyone recognized it for the “joke” that it was: a not-so-subtle challenge to Palin that if she wanted to engage him, it would be on his terms and without a mea culpa for her daughters. No doubt, his drubbing over the last week from the full spectrum of political observers, most notably NOW, compelled some reflection on Letterman’s part about the apology, which brought us to last night’s soliloquy of sorry. As far as Letterman is concerned, his apology (and it was, I think, a full and sincere one) ends the issue.
But this episode, for a variety of reasons, shouldn’t just end there, and it’s a mistake to interpret a Palin appearance to be a reward to Letterman for bad behavior. Letterman’s invitation is an opportunity to remind Americans of, or alternately introduce them to, the subtext of the Letterman-Palin feud — that Palin and her family are a special target for the lib media. That her appearance resulted from a symptom of the media’s double-standard disease is all the more important.
And Palin and Letterman don’t even have to say a word about the subtext at all. Through Letterman, Palin would get to engage her detractors openly, comprehensively, confidently, and on a highly visible public stage, simply by being present. It’s an opportunity that to this point hasn’t really been possible.
As a rhetorical strategy, Palin’s timing actually makes a great deal of sense, said Richard Vatz, a professor of political communication at Towson University and a self-described conservative. Noting that the pregnant-daughter jokes had been dying down, Letterman’s crack stood out, making him easier to isolate for criticism, he said.
“If a large number of people are doing something against you, it’s hard to take on the whole group,” Vatz said.
Palin can’t do much to curb the anti-Palin misogyny that’s out there, but she can make its most visible and egregious instances a cautionary tale that she and her family are not just going to be stepped on, and one of the best ways to do that is to draw those critics closer to her when they’re weakest. And not all critics should be, or have to be, addressed on-set; Bill Maher is more amoeba than big fish. The Governor can’t be running around, putting out embers in the middle of a forest fire.
And make no mistake, Letterman won’t become some Palin partisan if she comes to his studio, but an appearance on his show, under these circumstances, will do much to undermine and undercut future shots at her and her family, a clear demonstration that rather than avoiding controversy, the Palins and Sarah Palin specifically are not afraid to fight their detractors, defeat them, and bring them if not into an orbit of congeniality, then some semblence of neutrality. Crazier things have happened.
MARCIE KLEIN, SENIOR PRODUCER “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”: Well, the first, I actually was the first person to meet her. She, one of the NBC pages, or someone in my office brought her up to the eighth floor, and I was standing there, and I, I, I thought, “Oh my God, she looks just like Tina.” I mean, I couldn’t believe how much she looked liked Tina. And, Tina was happened to be in my office, and I ran into my office, I shook her hand, and she had incredibly strong, you know, handshake, but I was overwhelmed by how much she physically looked like Tina, and how — Tina Fey — and how a lot of people come to our show, actors, musicians, and they’re nervous. I mean, you know, “Saturday Night Live, I watched this my whole life.” She was not nervous. I thought, “This is the most confident person I’ve ever met.” I walked into my office and said to Tina, “You’re gonna freak out, she looks exactly like you, or you like exactly like her.” She said, “She’s prettier than I am.”
MENIN: Do you think that maybe she wasn’t nervous because she hadn’t watched the show before? Did she say if she’d watched the show before?
KLEIN: I’m sure she watched the show before, I don’t know, but I think she’s just a person with a lot of confidence. And I think when you see people with confidence, you like that. You know, you trust, you know, you, there’s something, there’s something to confidence that, that people respond to.
Indeed, there is.
Letterman won’t be the last on-air personality, blogger, or media entity that takes a shot at Palin, and I think everyone appreciates the fact that Palin’s unique place in the American psyche will compel other scumbags to besmirch the Governor in ways unimaginable for other politicians, particularly Democrats. But the fact that she won’t be afforded such common courtesies of decent dialogue and criticism isn’t a sufficient reason to spurn those who come, hat in hand, to atone for their over-reaches. In fact, it’s a reason to do the opposite.
It’s not about Letterman. It’s about Sarah Palin effectively defending her family and herself, now and for the long haul. And one of the best ways to do that is to appear on Letterman’s show.