There were no questions about the Bush doctrine, but Sarah Palin’s appearance Monday on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to promote her memoir looked less like a celebratory comeback than a redo of the presidential campaign.
For all her aplomb and telegenic charm, Ms. Palin still had the hunted look and defensive crouch she wore in television interviews with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson last year. And it would seem that the pain of those tongue-tied encounters was not exorcised by writing “Going Rogue: An American Life,” a tell-all book that blamed the McCain staff for the way it “handled” her on the trail.
When Ms. Winfrey pressed Ms. Palin about why she would not mention the names of newspapers or magazines she read when Ms. Couric asked her to, Ms. Palin said she found the CBS anchor’s persistence “annoying.” Still looking annoyed, she recalled how she left a rally “pumped up” and aglow, only to pull back the curtain and discover Ms. Couric waiting with camera and crew, or as she put it sourly, “There’s the perky one again.”
Ms. Winfrey, who didn’t hide her surprise at Ms. Palin’s impolitic wording, came to Ms. Couric’s defense, noting, “You’re pretty perky too.”
It was a surprisingly unsmooth performance for a politician-celebrity who insists that the McCain campaign stifled her spirit and smothered her natural talent for communication. But there were reasons for Ms. Palin to be wary: Ms. Winfrey was one of President Obama’s most prominent supporters during the campaign.
On the show Ms. Winfrey treated Ms. Palin the way she handled former child star and self-described incest victim Mackenzie Phillips — with guarded civility and thinly veiled skepticism.
Questions about her decision to quit her job as governor of Alaska, her handling of the infamous Couric interview and tabloid coverage of her family seemed to unnerve Ms. Palin. When Ms. Winfrey asked about her daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Levi Johnston, who has been saying unflattering things about Ms. Palin and may be shopping a book of his own, Ms. Palin tried, and failed, to stay on message. She began by saying that “national television is not the place” to air grievances against the father of her first grandchild, then proceeded to call him “Ricky Hollywood” and say that his plans to pose for Playgirl magazine amounted to “aspiring porn.”
When Ms. Winfrey asked if she would invite Mr. Johnston to Thanksgiving, Ms. Palin gave one of her trademark wandering answers.
“You know, that’s a great question,” Ms. Palin said. “And it’s lovely to think that he would ever even consider such a thing.”
She added: “He is a part of the family, and you want to bring him in the fold and kind of under your wing. And he needs that too, Oprah.”
There was more: “I think he needs to know that he is loved, and he has the most beautiful child, and this can all work out for good. It really can. We don’t have to keep going down this road of controversy and drama all the time. We’re not really into the drama. We don’t really like that.”
Finally Ms. Winfrey cut to the chase, asking, “Does that mean yes, he is coming, or no, he is not?” (Pressed, Ms. Palin said she would extend the invitation.)
Ms. Palin is obviously hurt and angry about the way Mr. Johnston has exploited his connections to convert fame into fortune, but there are other reasons for resentment. In the age of balloon dads and transformative reality television Ms. Palin has emerged as quintessentially American, in terms of the America of the moment. Her career gyrations, life and family continue to feed a spotlight-hungry media carnival. In some ways her almost son-in-law’s quick and callous cashing-in looks like a junior version of her own quickie book campaign.
The title of Ms. Palin’s book is “Going Rogue,” but her appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” mostly showed a politician-celebrity going for broke.
The New York Times