Much of the debate surrounding Sarah Palin’s feud with David Letterman this week has been based around questions over whether Palin overplayed her hand, or if it is wise for someone who wants to be president to be spending their time feuding with a late night host, but there is deeper motive at work here. Palin is trying to use Letterman to motivate the GOP base, and reignite the culture wars.
Here was Palin’s response to Letterman’s apology for some jokes he told about her daughters this week, “Laughter incited by sexually perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity aimed at a 14-year-old girl is not only disgusting, but it reminds us some Hollywood /NY entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understands: That acceptance of inappropriate sexual comments about an underage girl, who could be anyone’s daughter, contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of mirrors by older men who use and abuse others.”
The message she sent to her fellow Republicans was clear. She is the only pure Republican that can do battle with the liberal elites in New York and Hollywood. On NBC’s Today show on Friday, Palin kept hammering this point home. When Matt Lauer asked her, “Are you suggesting that David Letterman can’t be trusted around a 14-year-old girl?”
She answered, “Hey, take it however you want to take it. It is a comment that came from the heart that Willow, no doubt, would want to stay away from David Letterman after he made such a comment. And you can interpret that however you want to interpret it.” (Palin was trying to convey that she is the values conservative who isn’t going to be pushed around by the media.)
The political motivation of Palin and her advisors is that they want to revive the culture wars. Now that Bristol Palin has had her baby they see no reason why they can’t reframe her 2012 candidacy as that of the family values conservative. (However, I think it is very fair to question the values of a potential candidate that keeps willingly using her children as political props).
Palin is using Letterman to stake out her claim to the same Republican primary voters that Mike Huckabee courted in 2008, and is still wooing for his 2012 run. The intention is to make it seem like Palin is defending her daughters from an attack by Letterman, but this is all about Palin trying to appeal to culturally conservative voters.
I think Palin would be better served by talking about healthcare instead of feuding with Letterman. This tit for tat exchange does nothing to convince voters she has the policy knowledge and experience to be president. What this strategy does tell me is that Palin is as strategically and intellectually empty as the rest of her party.
Gov. Palin is looking backwards by trying to revive old disputes in our political landscape. Many conservatives have acknowledged that the culture wars are over. This isn’t the 1990s anymore. Palin’s usage of Letterman to frame herself as a culture war is destined to resonate with some Republicans, but it will fail mightily with Independents and conservative Democrats.