I know this goes way back to Thursday night, and I should be more on top of things here, but, hell, I was in a bar in Deer Lake Newfoundland with the Rent-A Goalie cast. Whore-a Nora was there, rubbing up against everything but the pop machine, for Pete's sake. Langers mom was on her game, breaking up everybody in the house.
But last Thursday night, David Letterman's transformation from Captain Irony into Captain America took another broad leap.
If you missed it, here is a YouTube clip of some of the heat from Thursday's long-awaited visit from Sen. John McCain:
Certainly McCain knew he was in for a roasting, hence the "flack jacket" remark. Letterman has been huffing and puffing ever since McCain ditched him two weeks ago. But checkout his expression after Letterman sandbagged the senator with the G. Gordon Liddy zinger. That was a gotcha moment unlike any seen in any of the three presidential debates.
For Letterman, clearly, the gloves are off. While he's careful to declare himself a registered independent voter up front, not wanting to appear to be in anybody's camp, he is on a mission to convince America to embrace Barack Obama, or at least to choose change and vote for the smart guy and not for another four years of a backyard BBQ buddy for president.
Look at Letterman's guest list the last two months: Keith Olbermann, NBC anchor Brian Williams, Bill Clinton--a parade of smart guys. The Late Show now spanks Bush right after the monologue every night with "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" bumped ahead into the first five minutes. Then there are those devastating "reports" from Sarah Palin and McCain dropped into the comedy slot each night:
Harsher, still, was the eye-popping way he ripped Bush a few weeks ago:
Following in the footsteps of his hero, Johnny Carson, Letterman has always walked the line between parody and partisanship. Carson was credited with helping to undermine the Nixon administration during the Watergate era with a steady series of monologue shots but he never went after a ticket prior to an election the way Letterman is all over McCain/Palin.
Carson, in fact, steered well clear of any political partisanship. A typical joke: Carson, as mind reader Carnac, reading one of those cards from that hermetically sealed jar: "A tongue, teeth and a foot." The question: "What's inside Ronald Reagan's mouth?
That's a long way from "didn't you once attend a fundraiser for G. Gordon Liddy?" Where Carson helped set the mood of America as it turned against Nixon, Letterman seems to be testing just how far he can drive public opinion. At 61, he seems unable or unwilling to suffer fools any longer, be they candidates or the American electorate. He must feel that there is no more time for subtleties in late night. What Carson once achieved with an eye role, Letterman now attempts with a sledge hammer. Is it working? Regardless, Letterman must feel the stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines. Watching him test the limits of his power is one of the more fascinating stories of this election.