Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I didn't watch the Sarah Palin interview on Sean Hannity's show last night, and I've still only watched about six minutes of it (I gather it went on for a half hour). Six minutes was enough. The interview's getting lousy reviews (Mediaite: "A Livid Sarah Palin Preaches To The Choir (But No One Else) On Tucson Massacre"). Palin implied that she has no idea what "blood libel" really means ("'Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands and in this case,' Ms. Palin said, 'that's exactly what was going on'"). And on and on. As Medisite's Frances Martel wrote:

Pupils shaking and voice struggling to remain steadfast, the former Alaska governor gave defending herself post-Tucson (and post-controversial video response) to Sean Hannity the old college try, but at some point it was hard to remember whether it was Palin or Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who took bullets two weeks ago.

She's really failing to expand her reach -- and I'll try to explain how she's failing, because the pros at Fox News, much as I loathe them, are good at doing what she's not so good at doing, as you can see in the clip below.

Now, in order to see this, you have to forget how much you detest Sean Hannity and force yourself to watch him as if you're a Middle American swing voter. Watch the moment that starts at about 2:34. Hannity says:

Yeah, I didn't particularly like my profession, what I do for a living, being called "the merchant of hate" by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. I didn't like it at all and I responded....

Ignore the words. Pay attention to the tone, and the facial expressions. Hannity works really, really hard to convey the impress that he's hurt by this -- that he finds it very troubling, not because it happened to him, but because it's just regrettable.

I don't find it convincing at all -- but if I put myself in that hypothetical heartland swing voter's shoes, I think I really might believe him. This overgrown high school jock, now middle-aged, would come off as an avuncular high school principal or coach or guidance counselor. He'd seem like a concerned grown-up.

(You know who really has this down to a science? Bill O'Reilly. Nasty as he often is, when he delivers one of his "talking points memo" homilies, he works the avuncular-adult tone. His voice drops to a smooth baritone. He seems saddened. It's no surprise to me that he was the superstar of all superstars on Fox for years.)

Now go back to the clip and watch the moment when Palin jumps the shark. It's the answer that starts about 5:24 in (emphasis added):

I know that it isn't about me personally, but it is about the message that I am not hesitant at all to spread across this country, and that is that our country is on the wrong track, we've got to get put back on the right track, and we have to elect those officials who can adopt and enact policy to allow us to be prosperous and healthy and safe again. And I know that a lot of those on the left hate my message and they'll do all that they can to stop me because they don't like the message. But, again, we know that it's not just me. It's all who seem to embrace the time-tested truths that helped build our country. They do not like to hear that message and, as many of them have promised to do, they'll do what they can to destroy the message and the messenger.

Again, check out the tone and the expressions -- she's nearly grinning as she gets to the end of this. She's shrill as usual. What she isn't is an adult -- a parent, an older relative, an older advisor or counselor.

If she could pull that off -- if she could persuade not just right-wingers but a fair number of people in the center that she's speaking wisdom learned from sad experience -- she could say everything she says now, and be the same person she is now, and have a serious shot at winning over the center.

(I'm sticking to my theory that she still might run for president, that she doesn't need the center until after the nomination fight, and that any Republican could become president, including Palin, if the economy's bad enough in 2012. I think she'll be a loser nominee if there's any economic optimism, however.)

The other approach Palin could take? Be a clown. That's what Ann Coulter does; Limbaugh, too, much of the time. You can cross over if you do that.

But Palin's not parental and she's not funny. That's what limits her, not her ignorance or her belief system or even her character. It's how she comes off that matters.

(And no, I don't fully understand why Glenn Beck crossed over. To some extent he's a clown; beyond that, I guess viewers really accept his mawkish tears for the Republic as selfless and sincere. He certainly doesn't come off as an adult, but they really think it's not about him.)

No comments: