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Palin-Letterman: Culture Wars Redux?

By Friday afternoon, there were more than 7.3 million Google entries responding to the search terms "Letterman Palin." No surprise there. This dustup has been the talk of the town all week.

Will anybody remember it by next week?

Probably not, though it's making for great theatre in the meantime.

In part, that's because of the personalities involved. Palin, the hottest celebrity in the Republican firmament and Letterman, the late night talk show host (and my fellow CBS employee) who lampooned the Alaska governor during his standup routine Tuesday night.

Letterman, a famously edgy comic, has since acknowledged that his wisecracking may have been in poor taste but maintains that he the popular conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, offered the single word headline, "Perv." Not much more to add there.

Now the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, has floated the idea of an informal boycott of the late night comedian's show..

So much for heading into a peaceful weekend.

But this isn't the first time one of these emotionally-charged issues have elbowed their way onto center stage of the national political debate. Most, thankfully, don't stick after a few news cycles and we can get back to more important matters - like debating the metaphysical importance of Susan Boyle. Do you remember the Murphy Brown controversy when Dan Quayle was vice president? If you need to look it up in Wikipedia, I've made my case.

Still, there's a chance that the Palin-Letterman dustup may enjoy a longer lasting shelf life in the pantheon of left-right instant "controversies." To many conservatives, Letterman and his urban cool sensibility represent the epitome of a continuing culture clash where snobbish elites on the two coasts continually look down on the rubes who make up the vast majority of (red) America. Palin supporters are still sore at those same elites for their ridicule of Palin's candidacy during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The appeal to populism has worked for different presidential candidates over the decades, but less so in the 2008 election. The closest we got to anything resembling the culture wars redux may have been Joe the Plumber's 15 minutes of fame. The electorate was more concerned with the economy and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but the public's attention span is famously fickle. Palin, who is the best thing the Republicans have going right now, has got bigger ambitions than handing out medals at the Iditarod.

Who knows? Maybe David Letterman just did her the biggest favor he could - outside of a couple of tickets to the "Late Show," that is.

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