After a good deal of trouble from Obama-Biden supporters in the media and a couple of highly publicized dust-ups, Republicans Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin have decided that they woudl join them after it became evident that they were going to continue to take a beating from them and might as well try to get some small benefit out of the situation by showing themselves as good sports.
They succeeded in that. McCain appeared on the David Letterman show Thursday night, after the erstwhile comedian spent several weeks in a one-sided feud with the Arizona senator and Republican presidential candidate for canceling an appearance on Letterman’s weak late-night comedy show. Earlier that night, he had given a well-received comic address at the annual Al Smith dinner for Catholic charities in New York City.
The consensus is that McCain was a success at both performances. Newsweek‘s Andrew Romano characterized McCain’s dinner speech as follows:
McCain’s performance at the Waldorf-Astoria–a roast, essentially–was crisp, smooth and confident; he easily earned more laughs than Barack Obama, who followed him to the podium.
It was a scripted performance, of course, and McCain knocked the ball out of the park, witnesses agree.
Letterman’s show was a much more difficult and impressive achievement. The vain, over-the-hill comic went after the senator good and hard, predictably, asking lots of tough questions with undisguised hostility. In fact, he rather disgraced himself, as if it were still possible to reduce himself further in the estimation of any sensible person.
Newsweek‘s Romano, no fan of McCain’s presidential campaign, lauded the senator’s Letterman-show performance as follows:
When McCain tried to be funny, he was funny. "I haven’t had so much fun since my last interrogation," he said at one point. Later, he joked that Ayers and Obama—in a line that seemed to mock his own campaign’s relentless harping on their "relationship"—"may be going to Denny’s together." "Who knows?" he added, citing "the Grand Slam" as an important factor to consider. When the moment called for candor, McCain was candid. "I know Gordon Liddy," he admitted (Letterman had asked whether voters should see Liddy as McCain’s Ayers). "He paid his debt. He went to prison, he paid his debt, as people do." And McCain even managed some self-deprecation—again, a quality sorely lacking in his debate performances. "I screwed up," he said of his decision to skip the show. "’It’s only Dave. There’s only a few million who’ll be watching. What the hell? Who cares?’" You may not have agreed with him on everything—I still think, for example, that he’s wrong to harp on ACORN and Ayers—but you couldn’t help respecting him. There was none of the nastiness or defensiveness that marred his debate performances. He seemed like a human being again—as opposed to a politician.
Two days after McCain’s apperances at the Al Smith dinner and Letterman’s show, Gov. Sarah Palin appeared on Saturday Night Live, likewise proving herself a very good sport.
The opening sketch was somewhat amusing, with Tina Fay portraying Palin as speaking at a news conference while the real Palin watched offstage with the show’s creator and producer, Lorne Michaels. The best moment was when Fay, as Palin, addressed the media at the beginning of the conference:
First off, I just want to say how excited I am to be in front of both the liberal elite media as well as the liberal regular media. I am looking forward to a portion of your questions.
The rest of Fay’s performance hit the usual notes, depicting her as an attractive nobrain. Instead of dwelling on that tired material, the scene concentrated on Palin, as actor and Democrat partisan Alec Baldwin stopped by to talk with Michaels and Palin, thinking the latter was actually Tina Fay and it was Palin who was onstage in the press conference scene:
"This is the most important election in our nation’s history and you want her, our Tina, to go out there and stand with that horrible woman?" he said.
Palin took it all in stride, getting in a good shot at Baldwin: after the actor said, "I must say this: you are way hotter in person," Palin graciously replied, "Thank you, and I must say, your brother Stephen is my favorite Baldwin brother."
Palin also appeared onstage during the "Weekend Update" segment, bobbing her head while Amy Pohler sang a silly rap song originally written for Palin to perform but which the governer decided was not a good idea for her to do. It included lines such as, "I’m Jeremiah Wright ‘cuz I’m the preacher; I got a bookish look and you’re all hot for teacher,"
It’s extremely unlikely that these successful performances on two comedy shows will turn an election around, of course, but McCain and Palin certainly didn’t harm their prospects by reminding audiences of what is likeable about them. After several weeks spent grimly taking a pounding from the entire mainstream media, the Republican candidates’ ability to show themselves unbowed by the relentless hostility directed against them displays more fitness to govern than any number of position papers ever could.