Columns 2009

There’s Alaska women and then there’s Palin

I spent this past week with a couple of my heroes. Both are Alaskan women who make it clear that being an Alaskan woman means being independent, strong, inquisitive and intellectually restless until the day you die.

Charlotte, my friend in Homer, is closing in on 90 years old. She and I nursed together in Barrow. Then she moved to a cabin in Homer where she had to ski to her mailbox long after the age at which I can barely walk to mine. As her body aged and betrayed her with its limitations, it looked as though she might end her days in California.

But no one checked with Charlotte when the discussion of her staying in California happened. Or, if they did, they didn’t hear the steel in her voice when she said she was coming back to Alaska, coming back to Homer, coming back to the place she loves above all else. So she pulled herself together, did the physical therapy required with a vengeance, and today sits in an assisted living apartment in Homer where she can see Alaska from her window.

If you go to visit her, I’d suggest you not walk slowly for her sake. She will just yell at you to walk faster because she has a beer waiting for her at lunch and she doesn’t want it to get warm.

On Saturday I went to a memorial service for my friend from Bird TLC, Barbara Doak. We released an eagle in her honor and people spoke of what she meant to them. This quintessentially Alaskan woman, like my friend Charlotte, raised her children as a single mom when the world portrayed family life only as an Ozzie and Harriet episode. Barbara lived life on her own terms, staying young and nimble in mind even as her body grew old. Her children were there – three children, three PhD’s – each proof of the intellectual curiosity that comes from a mother who thought that algae in a pond was more fascinating than the pabulum on TV and passed that searching curiosity on to her children.

It was as I basked in the glow that these women cast that our governor decided to pick a fight with David Letterman over a tasteless joke he made that would have been forgotten as soon as it was said except for her seemingly insane decision to make a big deal out of it.

Now before you start typing those e-mails to me, let me assure you that I do not care for tasteless jokes about sex among any combination of peoples, let alone teenage girls. But I must also add that I do not normally turn to late night television to see my standards of taste upheld. David Letterman is an acquired taste and continues on late night TV because he doesn’t mainstream well.  If he did, he’d be competing at 10 PM against Jay Leno this fall.

Once again I found my governor on the receiving end of endless commentary and debate between such national media stalwarts as Entertainment Tonight, Extra and Access Hollywood.  Her children, who she claims to go all momma bearish trying to protect, are again tossed about on the waves of celebrity gossip and call in talk show hot lines thanks to the attention she brought to them.

If Palin really wants to protect her children, she needs to start by taking them out of the equation and out of the debate. When you have your 18-year-old crisscrossing the country carrying a baby and speaking out for abstinence only sex education, you make her fair game for pundits, jokesters and late night hosts looking for a cheap laugh. As for her 14 year old, I’m betting most Americans had forgotten her name until Palin brought it up again in this little tawdry dust up. You can’t use your children to get a headline and then declare them off limits when there is a response. 

It seems to me that any credibility Palin gets as a national political figure is destroyed every time she is the subject of an E Weekend news update. If you have any doubt about that, check out what happened to Bill Clinton’s credibility post Monica Lewinski. He had none.