11.16.09

The All-New Sarah Palin

She was approachable and full of pep. She spoke in coherent sentences. Yep, the former Alaska governor’s appearance on Oprah was a slam-dunk—despite a few flashes of the old Sarah Barracuda.

Xtra Insight: Watch the 7 Best Moments from Palin’s Oprah Interview

Never has Sarah Palin appeared so comfortable in her own skin on national television as she did Monday afternoon on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She spoke in clear, easily diagrammable sentences—none of those weird locutions about Putin rearing his head somewhere in the stratosphere over the Aleutian Islands. She was approachable and full of pep. And even with that percussive laugh—the raucous call of an exotic plumed bird during mating season, perhaps—she displayed an appealingly mordant sense of humor.

Sarah looked fly in her tailored blue-green jacket, her pleasing face with those sky-high cheekbones framed by those rimless glasses (no superfluous vanity here!) and a Rapunzel-like profusion of chestnut hair with expensively done blond highlights. Would you a buy a ghostwritten book from this woman? Absolutely, you would!

Oprah asked: “What happens when he comes to see the baby?” Sarah—metaphorical gobbets of Levi’s flesh in her jaws—answered: “He’s quite busy with his media tours and he hasn’t seen the baby for a while.”

When Oprah pressed Sarah on her flubbed what-do-you-read answer in that infamous campaign interview more than a year ago with Katie Couric, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate and abruptly retired Alaska governor gave her most persuasive and coherent explanation to date.

“By the time she asked me that question,” Sarah told Oprah, “I was already so annoyed, and it was very unprofessional of me to wear that annoyance on my sleeve…To me, it was more in the context of ‘Do you read?’ ‘How do you stay informed?’…It seemed like she was discovering some nomadic tribe—a member of a tribe from some Neanderthal cave up in Alaska.”

Sarah went on: “We had just come off the amazing rally, workin’ the rope line…these energized, awesome people! I’m pumped up—just over-the-top pumped up with energy and so happy! And we’re running backstage and my friend Betsy, she opens the curtain for me to get backstage—and there’s The Perky One again with the microphone and the cameras rolling.”

“The Perky One,” Oprah chimed in. “You mean Katie.”

“With all due respect,” Sarah agreed with a winning grin, getting a rare round of laughter from the studio audience.

“You’re pretty perky, too!” Oprah noted.

Yep. Perky as all get-out—and not in the measured, self-conscious manner of a politician looking toward some future campaign, but in the enjoyably distracting, natural way of a daytime talk-show host, charming viewers between commercials for feminine products and fast-food joints.

Vanessa Friedman: What Palin’s Clothes Reveal

Conor Friedersdorf: Palin’s Fatal 2012 Flaw
There were moments when by all appearances it was just two daytime talk-show hosts sittin’ around talkin’. “Oprah, you are the queen of talk shows—there’s nothing for you to worry about,” Sarah joked when Oprah asked if she should be concerned about the competition. Fun, relaxed chick-chat, if you will—a warm feeling enhanced by B-roll, obtained by Oprah’s crack production team on a trek all the way to Wasilla, of Sarah making caramel apples with her family in the kitchen, working out in the local gym, handing off Trig to Todd, and trick-or-treating with Piper. Good times.

Except when, inevitably, Sarah Barracuda showed up, rearing her head—just like ol’ Putin!—and baring her bleached white teeth. Come to think of it, it was more Great White than Barracuda. The metaphorical shark attack came when Oprah turned the conversation to Sarah’s former future son-in-law, Levi Johnston, the estranged baby daddy with Sarah’s teenage daughter Bristol. And just when Sarah was beginning to be so likable. Dang!

Tina Brown: Sarah Palin, the Musical

More Daily Beast contributors on Palin’s book tour.
At first it looked as if Sarah wasn’t even going to go there—that sanity and dignity had suddenly prevailed. “I think that because so much of the discussion with Levi has to do with his most beautiful baby boy, Tripp, my grandson, and Tripp’s future,” Sarah said, “I don’t think a national television show is the place to discuss some of the things that he’s doing and saying.”

But that was just a predatory feint before the kill. “And by the way, I don’t know if we call him ‘Levi’—I hear he goes by the name ‘Ricky Hollywood’ now. If that’s the case, we don’t want to mess up this gig he’s got goin’. This aspiring porn—some of the things that he’s doin’…I call it porn. It’s kinda heartbreaking…to see the road that he’s on right now.”

Oprah asked: “What happens when he comes to see the baby?”

Sarah—metaphorical gobbets of Levi’s flesh in her jaws—answered: “He’s quite busy with his media tours and he hasn’t seen the baby for a while, but let that be the discussion between Bristol and Levi as they work out their relationship—because Levi will forever be the father of this most beautiful baby, and I continue to hope for the best and to pray for Levi.”

Never mind Going Rogue. This was going to the dark side.

Next up—Sarah releases her id to maraud and pillage the countryside in a multipart, market-segmented interview with Barbara Walters!

Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.