It's come down to this. I swear to God, this is what Rick Sanchez said on CNN earlier this afternoon: "Does Sarah Palin going on 'Oprah" signal the start of the 2012 presidential campaign?" Somehow I missed that article of the U.S. Constitution -- is it before or after the section about the electoral college?
Anyway, I wasn't able to watch the Palin-Oprah gabfest, so I can't really comment on her style or much of the substance. I do know, from the endless news accounts and dissections on talk radio, that these are some of the things that were aked and talked about during this supposed opening salvo in picking a possible 45th president of the United States. The questions included several about the wayward father of Palin's grandson, Levi Johnston, and his appearance in Playgirl, what it was like being interviewed by Katie Couric, a lot of inside-baseball, backstage machinations with the McCain campaign, work-life balance, even the state of her marriage -- anything, apparently, that wasn't the State of the Union.
Some of the responsibility falls on Oprah Winfrey, obviously, as the interviewer -- although in fairness to Oprah I'd note that a) she was giving her daytime, apolitical audience the gossipy red meat it tuned in to hear and more importantly b) she asked Palin questions that were substance-free because ever since the last imploding days of her campaign for vice president, Palin herself has been pretty substance-free, walking away from a governor's job that could have been an incubator -- albeit a risky one -- for new policy ideas and then writing a book that certainly isn't making news for any new ideas for making America a better place for its citizens.
It wasn't always this way. Check out the topics the first time that a presidential candidate appeared on an entertainment-oriented TV show, when John F. Kennedy went on NBC's "Tonight Show" with Jack Parr in June 1960, as recounted by Frank Rich:
On June 16, 1960, Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in a natty suit, sat next to the brilliant and much-mourned Jack Paar on NBC's ''Tonight Show'' and fielded more than 30 minutes' worth of questions from his host, the droll comedian Peggy Cass and the New York studio audience. The subjects were the U-2 incident, the failed Soviet summit, Cuba and ''the Catholic question.'' Mr. Paar tried to elicit a laugh only once, asking the senator to recall amusing anecdotes from the primary campaign trail. Kennedy was stumped, and when his one example (''I was made an honorary Indian'') landed with a thud, the two men scampered back for safety to the cold war.
Is it a slam dunk that things were so much better in the good old days? Not totally; as Rich points out, the interview went too far to the other extreme of dullness and earnestness, and the format allowed JFK -- who was eager to prove his policy heft to a nation that was worried he was too young for the White House -- to offer dry, canned answers. Still, you'd like to think there's a middle ground here in 2009, that there'd be some room in an hour-long interview for at least a little chatter about the nation and the world, and less about this endless soap opera that could be entitled "Palin Place."
Unless maybe this really wasn't the kickoff of the 2012 presidential campaign, after all.