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Palin Came off Looking … Pretty Good

Well, it wasn’t exactly must-see TV--which was probably good news for both of the women involved as they work to rebuild (a public image in one case, ratings in the other). There was no Tom Cruise-esque couch-jumping moment. No one wept or cursed or called anyone an ignorant slut. Both gals were unfailingly polite. Oprah was gentle with her poking and prodding. Palin neither embarrassed herself nor went after Oprah with a Bowie Knife, exceeding the extremely low expectations that only somewhat justifiably plague her.

Overall, I thought the in-studio bits weren’t particularly compelling. Palin seemed way too amped up, almost manic in her perkiness, and not terribly at ease, especially when compared to the low-key, soothing tones of Earth Mother Oprah.

For those who don’t obsessively follow politics (presumably the bulk of Oprah’s audience), Palin offered up a few new tidbits about her disappointment with the McCain campaign and her ongoing tabloid-rific spat with her grandbaby’s daddy, Levi (and his “aspiring porn,” as she calls his recent Playgirl shoot). She also voiced her annoyance over the double standards to which both she and her family were subjected during the election (that mean old Katie Couric wasn’t nearly so tough on Joe Biden), though none of that will be new to anyone who’s heard Palin open her mouth in the past year. She handled some questions better than others, and at no time did I feel we were seeing beneath the surface of Sarah Palin, Conservative Icon and Self-Styled Rogue. But it was a straightforward, safe, perfectly respectable interview.

Far better were the photos and taped bits with Sarah and the Palin clan at home in Wasilla celebrating Halloween. We saw Sarah snuggling with baby Trig, then handing him off to the ever-supportive Todd so she and Piper could dash out into the cold to go work out. (“Sweat is my sanity!” she told Oprah.) We saw Trig wobbling around the house in his chicken costume--an image so heart-warming it made the audience go “awwwww.” We saw Sarah and Piper making caramel apples and, later, trick-or-treating. In perhaps her most winning bit, Palin talked about how she had promised Piper this year that she would stay in the car so she wouldn’t cramp her daughter’s style--a complaint with which parents are all too familiar. The photo of Trig asleep on Sarah’s chest as she checked her Blackberry with one hand seemed a little odd and could cut either way: overworked, relatable, multi-tasking mom or distracted, career-obsessed negligent parent. But, in general, if Palin made up any real ground with women voters, it was likely in this portion of the show.

All things considered, the sit-down should prove a plus for Palin. That said, it did raise a few questions about the long-term prospects for her reinvention tour. This is clearly a woman who has neither forgotten nor forgiven the many injuries she feels were unfairly visited on her last year by the media, the Democrats, the McCain campaign, and other “haters.” It’s possible she realizes that she made some significant mistakes, but that realization is clearly buried under a massive glacier of resentment and irritation at others. Asked point blank by Oprah if, when she got the call from the McCain campaign, she had even a moment of wondering whether she was ready for the job of vice president, Palin stuck with the “I didn’t blink” assertion and reminded us of all her executive experience. The only failure or naivety Palin remains willing to acknowledge is that she didn’t realize the perfidy or self-interestedness of those around her. Palin is charming and charismatic enough that this wasn’t a big problem for the length of an unexceptional Oprah interview. But it promises to make any future political runs verrrrry interesting.