Until a couple months ago, did the state of Alaska ever cross your radar? If it did, it was likely in the context of some woodsy news-of-the-weird story about a lumberjack mating with a spotted owl. Its chief exports were cute polar-bear screen savers and Northern Exposure.
Those, my friends, were the days of innocence. Little did we denizens of the Lower 48 realize how truly sleazy it is up in the great wild North. Thankfully, the Zeitgeist has since foisted upon us two specimens from the frosty Frontier State: one who looks like she failed a Hooters-trainee program and one who looks like he escaped from a meat locker. Please welcome Sarah Palin and Ted "Pruneface" Stevens, the toxic tundra twins, worse advertisements for Alaska than the Iditatrod.
Palin's instability has been well-documented, from the innocuous (the Tourette's-like repetition of the word "maverick"; debating skills gleaned from the How to Be Miss USA 1959 handbook) to the pathologically disturbing (a grudge-holding capacity on par with Richard Nixon).
Stevens is scarier, if only because he's been swindling people since before Palin shot her first moose. The 84-year-old hottie (suggested campaign slogan, "I make John McCain look spry!") is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate — ever. How's that for an epitaph? He is the type of guy who'd discuss turn-of-the-century hookers with Henry Hyde; the sort of crusty windbag who just kept getting elected over and over again, becoming richer and richer and more and more arrogant. He was an expense-account-loving, pork-barrel-spending, back-slapping hypocrite for whom morals and hubris, after a fashion, simply didn't apply. Unchallenged power will do that to you. That and senility.
Taking care of business
Stevens has been frozen into the Alaskan landscape for eons (and I do mean frozen: the man's facial expressions change less frequently than Joan Rivers blinks) having served in the Senate for 40 years. Stevens once told an Anchorage reporter that "if a man took care of himself," he could live to be 120 years old. Apparently, "taking care of himself" meant free home renovations, sled dogs, stained-glass windows, and, um, a $2695 massage chair. All gifts from his friends in Big Oil. All unreported. Live long and prosper, Ted.
The good news is that, if Stevens does live another 30-some-odd years, he'll spend them in (hopefully) jail or (consolation prize) in disgrace, as he was convicted this past week on the seven felony counts he faced for failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in free gifts, which — in addition to the items above — also included a gas grill, leather furniture, and a fish statue. "I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have," he declared. If that's the case, let's hope the old-timer is talking about his own personal octogenarian energy, and not the collective metaphorical energy of Alaska's rotten-to-the-core oil industry.
Stevens's follies are cringe-worthy, even the lawful ones. According to the Anchorage Daily News, "Prosecutors showed that Stevens and his wife, Catherine, turned his professional staff into serfs who walked the dog, fed the cat, mowed the lawn, wrapped Christmas presents, returned overdue videos." Note to Ted: Madonna gets to have an entourage. Streisand gets to have an entourage. Noble politicians who claim to fight on behalf of the humble Alaskan everyman do not. (I can understand if you need someone to push your wheelchair, or perhaps spoon-feed you applesauce. But wrapping Christmas presents? Who do you think you are, Candy Spelling?)