That was some firestorm David Letterman found himself confronting, wasn’t it? Do you think the comedian had any idea his jokes mocking Governor Sarah Palin and her family would lead to such condemnation? I didn’t.
What Letterman and his writers failed to see is the growing anger in America over personal attacks leveled against public people. The issue is primarily about partisan insults. Mr. Letterman is now considered a liberal guy by many, and so his remarks about Palin were viewed as more political than satirical. If Jay Leno (who is more non-partisan than Dave) had told the jokes, he would have been criticized, but not to the same extent.
According to a new Gallup Poll, 40% of Americans identify themselves as conservative, 35% say they are moderate, and just 21% answer to the liberal description. So, liberals are outnumbered by almost four to one. Thus, when a conservative icon such as Sarah Palin is demeaned by a high profile entertainer who leans left, it becomes a big political story. Cable news and the blogs blow it up.
In the media world in which David Letterman lives, many people are outspokenly liberal. New York City and Hollywood are unabashedly left. But the folks are not. And they do not want nasty stuff directed at a working mother like Mrs. Palin who holds traditional values. To hear the liberal pundits try to defend Letterman was something out of the Twilight Zone. They put forth that, because 18-year-old Bristol Palin appeared with her mother at political rallies, she was fair game. Pure idiocy.
And the folks also zeroed in on the hypocrisy of the Letterman-Palin situation. If somebody had mocked President Obama’s family that way, they would be destroyed! Of course, there’s a difference between a president and a governor, but the analysis is valid.
What liberal entertainers do not understand is that President Obama was elected because the economy collapsed under a Republican president. While some liberal zealots believe Obama’s ascension certified a national ideological move left, they are exceedingly wrong. The folks are closely watching Mr. Obama. And if the economy does not improve significantly, he’ll have a battle in 2012.
Now, I believe David Letterman when he says he’s sorry about the Palin dust-up. I don’t think Dave meant to hurt the Palin daughters; he’s not that kind of guy. But he definitely has an edge when it comes to people who do not fit into his ideological comfort zone. I’ve been on the Letterman program five times. Last time around, he called me a goon and mocked Rush Limbaugh’s weight. I asked him why he was doing that. He did not have an answer.
And so it was the mean-spirited perception that dunked Dave. Robust debate over issues has made the USA the great country it is. But, increasingly, personal attacks are being used to marginalize opposing points of view. And when those attacks involved kids, even on the periphery, Americans will not stand for it.