Live, from New York: It's Palin and Beck!

Fox's newest contributor sits down for a wide-ranging and sometimes bizarre chat with its hottest star

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 14, 2010 2:55AM (EST)

Somewhere, deep in the human genome, there's a code for a disturbing little trait that all too many of us share. Maybe there's some vital evolutionary reason for it, but at this point, it just comes down to this: The vast majority of us, passing a car wreck, can't resist the urge to stop and stare. How else do you explain the traffic on I-95? How do you explain so much of our entertainment today, built as it is upon the metaphorical sort of car accidents: Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, MTV's "Jersey Shore"?

Or, say, the combination of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.

The two were face-to-face for the first time ever on Wednesday, brought together by Palin's having just joined Fox News as a contributor on Monday. Colleague Bill O'Reilly got the first crack at the former Alaska governor in a prime-time interview on Tuesday, but now it was Beck's turn. And he'd put together something special for his guest. The interview wasn't held in the normal studio, but in a restaurant down on the tip of Manhattan -- ironically, one that serves that most Communist of salad greens, arugula -- so that the Statue of Liberty, out in the water not far away, could be constantly seen over his shoulder.

Beck had made this choice, he explained, because of what the statue symbolized. There was no time for anyone to stop and think: "What it represents? Oh, you mean mass immigration?" though, because the two had much bigger and even sillier fish to fry.

Like Beck's diary. Sure, it read like a parody of what an overeager teenager might think he or she was supposed to include in it, but the host still felt he needed to read Palin the entry he said he'd written the night before, which went as follows:

Tomorrow I meet Sarah Palin and her family for the first time. I'm actually a little nervous, as she is one of the only people that I can see that can possibly lead us out of where we are. I don't know yet if she's strong enough, if she's well-enough advised or if she knows she can no longer trust anyone. I don't know if she can lead and not lose her soul. That is where I'd like to go for the next hour: Find out if this is the woman that can lead us and not lose her soul.

Though Palin's face seemed to betray a bit of displeasure at hearing parts of this read to her on national television, its themes ended up being the basis for much of the interview. The pair focused a concept of a reluctant politician, one who doesn't really want power but will accept it if the people cry out for them to take it. Could this just be a ploy, a hint that if Palin does run for president, she'll try the astroturf "draft" campaign route more than a few politicians have gone before? Well, maybe.

"I would be perfectly happy to go back to Wasilla, Alaska with my five children and my grandson and raise a happy, healthy family, loving the great outdoors, doing the things that we do in Alaska," Palin said at one point. "But if I believe that in some capacity I can help this great nation, I'm gonna be willing to sacrifice and to change some things in my lifestyle in order to serve. That doesn't have to mean, though, top dog -- it doesn't have to entail having any kind of title."

Palin and Beck had come to this point because of a somewhat odd exchange they'd just had, one that started when the host asked his guest to name her favorite Founding Father. It seemed, for a time, as if Palin was reprising the infamous answer she gave when Katie Couric asked her what publications she reads and she responded, "all of them." That's exactly the answer Palin gave Beck at first, too. But when he pressed her, jokingly saying, "that's bullcrap," she settled on George Washington, since he'd been the Founding Fathers' leader. And she made it clear she knew at least a little about him, too.

"He didn't want to be a king. He returned power to the people, then he went back to Mt. Vernon, he went back to his farm. He was almost reluctant to serve as president, too," Palin said, adding, "And that’s who you need to find to serve in government, in a bureaucracy, those who you know will serve for the right reasons, because they're reluctant to get out there and seek a limelight and seek power, they're doing it for the people."

Of course, just because they'd been focusing on reluctant politicians didn't mean Palin and Beck couldn't make the exact opposite point when it served their purposes. Of healthcare reform, the former governor said, "When incumbents are even willing to give up their power, their seat, when they're saying, 'Hey, if it costs me my seat in Congress, it costs me my seat in Congress, I'm going to cram this thing through anyway,' that's a scary, scary thing to consider."

Did that have much internal logic, or any at all? Not really. But that didn't matter, because Beck was there to save her: "It's not if they're doing it on principles," he said. But principles and Democrats aren't two things that go together in his show's world, so he added, "It is if they're doing it for bribes, money, power, positions," something he regularly tells his audience they are.

That wasn't the only time a discussion of healthcare reform, or of the Obama administration, went off the rails. Referring, as always, back to himself, Beck took Palin briefly through his theory that the administration is deliberately trying to "spend us into oblivion" before asking if she agreed. This was the response:

I do. I do believe that -- because again, Glenn, we can't be so stupid as to not see these common-sense solutions: "Hey, government, quit thinking that the solution to the healthcare problem today is for government to take it over and run a system better than the private sector system." We see something like that, we scratch our heads and say, "Well, what are we missing?" It's a ridiculous notion that the White House has to take over healthcare and think that they can run it better. We cannot be missing something so blatantly -- it has to be purposeful, what they are doing. Otherwise, otherwise I would say, Glenn, that there is no hope, that there are no solutions.

For the record, of course, Democrats' efforts to change the healthcare system are probably purposeful -- you don't normally write a thousand-plus page bill by accident. Also, technically, telling government that it doesn't have a solution should probably not, by itself, count as a solution. But these are little details.

Besides, we already know what Palin and Beck would say upon reading the previous paragraph. That's because they also spent a good bit of the show complaining about their status as victims of liberal haters. But they did get an opportunity to mock some of those critics towards the end of the show, when they offered themselves up to NBC as co-hosts of "Saturday Night Live."

Palin, to her credit, was sure that NBC would be smart enough to take them up on the offer and watch the ratings roll in. Beck, though, was convinced that the network's left-wing bias would be too strong, that they would never say yes. But that's probably just his conspiracy theorist heart at work. NBC was, after all, dumb enough to bring Jay Leno back to his old 11:35 time slot; surely, it wouldn't need any political reason to make the mistake of turning down what would no doubt be the best smoking wreck on television for a night.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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