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'Mama Grizzly' Sarah Palin may be taking her nickname too seriously

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published August 21, 2011

When a grizzly bear rears up on its hind legs and roars at the end of Sarah Palin's latest un-commercial for president, it's hard to avoid wondering if maybe the former governor's ursine nonsense has gone too far. Is it possible that in some sort of weird, Timmy Treadwellian twist in the strange atmosphere of Alaska that the Wonder from Wasilla has actually come to believe she is the Mama Grizzly about which she has talked so much?

Up until the bear stands up, it should be noted, her "Iowa Passion" video is nothing less than absolutely masterful packaging of Palin as the "Miller Light" of American politics. As a camera scurries across the down-home gorgeous Iowa State Fair, actors, apparently unpaid, sing Palin's praises as "a normal person just like every one of us," and then the non-candidate herself foams out of the can onto the screen all a-fizz because "doggone it, there is no faith given to the American people."

Can you say "tastes great, less filling?" Here comes the every-woman candidate, not one of those bitter tasting, heavy-on-the-policy, hard-on-the-head, bet-you-can't-drink-more-than-one intellectual brews like Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich. If you're a fan of American beer commercials, this one has you hooked before the end, and then that massive bear stands up to roar against what could be an Iowa sky.

A grizzly bear in Iowa? No way. But a grizzly bear in Palin? Well, maybe.

A grizzly takeover of the Palin psyche would help explain a lot of the odd behavior of the governor who quit her office in a huff at half term. Grizzlies are notoriously unpredictable in some things and completely predictable in others. Grizzlies predictably grab for salmon the way Palin grabbed for cash. Grizzlies, especially female ones, are always unpredictable in their encounters with strangers, like Palin. She's tried to maul more than one Alaskan she perceived to be a threat.

Here, in the interest of full disclosure, I am probably required to disclose my personal experience with Mama Grizzlies, too. I once had to shoot one off my ankle, because Mama Grizzlies are prone to extremely bad judgment. This one attacked because her foolish cubs decided to follow me and got too close. All of which was their fault and not hers, which is why I really didn't want to shoot the Mama Grizzly and didn't until there wasn't any choice.

When a Mama Grizzly runs over you, and claws you in the face, and grabs your ankle and starts chewing her way up your leg....

Well, at that point, there's not much else you can do with a Mama Grizzly. They don't much listen to reason, or worry about the fine points of acceptable behavior, and right there we pretty much have the definition of Palin, the woman of the roaring bear who agreed to title her autobiography "Going Rogue." And by the time the autobiography was written, largely and notably by someone other than Palin who doesn't write much better than a Mama Grizzly, the former governor was way past going rogue.

She'd become the number one rogue on the American political scene. It was a role that fit her well, because Mama Grizzlies are not contemplative, they're reactive. They lash out at things they don't like. They are the queens of snap judgments based on minimal information and even less thought.

Not to bad mouth snap judgments. When employed by people who study hard they can be a marvelous thing. What makes NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady so good at what they do -- and what makes being a top level NFL quarterback so hard -- is the snap judgment. Peyton and Brady are famous students of football. Before a game, they are reputed to study like scholars, and by game day, they have a profound grasp of what their opponents are likely to do in most any situation.

What makes them exceptional, what is so unique about them, is that they can subsequently use this knowledge in the game without thinking about it, because there is no time to think about it. A quarterback has to make snap judgments. A quarterback can't afford to have the gears turning in his head while he thinks because thinking in football is dangerous. Thankfully, this is not the case in politics.

Palin's great strength is that -- like great quarterbacks and Mama Grizzlies -- she is capable of making judgments without thinking. Her great weakness, of course, is that she thinks more like a Mama Grizzly than an all-pro quarterback. No one has ever called Palin "a student of the game." Not even her biggest fans use that term. Palin herself dismisses the whole idea of study because as she has said over and over and over again, all that's necessary is "common sense." That's Mama Grizzly talk. Imagine Manning or Brady saying their game plan was built on "common sense."

"Common sense" is the sort of problem-solving suggested by people with no sense. Don't believe me? How about a quick test?

OK, here we go: You're near 13,000 feet on Mount McKinley. You've just slipped on the ice, and you're sliding toward the edge of a drop-off of more than 1,000 feet to the Peters Glacier. What's the common sense thing to do keep from dying?

Experienced mountaineers will immediately know the answer to this question, but not because of common sense. They'll know because they studied how to self-arrest with an ice ax and hopefully practiced it until it became second nature. McKinley climbers will also know the importance of studying and learning because "common sense" is really of no value in the absence of knowledge.

Mama Grizzlies do not care for the distinction.

Knowledge does not matter to a Mama Grizzly. It's not part of the grizzly skill set. Neither is knowledge something about which Palin much cares. It never has been. She's always been more about reaction than thought. Her two cornerstone achievements as governor -- the big-tax plan called Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) and the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) -- weren't really about a thoughtful approach to government, they were more likely about getting even with Big Oil, an entity that had perhaps angered Palin's hubby, Todd, and his union buddies on the North Slope, and had supported a previous governor who'd picked his daughter -- not Sarah -- to fill a U.S. Senate seat.

When Sarah snatched the governor's office in Alaska, one of the first things she did was go after Big Oil like a, well, like a Mama Grizzly. AGIA, which looks increasingly to have killed any hope of a natural gas pipeline to the lower 48 instead of jump-starting construction as Palin promised, was about nothing so much as an attempt to punish Big Oil, and Palin jumped in on ACES for largely the same reason, although that plan itself was more the work of Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, and some other liberal Democrats. They lean left and believe Alaskans ought to get more than the oil companies out of the oil in the ground beneath Prudhoe Bay. It's Alaska's socialist way.

Sarah Palin has never opposed this. After all, She grew up in the 49th state, and almost everyone who grows up in Alaska believes they are entitled to money from "our oil" even though we do little or nothing to help produce it. But Palin wasn't really an advocate of Hugo Chavez-style taxes or anything until she gained power and it became obvious she could use her office to go after Big Oil. Mama Grizzlies care mainly about themselves and their cubs, and Sarah clearly thinks of Todd as one her cubs. Getting even for both of them by swatting Big Oil had to feel good.

This aggressive behavior in defense of family is one of the most predictable things about Mama Grizzlies. One of the other predictable things is that they don't care about much of anything else. Treadwell tried hard to alter this part of the grizzly's character. He spent years trying to make friends with the bears and alter their image. He wanted "to elevate the grizzly to the kindred state of the whale and dolphin." The grizzlies eventually and unfortunately went all grizzly on him. One or more of them killed and ate Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard.

This is how grizzlies behave. Most Alaskans are familiar with the animal. A handful, like Treadwell, love the bears. Another handful fear and hate the bears. And most know the bears, especially the Mama Grizzlies, are best avoided. Views on Sarah Palin in her home state these days parallel these views on grizzlies. There are a few Alaskans who love Sarah still, a few who fear and hate her, and many who would prefer to have as little as possible to do with the Mama Grizzly.

If she runs for president -- and any variety of pundits are now opining that she will -- it will be interesting to see if America catches on to what it means to be a Mama Grizzly, the animal with which Palin is clearly trying to brand herself. Don't we have enough Congressmen wasting time trying to maul each other for the littlest of reasons? Wouldn't it be nice to have a few thinking people in Washington, D.C. instead of just more critters that lash out?

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)