Palin gets her dream interview

Oprah Winfrey gives the ex-governor of Alaska the "lighthearted" treatment she wished for from Katie Couric

Topics: Sarah Palin, Broadsheet,

Sarah Palin has finally gotten the interview to which she felt so entitled. On Monday, ahead of the release of her new book, “Going Rogue,” Oprah Winfrey delivered the “lighthearted” chat the former vice-presidential candidate says she was led to expect from her infamous sit-down with Katie Couric. Sure, there were some obligatory questions about her vice-presidential run, but she wasn’t pressed on political strategy, policy or even what newspaper she reads. It wasn’t so much a campaign retrospective as it was a soft-focus Lifetime biopic.

No sooner did the show start than the intended narrative become clear: An Everywoman — just like Oprah! — wronged. First, there was the McCain camp, which made her over with a pricey designer wardrobe on the campaign trail. It “was fun, exciting,” she said, but it was also insulting: “I thought, This is one of those relationships you have when we’re young and they say, ‘Oh, I love you the way you are,’ and then they try to change you.” To recap: Politics are like an emotionally unhealthy romance. (However, to Palin’s credit, she noted that male candidates have it much easier in the clothing department and said: “It gave me a lot of appreciation for everything Hillary Clinton went through.”) Then there was the issue of her diet: The mother of five was pressured, she said, to keep her weight down by going on the Atkins diet. I can certainly think of worse ways to appeal to Oprah’s audience.

Palin also brought up attacks by the media. She didn’t prep much for her interview with Katie Couric — or, “the perky one,” as Palin called her — because she was led to believe it would be “a lighthearted thing.” She expected it to be “a working mom speaking with a working mom” about “the challenge we have dealing with teenage daughters.” When the media wasn’t targeting her directly, they were assailing her family, Palin said. “I was naive to think that the media would leave my kids alone,” she told Oprah. After news got out about Bristol’s pregnancy, the McCain campaign drafted a statement giving the impression that the Palins were “giddy, happy to be grandparents,” she said. That wasn’t the message she wanted to deliver: Palin saw it as an opportunity “to tackle the problem of teen pregnancy in America” — but the statement was released as is, regardless.

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Now that the campaign is over, though, she’s free to deliver her intended message by way of her 19-year-old daughter: “[Bristol's] only public mission is to remind her sisters and other girls, her peers, that there are consequences to unprotected sex. She’s saying, ‘Girls, wait, your entire future will change if you become pregnant.’” She continued with the wholesome, family-values tack by extolling Bristol’s virtues as a mom (at the same time she acknowledged the 19-year-old has it easier than a lot of other teenage moms) and calling into question the paternal devotion of her grandson’s father, Levi Johnston. She scored additional family-friendly points for calling it “heartbreaking” to see Johnston, who is posing nude for Playgirl, doing “aspiring porn.”

Of course, she also mentioned her son Trig, a special needs child. This is where Palin actually deviated from her usual script — but only for a brief moment. When she learned Trig had Down syndrome, she admits in her book that abortion came to mind for a split second. It wasn’t “so much a consideration [of terminating her own pregnancy],” she told Oprah, “but an understanding of why a woman would go down that road of thinking that would be an easy way to handle that situation.” She quickly returned to her usual talking point about how it “solidified” her belief that “there are less than ideal circumstances in many of our lives … but [what matters is] how we plow through them.” Still, she delayed delivering the news to her husband for three weeks.

In addition to Oprah’s softballs, Monday’s episode treated us to vignettes of Palin in her natural habitat of Wasilla, Alaska: We were shown the mother of five getting pumped for a step aerobics class at the gym; the whole Palin gang getting together to make candy apples for Halloween; and 8-year-old Piper trick-or-treating as her mother trails behind in the family station wagon and rolls down the window to shout, “Good job!” Toward the end of the show, Palin shrewdly squeezed in a mention of how as a stay-at-home mom she got to watch Oprah every afternoon and found her an inspiring example of “a normal American woman with a lot on your plate” — you know, just like Palin, a totally average American woman. This comparison is rendered rather terrifying when you consider that Palin refused to answer a question about whether it was true that she would be getting her very own talk show.

At least broadcasting that rumored talk show from the White House doesn’t seem to be a priority: Oprah asked whether Palin was considering a run for president in 2012 and she said it isn’t even on her “radar screen” and added, “You don’t need a title to make a difference.” Here’s hoping she sticks with that political philosophy.

Tracy Clark-Flory
Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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