Public Responds Best to Crude Comedy

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin autographs a baseball during her trip to Yankee Stadium last Sunday.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin autographs a baseball during her trip to Yankee Stadium last Sunday. (By Kathy Willens -- Associated Press)
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By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, June 14, 2009

One thing we can conclude from David Letterman's bad jokes about Sarah Palin: He hasn't flown commercial in a while.

Letterman's "slutty flight attendant" remark about Palin was in poor taste, we can all agree. But it was a joke, and Letterman is a comedian. The joke probably would have been shrugged off and forgotten -- Palin proved her humorous good sportsmanship on "Saturday Night Live" during the campaign -- if not for Letterman's sexually suggestive "joke" about her daughter.

Everyone knows by now that Letterman made fun of the Palin family's trip to New York last week. He quipped that Palin's daughter got "knocked up" by Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez during the seventh inning. Unable to stop his slide into the gutter, he said that the hardest part of the visit was keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter.

Ba-da-bad. Alas, the only daughter with Palin was 14-year-old Willow.

Sorry, Dave, not funny. It was a joke according to stand-up formula -- take two disparate news items and combine them in an unexpected way. No one does this better than humor columnist Andy Borowitz, who has the blogosphere in a snit with his column suggesting that Newt Gingrich accused Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor of faking her broken ankle to get sympathy. It was a JOKE!

The flight attendant line is a grown-up joke that one may or may not think is funny -- though my guess is that many of the offended big brothers out there were happy to participate in the Palin-as-sexy-librarian fantasy. Fess up.

In any case, the joke was about an adult voluntarily in the public arena and, therefore, clearly of a different order than suggesting sexual relations between a child and a man. We call that rape. Letterman's sort-of apology fell short of fixing things. He didn't mean the 14-year-old daughter, he said. He meant the 18-year-old.

Sir, may I offer you a shovel? Or, perchance, a backhoe? Letterman was way off base and should apologize sincerely. But, please, may we stop there?

Calls for censorship or worse are far more dangerous to the land of the free than any inappropriate one-liner. John McCain -- ever the chivalrous warrior -- sallied forth with his own disapproving statement Thursday, saying: The Palins "deserve some kind of protection from being the butt of late-night hosts."

They do? Are we talking vigilantes -- or just good ol' government censorship?

No, the Palins don't deserve protection from late-night hosts. No one does. But children deserve protection from adults who have lost sight of their responsibility to be wardens of the innocent. And parents are the best guardians of their children. Keeping them out of the limelight seems a good starting point. And, no, I'm not suggesting that anyone "asked for it."

The Palin jokes, for lack of a better term, were merely the latest in a string of recent hostile treatments of women -- conservative women in particular. The Playboy magazine Web site listing conservative women whom men would like to have "hate" sex with was beyond the pale. The harsh treatment of poor Miss California USA (since dethroned) when she expressed her opinion that marriage should be between a man and a woman was simply unfair.

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