No one, least of all John McCain himself, expected David Letterman to go easy on the Republican nominee for president Thursday night. The whole reason McCain was there, after all, was because Letterman has been savaging him regularly ever since the senator backed out of a scheduled "Late Show" appearance a couple of weeks ago. (Wisely, McCain didn't even try to offer an explanation for that beyond, "I screwed up.") But the extent to which Letterman hammered McCain on the choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate was somewhat less expected, and wholly delightful. First, the host asked point-blank, "If she had been a man, would you have selected him?" and after McCain gave the only possible answer to that question ("Absolutely, absolutely"), Letterman asked him how, exactly, V.P. candidates are chosen. Is it a committee effort, or "is it just you going through your phone book?" Hee.
Letterman pressed on, asking McCain more than once if he truly believed that Palin would be fit to lead the country in the event of another 9/11, and finally taking up Palin's "Obama pals around with terrorists" comments. In addition to pointing out that McCain has himself palled around with Watergate mastermind G. Gordon Liddy, Letterman focused on Palin's assertion that Obama has a relationship with terrorists, plural. "OK, we'll give her William Ayers. [Obama] was 8, and William Ayers was 29. But they palled around," said Dave. But terrorists? At that point, as Alex Koppelman noted in War Room this morning, the line of questioning "was successful enough that McCain was finally forced to sputter, 'There's millions of words said in the campaign. Come on!'"
McCain's defenses of Palin were largely predictable. She's "absolutely" qualified to lead. No, no one has ever spoken of removing her from the campaign. She has inspired Americans and represents the kind of change we need, etc. (Is it just me, or is using the same rhetoric about Palin that has been used to promote Obama all along a little risky at this point? Does McCain really want voters considering who best inspires Americans and represents change?) But I was most struck by one of his answers toward the beginning, when he was attempting to describe who Palin really is. After a few seconds of familiar crap about her experience and basic decency, he shifted into a breathless description of how awesome Todd Palin is for having won a 2,000-mile race across Alaska (well, I'm convinced!) and then tacked on, "They have a very special child." (My uncharitable, knee-jerk response: "You mean Trig or Bristol?") Never mind that the night before, he'd seemed unclear on what makes that particular child so special, arguing that Palin "understands what it's like to have an autistic child." Autism, Down syndrome, tomato, tomahto! Who cares -- point is, special-needs baby! Special-needs baby and big, tough husband! Here's a tip, McCain: When you're trying to diminish the impression that your choice of running mate was equally cynical and sexist, you might not want to describe her almost solely in terms of her husband and child.