Jon Swaine in Washington April 04, 2012
On the couch ... Sarah Palin co-hosts NBC's Today show. Photo: Reuters
Having humbly declared last month that she "wouldn't close the door" on becoming the Republican nominee for President of the United States, Sarah Palin took to a New York television studio yesterday (Tuesday) to address a suitably urgent national crisis.
"We're gonna talk about everything," Mrs Palin told viewers of NBC. "Including what I consider to be some unfair criticism of Jessica Simpson and her weight gain during pregnancy."
So began the historic hour in which the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential nominee appeared as a "guest co-host" on Today, America's most-watched breakfast show.
The task mischievously pitted her against Katie Couric, of ABC's rival Good Morning America, whose excruciating interviews of Mrs Palin during the 2008 campaign did so much to discredit the "pit bull in lipstick".
In a nod to the ruinous moment when she was unable to give Ms Couric the name of a single newspaper or magazine that she liked to read, we first met Mrs Palin with her head buried in the morning's headlines. Then she pretended to be scribbling notes on her hand, gesturing to another 2008 gaffe when she was caught doing just that.
There was something terribly sad about these self-consciously comedic set-ups. Four years after she arrived on the national stage - and just months after she was still considered likely to run for the White House - Mrs Palin's celebrity remains based almost entirely on the blunders she made during those faltering early days.
She remains brilliantly uncouth, however. Told that she was going to be taking part in the programme's regular feature, Today's Professionals, and asked whether she had seen it before and knew what it entailed, Mrs Palin shrugged. "I watch Fox," she said.
When the segment on weight gain in pregnancy arrived, Mrs Palin was asked by Matt Lauer, the programme's $US17 million-a-year host, how she would have responded to a critic of her own figure while she was expecting.
"I woulda wanted to punch 'em in the neck," she said.
And once she shook off her evident nervousness, Mrs Palin - dressed in a sober black trousers-and-top outfit decorated with a multicoloured scarf and huge stars-and-stripes brooch - did a passable job of chewing over the show's fluffy staples.
"There's a fine line between wanting to be your child's friend, the cool Mom or Dad, and being a good parent," she said in a chat about raising teenagers. A new Facebook app allowing users to highlight their enemies was only "adding more darkness to our world".
But her discussion of the Republican presidential race that is proceeding without her was a sharp reminder of the (relatively) serious political world from which she has apparently departed. "Anyone but Obama," she said when asked if she backed Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner. "America is at a crossroads right now," she said. "If not Romney", the party "will coalesce around" whomever it chooses.
"National experience or not", her successor as vice-presidential nominee is "going to get clobbered by the lamestream media", she said, clearly still sore from her own day in the sun.
Instead, Mrs Palin had to be satisfied filling slots between pop singer Carnie Wilson telling viewers: "I'm morbidly obese - I'm so obese that I could die", and the washed-up Beverly Hills 90210 star Tori Spelling wandering, pregnant, around a range of her favourite party foods. By the end, both Lauer and Ann Curry, his co-host, felt compelled to tell Mrs Palin: "You did a great job!" Then again, Lauer pointed out, she had been a newsreader in Alaska before entering politics. "Back in the Stone Age," Mrs Palin joked. It appeared yesterday that her career may have taken an unwelcome trip back in time.
The Daily Telegraph, London