Tina Fey Saves the Republic! Not to Mention Saturday Nights

By Elaine Liner Archives
Cover image for  article: Tina Fey Saves the Republic! Not to Mention Saturday Nights

It’s too bad the Emmys have already come and gone. If they were on this Sunday, Tina Fey might well receive the standing ovation she deserves for her dead-on impersonation of Gov. Sarah Palin.

Heck, go ahead and send her another statuette—and maybe nominate her for a Congressional Medal of Freedom—for possibly saving the republic from the vice presidential candidate who now makes Dan Quayle look like a brilliant statesman.

Fey’s sketches as Palin are just what this presidential campaign season needs to de-bloviate all the lies and angry hyperbole coming from the McCain-Palin camp. Saturday Night Livehas often played a huge role in pointing out the foibles of political stumblers, starting with Chevy Chase falling all over the set as an accident-prone Gerald Ford back in the 1970s. Even this past Saturday they were still swinging at the Clintons. Notice how much bigger and purple Darrell Hammond’s Clinton nose is these days. Hammond’s Clinton still leers, but it’s over W.C. Fields-like gin-flowers now.

Through satire comes truth. Often truth that speaks to power in ways that a dull debate or op-ed column can’t. We laugh and then we think. And then we think, as in the case of the Fey-Palin sketches, good grief, this stuff is writing itself.

Literally. Much of SNL’s material for Fey’s bits comes directly from the transcripts of Palin’s interviews and public appearances. Whoever’s writing these sketches—I suspect Jim Downey, the show’s longtime political satirist—is brilliantly tossing back Palin’s gaffes nearly word-for-word. All Fey added to Palin’s rambling, nonsensical answer to Katie Couric’s question about Russia was the hilarious moment when Fey gulped and said, “I’d like to use one of my lifelines. I’d like to phone a friend.”

That punch line seemed to capture the moose-in-the-headlights panic that Palin gets whenever she’s asked…anything. She’s been schooled by the Rove-ian minions on McCain’s team to repeat the buzzwords and catchphrases—“maverick,” “terrorist” (which she pronounces “tear-iss) and “keep America safe”—instead of giving reasoned, intelligent answers that address the real issues. So far she’s the candidate-as-pageant-contestant, posing, smiling and then freezing up during the part that requires critical thinking.

Can’t help but believe that the SNL digs at Palin are contributing to the wave of discontent rising among the conservative faithful, notably former Palin supporter Kathleen Parker, a columnist who last week called for Palin to step aside and let a stronger veep candidate join the ticket. Watching the real Palin in network interviews with Couric and Charlie Gibson, “my cringe reflex is exhausted,” wrote Parker.

It was funny to hear Fey’s Palin talk about her trip to New York and that “goofy evolution museum” and how many “foreigners” work at the U.N. But real video footage is out there of Palin asserting that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time and of her being protected from witchcraft by a Kenyan evangelist who visited her Alaska church.

If Palin and McCain aren’t elected, she could step right into a job as a co-host for Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s new talk show on FoxNews or perhaps get a gig as a chirpy life coach on a reality-makeover show.

Clearly her makeover of the Republican ticket isn’t working. But it sure is making Saturday night TV a lot more fun.

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