Preliminary reply on Palin and Letterman
On June 26 I wrote an entry entitled, “Who is Sarah Palin to complain about [David Letterman’s] tastelessness?” In the ensuing discussion, Lydia McGrew pointed out that while she agreed at least in part with my criticisms of Palin’s handling of the Bristol situation last August and September, she felt it was wrong of me to describe Palin’s conduct and choices as “tasteless” and to act as though Palin’s supposed tastelessness eliminated her right to complain about Letterman’s tastelessness. I promised a full reply to Lydia, but haven’t yet written it. One reason for my delay is the complexity of the issue. A proper reply would involve gathering and examining all the statements made by the parties: Letterman’s several jokes and non-apologies and quasi-apologies, and the Palins’ various statements. Each of these statements in turn contains different and contradictory statements that would need to be dealt with.
First, here is the “joke”:
One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.Here is Palin’s reply:
Concerning Letterman’s comments about my young daughter (and I doubt he’d ever dare make such comments about anyone else’s daughter):Palin defined Letterman’s offense not simply as a disgusting insult to a girl and her family, but as somehow contributing to the problem of older men sexually exploiting young girls. Thus she was, in typical liberal fashion, translating Letterman’s offensive “joke” into an “oppression” issue. More on that in a moment.
On Lydia’s criticism of me, I agree with her. Letterman’s “joke”—even if it had been directed unambiguously at Bristol and there had been no confusion with regard to Palin’s 14-year-old daughter Willow—was reprehensible, and Palin had every right to complain about it (although, as I’ve heard, she didn’t just complain once but was repeatedly on the air waves complaining about it). Therefore a fairer and more accurate title than “Who is Sarah Palin to complain about tastelessness?” would have been:
“How Sarah Palin out of an excess of political ambition and a deficiency in motherly care and traditional moral values put her daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnant condition before the eyes of the world, thus exposing her daughter to the insults of lowlifes such as David Letterman.”The reference in my alternative title is to the fact that Palin, notwithstanding her daughter’s unmarried and pregnant status, accepted McCain’s choice of herself as his VP candidate and then proceeded to bring the unmarried Bristol and Levi as a couple to the GOP Convention. As I’ve argued many times, the latter in particular was a reprehensible act. However, it does not cancel out or give Letterman license to engage in his reprehensible insult.
But, as though Letterman’s insult wasn’t bad enough, Palin mucked up the situation further by acting as though Letterman’s offense was to encourage the sexual exploitation of young girls by older men. Instead of replying in a straightforward manner to Letterman’s outrageous emotional assault on her daughter(s), Palin translated Letterman’s insulting “joke” into a species of political offense that was irrelevant to his actual, personal offense. So, how does one sympathize with Palin over the gross insult to her daughter(s) when she herself didn’t see the insult primarily as an insult, but as an act of sexual oppression, i.e., as a violation of feminist equality, rather than as a violation of decency?
Palin’s response to Letterman’s insult—including her obliviousness to the fact that she herself had put Bristol in a position where she could be insulted—thus showed her to be hopelessly confused, as she further showed by her senseless and incoherent resignation statement.
To sum up: Palin had every right to protest Letterman’s disgusting “joke,” and I was wrong to suggest otherwise. But (1) Palin herself was partly responsible for this situation, by accepting the nomination and bringing Bristol and her boyfriend to the Convention, thus exposing Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy (and Bristol’s subsequent non-marriage with Levi) to the attention of the world; and (2) Palin further compromised the righteousness of her anti-Letterman stand, by attacking him for an imaginary, political offense more than for his actual, personal offense.