What struck me about Sarah Palin’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” was that it was so subdued: Gone were her “Fargo”-esque turns of phrase, the homespun slang and the biting comments of the campaign trail.
It reminded me of the first time I saw Palin live and in person, back in March in Westwood, when she was interviewed along with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano by Newsweek’s Karen Breslau. This Sarah Palin was more serious and less combative, but more importantly there were few expressions, if any, of “doggone it” or “betcha.” She used “g”s at the ends of most words. Like she did on “SNL,” she seemed to bristle when there was a mention of her pageant days. Earlier on that March day, she had been interviewed by a Los Angeles TV station, and, knowing little about Alaskan politics, the anchors grilled her about her experience as a beauty queen, and she seemed to fear that she’s come across as a lightweight unless she talked about energy and reform.
Palin’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” was a function of the script — which wasn’t all that great — and what she needed to do: Simply prove that she could take a joke, even when Alec Baldwin called her “That horrible woman.” She was the one offering deadpan to the punchlines around her. That in itself may energize her adherents, who will see it as a sign of strength in the face of late night comedy stacked against her.
Just as both Bushes have traded Ivy League upbringings for Texas cowboy speak, Palin seems to have amplified her own Alaskan-speak as an electoral strategy. Her colloquialisms designed to give her the ordinary touch are endearing to some and unnerving to others , but they are not necessarily the way that she regularly talks. That’s why Palin may have scored points for gamesmanship, but she didn’t win back her identity. The strongest performer on “Saturday Night Live” was still Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, and in many ways, she played Palin better than Palin could play herself.