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Palin: What A Piece of Work

June 14th, 2009

One of the best things you can be as a politician is a victim. It’s a great popularity booster. The other side looks nasty, vicious, and mean, while you stand there looking noble and hurt. Most politicians love it when they get insulted, the more offensive the better; they know how well it plays for them. Politicians will even reach way, way beyond reasonable interpretations to try to wrench insults from an opponent’s innocuous statements, like a soccer player falling down and expressing excruciating pain because an opposing team member tapped them on the shoulder. In U.S. politics, you get lots of points for being a victim–unless, of course, you look grabby and greedy about it, like you’re trying to milk it for all its worth. Which brings us to Sarah Palin.

David Letterman made a joke, which he himself admitted was in bad taste–par for the course when it comes to late-night jokes. His gag:

One awkward moment though during the game, maybe you heard about it, maybe you saw it on one of the highlight reels. One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked-up by Alex Rodriguez.

Now, listening to that joke, not knowing who was or was not at the game, who would you have assumed Letterman was referring to? There’s no question here–Palin has only one daughter known for being knocked up, and that’s Bristol. Show that joke to 100 people on the street who know about the Palins, ask who Letterman was talking about, and all of them would say Bristol–no one would have thought it was Willow, Palin’s 14-year-old, in part because no one really knows that daughter, and in part because she’s not the one famous for being knocked up out of wedlock.

But Sarah Palin saw an opportunity and she jumped on it. Oh, she could have accepted it for what it was, a jab at Bristol, with a side reference to Willow being the one at the game and “I hope Letterman wasn’t trying to say that!” But no, she pulled out the heavy artillery–like that soccer player pretending a mortal wound after a casual brush, she acted like Letterman had joked about her 14-year-old daughter being raped.

See, that’s the thing: if you’re the victim, then you act like the noble victim–you say you’re offended, and act like it. You act hurt, you do the “more in sorrow than anger” thing, you keep a level tone, and then you leave it. That’s about all you can do without looking like you’re milking it. If the story lives on its own after that, all the better for you.

Palin? None of that–she gleefully pounced on Letterman’s joke, and has made a full-blown media campaign out of it. Just watch her appearance on the Today show, you can clearly see that she is relishing this.

As it turns out, Bristol was not at the game, and Willow was. Of course Palin knew full well that Letterman was in error on that point, or was just making stuff up; either way, there was no question, in reality, about whom Letterman was referring to. But Palin had a great new opportunity: by claiming that Letterman was intentionally referring to Willow, she accused Letterman of making jokes about statutory rape, and made the clear implication that Letterman should be a registered sex offender.

The difference between her and Letterman is, Palin wasn’t joking. Letterman made a joke about Bristol getting knocked up–tasteless, sure, but fair game as Palin took her own daughter, pregnant out of wedlock, after emphasizing abstinence-only education at that, and paraded her at the convention and on the campaign trail. Palin made a serious accusation, knowingly false, that Letterman is a pervert and a sex offender and should be “kept away” from young girls. Doing some Google searches to find the original joke quote, it was clear that the right-wing blogosphere and many of the pundits are running with this like mad.

Had Palin simply acted offended in a more reasonable way, it could have been a big plus–especially if the blogosphere and the pundits kept the story alive for her. But no, she dove in for the close-quarters fighting, kept trying to shove Dave’s head under water time and time again, thrashing him soundly while screeching, “I’m a victim, I’m a victim!!!”

Palin’s shallow attempt at being above the fray came when she was asked if she was offended or she deserved an apology; her answers were along the lines of, “Shucks, I don’t want or need an apology, but hey, he should apologize to all those other folks…” like women everywhere, because Letterman jokes about “rape.” As if she were not trying to blow this up and milk it for her own political aggrandizement.

The thing is, Letterman’s joke, while edgy, was not truly that far over the line. As stated above, it was clear to anyone not trying to make political hay over this that he was referring to Bristol–and Bristol is fair game. Had Palin, like Obama, actually kept her children out of the spotlight save for the obligatory family moments, it would be a different story. But that’s not the case here, for two reasons.

First, Bristol was directly connected to Palin’s politics via the abstinence-only issue. Palin had publicly declared that abstinence-only works, and that she brought her own children up with that. So far, no problem–you can’t start talking about the kids based just on that. But then it came out that Bristol was pregnant out of wedlock, a teenage mother–and that changed everything. Since Palin had used her daughter as an example of a political issue and the daughter’s actions proved contrary to that policy, Bristol was suddenly fair game. If a politician takes a hard stance against drug use and claims that his kids would never use drugs, and then it turns out they did–fair game. Including (or especially) for late-night comedians.

Second, after this came out, Palin did not demand privacy for Bristol, which she still might have been able to do. No, instead, she dragged Bristol out to center stage and shot a spotlight on her. Instead of absorbing the embarrassment and keeping Bristol’s situation private, she instead brought Bristol and the teenage father of her child to the convention and had them make appearances. Since then, Bristol has been out there in public, making media appearances and going on public campaigns for abstinence education.

No argument for privacy or protection from jokes can possibly be made.

Not to mention that the organization sponsoring Bristol’s abstinence-only tour (“Candie’s Foundation”–advice to young girls: “Be sexy!”) has, well, rather slutty ads, the newest ones featuring Britney Spears in suggestive poses in swimsuits and high heels–ads aimed at “tweenies,” girls just like Willow Palin in fact, suggesting this is what they should look like. We’re talking girls from age 7 to 16, and even younger. Aside from the rather weird juxtaposition of sexually suggestive ads from a foundation promoting abstinence-only education, where was Palin’s sensitivity and feminism when her own daughter ran with, well, this:


See? Nothing wrong with that! Advertise sexual abstinence to “tweenie” girls with sexually suggestive photos of someone who is supposed to be these girls’ role model, from a company that makes sexy apparel for 7- to 16-year-olds.

No, instead she opportunistically lies about an interpretation of an off-color joke and calls the comedian a pervert and a sex offender who jokes about rape and demeans women everywhere. Classy. But then, Palin’s a class act, isn’t she?

You betcha.

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