Column: “Palin: I Can Take Her”

Rocky Mountain News, September 29, 2008

Is V.P. Hopeful Up for this Battle?

When I first saw the photo of Alaska Governor and V.P.-nominee Sarah Palin with the North-Face Jacket and the caribou she had just shot, my reaction was probably different than that of most Americans.

I didn’t think, “Man, that plucky frontierswoman is going to hand the Washington establishment a can of whup-ass.”

I didn’t think: “Wow, she’s raising four kids and slashing state budgets, and she’s still got time to shoot a caribou, conceive a fifth child and run marathons too!”

I didn’t even think: “My, that poor caribou didn’t know what he was up against.”

No, the first thought that went through my head was far more narcissistic than that. Here’s what I thought: I wonder if I can take her.

See, we outdoorswomen are competitive. We don’t like to see other chicks out-tough us. When another woman bombs past me on her road bike, I get ornery. Fine, if it’s a man, so long as he looks reasonably fit and is under the age of 75. But a woman–that pisses me off.

And I suspect, given the supermom, chef-spurning, moose-dressing, giant-slaying, hungry-like-a-wolf, crazy-like-a-fox governor thing she’s got going, that Sarah feels the same way.

Now I don’t mean I’d take her on literally, mano a mano, O.K.-Corral-style-because she shoots large quadrupeds, and I don’t, so to actually go at it with our weapons of choice would be sort of like-well, like bringing a gun to a mountain bike race. Not a fair contest.

So how do you compare her apples to my oranges? How do you measure the relative toughness of shooting moose versus, say, skiing something really steep?

One option would be a Michael Jordan v. Mia Hamm, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better, hoops-soccer-fencing-sprinting-kung-fu contest. I’m up for it, but I imagine Sarah’s got better things to do. (For the record, I don’t.)

No, I’m talking about a metaphorical competition-a pros-and-cons spreadsheet smackdown. Like this:

Sarah: shot and skinned a moose.
Hannah: saw three moose in the wild.
Advantage: Sarah.

Sarah: travels on snow with the help of a carbon-belching two-stroke engine.
Hannah: travels on snow on her skis, with the help of no man and no machine.
Advantage: Hannah (unless you actually need to get somewhere).

Sarah: big hair.
Hannah: greasy hair.
Advantage: even steven.

Sarah: runs a 3:59 marathon
Hannah: a nagging iliotibial band injury precludes any runs farther than four miles.
Advantage: Sarah.

Sarah’s basketball nickname: Barracuda
Hannah’s (self-anointed) extreme-skiing nickname: Chainsaw
Advantage: Nicknames? Really?

Sarah: had a tanning bed installed in the Gov.’s mansion.
Hannah: wears lots of sunscreen and still gets a tan the natural way, out on the trails.
Advantage: Hannah.

That’s a wash, by my calculations. Even the most accomplished armchair quarterback would be hard-pressed to say whether Sarah is a tougher mountain mama than I am.

But here’s where I think I have an advantage.

Sarah grew up in the mountains and wants to go to Washington. I grew up in Washington, right on Capitol Hill-just six blocks from the Capitol building in fact, where Sarah Palin would, as Vice President, break any tie votes in the Senate-and I moved to the mountains at the first possible opportunity.

Sarah Palin lives on the shore of a breathtaking lake, at the base of a magnificent mountain, in the heart of our country’s last great wilderness, a place that is kissed by sinuous mists, consecrated by jagged peaks and pristine glaciers, and populated by grizzly, caribou, moose and lots of folks wearing flannel and Carhartt.

Washington is full of asphalt, diesel buses, soulless marble edifices, near-biblical traffic, crumbling infrastructure, men in dark pinstripes, women in power-red skirt-suits, rabid squirrels, calculating wonks, activist judges, and an eternal, torpid, smog-filled haze.

Who in their right mind would trade Alaska’s majesty for the soul-leaching corridors of power? Who would trade Wasilla for Washington? Walmart work boots for Talbot’s skirt-suits? A snow machine for Air Force Two?

Sarah would, and for those of us who take our high-country hard-living seriously, this is the ultimate defection. Sarah, apparently, has gone corporate.

Skirt suits? I think I can take her.