The USO has long sent performers overseas on goodwill tours to entertain our troops. This week, some domestic equivalents are getting underway.
Now that the Olympics and political conventions are behind us and a new television season's about to begin, everyone's hitting the road to sell something: national pride, a network dramedy, balance beam perkiness, or a vision for America.
For example, with the intense glare of their extended Gloria Swanson closeup burned into America's retinas, the U.S. gymnastics team is embarking on a nationwide victory lap. They're visiting dozens of cities in a Summer Games equivalent of the ice skating tour that traditionally follows the Winter Olympics.
Elsewhere in the five-ring scene, a patriotic Oprah Winfrey welcomed Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant, Dara Torres and 170 other medal-winning athletes to Chicago for a celebratory season premiere of her show, which aired today. The jingoistic lovefest at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park also served as a de facto hour-long commercial for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid.
As for Phelps, despite his compelling personal story and record-breaking Beijing performance, his sport isn't watchable enough to justify an exhibition tour. At least he'll book enough commercials and speaking engagements that he'll never have to work again (did he ever before?). He's also hosting the season premiere of Saturday Night Live.
On the political front, having staged their conventions and enjoyed their respective poll bumps, the candidates for national office and their spouses are on the road this week peddling their wares.
Some of it's soft soap, e.g. Michelle Obama's forthcoming visit to the safe-as-milk Ellen DeGeneres Show, a nonthreatening, cuddly platform from which to reassure middle America that she's not Angela Davis.
There's also some heavy lifting going on, such as the $4 million pile of gold nuggets John McCain picked up today at a fundraiser here in Chicago. Both presidential candidates' incessant check-cashing constitutes a different sort of Goodwill tour.
A word about Sarah Palin. She was widely lauded last week by the GOP establishment for giving a decent speech at the Republican National Convention, delivering some passable one-liners and landing a few swipes at Barack Obama.
Really? Is it that impressive that after being groomed and rehearsed for a week by the best speechwriters money could rent, she ended up with a pretty good speech at her national coming-out party? Wouldn't it have been more of a story if she'd failed to deliver a crowd pleaser?
Yes, she did read well from a teleprompter and look good. This qualifies her for a spot on the NBC5 news team, not so much a gig as the understudy to the leader of the free world.
Overlooked in Palin's beauty queen résumé and colorful history is the fact that she's currently the subject of a state ethics investigation for apparently firing Alaska's public safety commissioner because he refused to fire a state trooper who'd divorced her sister. More broadly, her record as Alaska's governor ranges from unimpressive to troubling.
A prop-betting website in Ireland is already laying 5 to 1 odds that Palin will be off the ticket by Election Day. They could be right.
McCain, feeling the winds of change blowing across America and dreading an Obama landslide, tried to stem the tide by picking a different sort of vice presidential candidate. Unfortunately the different he was going for was "female" but the different he went with was "massively unqualified."
Team McCain is so concerned about a Palin gaffe that they cloistered her away in a hyperbaric star chamber as soon as their convention ended, refusing all interview requests and intensively prepping her for the oncoming media firestorm. She'll face plenty of interviewers on the campaign trail but none will be the aforementioned Oprah, who's already said no thanks to a Palin visit.
Say what you will about people like Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, and there's plenty to say, but the fact is that each of these men has forged a career of some distinction. The same is true of who knows how many Republican women. I'm sure they're all thrilled that they got passed over for the likes of Sarah Palin.
She would do well to stay in Alaska, try to get her state turned around and take care of all those kids (she has five: Trig, Calc, Track, Cross Country and Juno). As Triumph the Insult Comic Dog pointed out, she may be just 11 years away from becoming a great-grandmother.
For all of Barack Obama's talk of bringing America together, John McCain beat him to the punch. He's managed to unite this entire country in common dread of the chilling specter that Sarah Palin could conceivably become our president.
So much for goodwill.