The Washington Post

Sarah Palin reaches milestone birthday

Sarah Palin speaks at a rally for Sarah Steelman, a candidate in Missouri’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2012. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

Sarah Palin turns 50 today. No word on how the former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor plans to celebrate. No party invitations in the mail, either, for me. Guess mine got lost. I wonder if the glowing candles on her birthday cake will be visible to people in Russia looking toward Alaska.

Palin never did say she could see Russia from her house, though. That’s about as disappointing as learning that Bogart didn’t utter, “Play it again, Sam” or Marie Antoinette never haughtily intoned, “Let them eat cake.” But according to the urban myth busters at, Tina Fey originated the infamous line on “Saturday Night Live” after Palin had been asked by Charles Gibson on ABC News Sept. 11, 2008 what she’d learned from living so close to Russia.

Palin replied, “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.” (And that is true.)

Two days later, Fey played Palin to Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton when Fey said she could see Russia from her house.

And Palin became a punchline.

Then she graduated (?) to being a celebrity after leaving politics.

I’m not sure how to categorize Palin now. She called herself a “mama grizzly” on the last campaign trail. During the 2012 primaries, she hit the road for a selected few candidates. I saw her at a you-pick-berry patch south of Kansas City, Mo., at a rally for Sarah Steelman, who lost the primary to Todd Akin (who then lost to incumbent Claire McCaskill for U.S. Senator from Missouri).

It was the first time I’d ever seen Palin in person and the crowd loved her. She knew how to work those folks, too, for the cheers and applause. She possessed a certain charisma.

I look at Palin and see lost opportunities. If her views weren’t so extreme, if she were willing to work for compromise, if she’d stuck with serving out her term as governor. And if she’d only been able to tell Katie Couric what newspapers she read…

If only. I think Palin could have been a contender.

Instead, she’s relegated to some sort of corner of celebrity-ness in our society. She’s still famous enough for Republicans like Condi Rice, Newt Gingrich, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and yes, John McCain to wish her happy birthday on a video released by conservative She-PAC. (Those Duck Dynasty people are on there, too.) tells people born Feb. 11: “You also have the power to influence and inspire others. Your perspective is unique, sometimes to the point that you rarely feel understood.”

Palin shares her birthday with a number of famous people, including actress Jennifer Aniston, singer and songwriter Sheryl Crowe and Philip Dunne — perhaps not-so-famous now — but he was an American screenwriter and film director (“The Agony and the Ecstasy” and “Forever Amber”) born in 1908 who founded the Screen Writers Guild. That’s the union for screen writers, a delicious piece of irony I find amusing in my pro-union heart.

Putting politics aside, I do love birthdays. Just ask my kids. And I think everyone deserves a celebration on their birthday, especially those that end with a zero (or two, if you make it that far). I’ll join in wishing Palin a very happy birthday. May she spend a joy-filled day surrounded by family and friends.


Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

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