The Politics of Punchlines
There were moments this week where, I imagine, preternaturally grumpy talk show host David Letterman fantasized about attaching 30,000 helium-filled balloons to The Ed Sullivan Theater and flying off to some far-off spot on the horizon, where lipstick-wearing talking-pitbulls don't exist. That, of course, was never going to happen, and so the host -- whose decency had never before been questioned in 27 years on the air -- was left with no recourse but to make a humbling apology on last night's broadcast. This would be his second apology, but was far more sincere and contrite in tone; one can only imagine the hand-wringing at the Letterman household in the days between the two addresses, as the he flipped between cable channels and stumbled upon voice and voice insisting he'd crossed a line.
Through it all, Sarah Palin proved a worthy foe -- cunningly turning this issue not just into an attack on her family, but an attack on all young women. That lent it deeper and more menacing implications, growing the firestorm until it recalling at times the Don Imus "nappy-headed hos" controversy. Never mind that Imus's reprehensible comments targeted college-aged women whose crime was being ambitious, athletic, and African-American, and Letterman's worthy target was the crusading hypocrite Eliot Spitzer: The Late Show host used Palin's brood as the bait, and, clung as he did to his insistence that he thought was referencing an 18-year-old unwed mother-of-one, the wording and circumstances implied that 14-year-old Willow was the subject of the quip.
Palin issued a statement this morning accepting his apology, yet another opportunity to drop her campaign buzzwords -- "maverick" and "Joe the Plumber" have become "exploitation" and "Dave the Rapist" -- and engage in the kind of flag-thumping that made her such an early-favorite on the RNC campaigning circuit, before Katie Couric interviews and $150,000 wardrobe bills dulled her lipstick's luster.
"Of course it's accepted on behalf of young women, like my daughters, who hope men who 'joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve," the statement read.
"Letterman certainly has the right to 'joke' about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's right to free speech - in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect."