by Victor Davis Hanson
The Demise of David Letterman
I had a number of exchanges on the Palin-Letterman controversy (see below). Where to start on David Letterman’s attack on Palin on her visit to New York to do charitable work, accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter Willow?
The hypocrisy of the Left that used to monitor slurs about women’s appearances, sick jokes about statuary rape, demonization of women with charges of promiscuity — all this rightly was taboo? But now silence? (But then no one seemed bothered either by the rather shameless instance of plagiarism on the part of Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, who habitually accuses Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld of lying and other moral lapses.)
The metrosexual, hip David Letterman offered an apology I think that essentially was something along the following lines. Here’s my paraphrase: ‘Sorry, I confused the 14-year-old Willow Palin with the 18-year-old Bristol Palin, so I was wrong for suggesting the younger Palin girl would be “knocked up” during a baseball game by Alex Rodriguez, or draw in Eliot Spitzer for sex, when I really meant that Bristol certainly would.” (Note the silence about calling Governor Palin “slutty” looking. So if some right-wing nut says that Michelle Obama is “slutty” looking, are we to expect no consequences?)
What it is about Sarah Palin that drives the Left insane? Her charisma? Her authentic blue-collar roots? The accent? Todd? The pregnancies? The ability to galvanize crowds. Joe Biden tried to fake his working class origins, but Palin seems to live, not romanticize, the life of the middle strata, so would not the Left appreciate someone from the non-elite?
I suggest two reasons for the fury of the aristocratic Left. One was Palin’s stance on abortion. In the elite feminist mind, the perfect storm would be for a 40ish career woman, on the upswing of her cursus honorum, getting pregnant and, then, heaven forbid, delivering the child with full fore-knowledge of chromosomal abnormality. Or having her 17-year old come to full term with a child, unmarried, and without money?
The Shadow of Abortion
For most upscale, educated liberals, a daughter’s future career is ruined by pregnancy, and abortion is often the answer. Second, Todd Palin, the Palin accent, the Wasilla connection, the whole notion of Alaska, all this conjured up the elite liberal notion of “trailer trash” — and we all know from Obama’s clingers speech, that the white Christian working class is the last group in America that can be caricatured and slurred with impunity. To the liberal urban elite, poor “whites” are those responsible for racism and other sins associated with the dominant culture, and thus by association taint the white aristocracy unfairly.
Race, Again, All the Time
I received a lot of angry mail about a recent prediction that the Obama administration would acerbate not diminish racial tensions, by its addiction to identity politics and the constant invocation or racial difference. Nothing since his ascension has disabused me of that observation. Obama himself, in unusual fashion, has given a number of speeches abroad emphasizing his African heritage, his middle name Hussein, and his father’s Muslim’s connection.
We have heard the Attorney General call his countrymen “cowards” for not talking more about racial identity. We have heard our Supreme Court nominee state on repeated occasions that a Latina is intrinsically better at being a judge than a white male counterpart. Now Rev. Wright has reemerged to suggest that Obama will no longer meet with him because “Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me ….” (a new book about Obama suggests he and Wright met in secret during the campaign after the Wright racist outbursts).
Note as well, that Wright, in his anti-Semitic diatribe, employs the now customary straw men “they,” which we’ve become well accustomed to. (I note here that what was most disturbing about the Letterman Palin jokes and his “apology” was the audience laughing at his crudity — reminiscent of the standing ovations in the Trinity congregation that met Wright’s profanity, racist outburst, and damning of the United States. This country has a long way to go.)
This racialism will continue. Why? Because Obama discovered long ago than racial identification brings as many dividends as does the content of one’s character or achievement. It is a force multiplier and foolishly left untapped. I fear more, not less, of this, as the tab for Obama’s charge-it economy comes due at about the same time dubious players abroad conclude that serial apologies amount to a green light for adventurism. When his popularity dives, I think critics will be seen as biased and prejudicial.
What was ironic about all Wright’s accusations of Obama’s Jewish hypnosis, was that in just the first six months of his administration Obama has proven to be the most anti-Israeli President since the founding of the Jewish state. Wright should be delighted not disappointed; perhaps his unhappiness is the inability to bask publicly in White House visits, rather than ideological discord.
(Remember that Obama’s connection with Wright was premeditated: in the Chicago racialist atmosphere, his career was going to be stalled at the state level, since he lacked, as a half-white, half-African Harvard graduate, fides as an authentic African-American from the Chicago neighborhood. Wright gave Obama just that authenticity — the more Wright laced his sermons with racism and hatred, the better Obama might resonate with the community as a Trinity devotee.)
But there is nemesis in the world. And once one makes a pact with Mephistopheles, well, read Marlowe and Goethe. Wright is Obama’s Fury, one of his Keres as it were.
Is there anything that explains all these strange developments? Yes, a postmodern view that the tawdry means justify the utopian ends, that a Letterman is cool and progressive, that a Wright means well in the end, that a Dowd is on the right side of the political attack on the Bush administration-and therefore sexism, racism, and plagiarism are, well, simply alternate narratives rather than violations of absolute norms and protocols.
Letterman Goes After Palin
For a few NRO postings on Palin, see below.
Part I: A Boor and a Coward
Smug, hip David Letterman offered a smirky non-apology about his ongoing class and sexist slurs against the Palins, his apparent social inferiors.
“We were, as we often do, making jokes about people in the news and we made some jokes about Sarah Palin and her daughter, the 18-year-old girl, who is — her name is Bristol, that’s right, and so, then, now they’re upset with me . . .”
“These are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl. I mean, look at my record. It has never happened. I don’t think it’s funny. I would never think it was funny. I wouldn’t put it in a joke…”
Examine the logic. First, Letterman makes a gutter joke about Palin and her unnamed 14-year-old daughter attending a NY Yankees game. Then when a bit of outrage follows, he apparently claims he really meant to slur the other 18-year-old daughter who, back in Alaska, of course did not attend the game but was not named by Letterman. That would be okay, you see.
Second, then he evokes the now common straw man “they” who are apparently “upset” with him, hoping to play the victim card. Then he dribbles out something about his “last show” as if we are to weep that some mob is out to silence him. (But the reason he picked the Palins, and not the Obamas, Gores, Bidens, or Kerrys, was precisely because he knew it would not equate to his “last show”).
Third, he strangely amplifies his joke by confessing it really was about “raping” and “having sex of any description,” but just not with a “14-year-old girl,” suggesting it would have been okay had he just been more explicit and named Bristol, the 18-year-old. In Letterman’s world, because Bristol is 18, she is a year past most statuary rape clauses and thus the joke would have only been about “raping or having sex of any description with a [18-year-old] girl.”
Nothing offered about his slurs against airline attendants and Governor Palin herself, when he sneered that she had a “slutty flight-attendant look,” or his remark that Palin “was keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter.” Indeed, he seemed to boast that he was proud of his ’slutty’ joke, as if hard-working flight attendants really do look slutty (they don’t to me), or that Palin looks slutty (she doesn’t to me).
The self-serving, creepy apology was as bad as the initial slur. Letterman is emblematic of an aging, baby-boomer culture, that dresses up street vulgarity with a tie and coat. The only thing that saves him is his care to do this with the Palins from Alaska who don’t figure into the usual no-go race/class/gender paradigm.
Part II. Still a Boor and Coward.
Then I was attacked by one Jason Zengerle for the above and responded with the following:
A Letterman apologist named Jason Zengerle at the The New Republic blog claims logic is not my strong suit since I defended Sarah Palin’s family and thought Letterman’s apology was, well, like most of what he does these days, infantile and cowardly:
“I know logic isn’t VDH’s strong suit, but is it really so hard to believe that the joke Letterman was making about a Palin daughter getting “knocked up” was about the Palin daughter who, you know, got knocked up?”
Is that supposed to be funny in a Lettermanesque way?
Zengerle apparently cannot follow basic logic, so here it goes:
The girl at the game with Gov. Palin was not 18-year old Bristol, but 14-year-old Willow. So logically we are to assume that when Letterman refers to Palin and her daughter at a recent baseball game, he means the actual Governor and the actual daughter who actually attended it.
The intent of Letterman’s tripartite sexual reference was to suggest that the Palins were synonymous with female promiscuity (cf. Letterman’s further references to the Gov.’s “slutty” look, and remarks about former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s interest in a Palin daughter (e.g., the “toughest part” of Palin’s visit “was keeping former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter.”)
Cf. that logic: (a) Palin is in NY with her 14-year-old daughter. (b) former NY governor Spitzer was caught visiting a young prostitute. Ergo…(c) Sarah Palin will naturally have to “keep” a randy Sptizer away from a likewise randy 14-year-old with dug-out propensities.
Zengerle then finishes with “P.S. VDH says Letterman would never make jokes about the offspring of the Obamas, Kerrys, Bidens, or Gores.  Not true.” (He then references a Letterman pun to a speeding ticket by the Gore son. Some moral equivalence that — a pun on speeding versus a pun on the statutory rape of a 14-year-old.)
First, Zengerle cannot read. I did not write that Letterman does not generically attack others; rather that in this particular context he would not have used such grotesque references to the children of iconic liberals: “But the reason he picked the Palins, and not the Obamas, Gores, Bidens, or Kerrys, was precisely because he knew it would not equate to his “last show”.
Letterman would never make a joke about an underage daughter of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry or Al Gore having sex with Alex Rodriquez or Eliot Spitzer. Sorry, he would not. Any idiot knows that.
Letterman offered no apology, but more of his usual postmodern, I’m goofy, feel sorry for me, ‘got the wrong daughter,’ I’m Dave after all junk. The fact remains that in three separate references he slurred the female governor of Alaska and her 14-year-old daughter on a recent visit to his New York. And when he tried to contextualize it, all he did was make it worse by suggesting that he meant instead Gov. Palin’s 18-year-old daughter, who recently delivered an out-of-wedlock child.
So follow the additional sick logic there: having one illegitimate son naturally implies inherent promiscuity of the sort that would send you down to the dugout to have sex with a baseball player or draw in a frequent patron of prostitutes.
Letterman has devolved into a mean-spirited, demented sort. Good luck to his apologists like Zengerle who try to explain what he said was not quite what he said. All they accomplish is to end up as foolish and creepy as Letterman himself.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson