There are days when I read the news and spend most of my energy restraining myself from banging my head on my desk in frustration at the stupidity of certain people. Last Thursday was one of those days.
That was the day Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, decided to keep a resolution honoring the Girl Scouts in the House State Affairs Committee. Keller was chairing in the absence of Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, who left to go testify on another bill, one hopefully a better subject for contentious debate than the measure honoring the Scouts, such as “less filling vs. tastes great” or “mayonnaise vs. mustard.”
Keller held the resolution — which passed the Senate unanimously — because of some connection he saw, or thought he saw, or might have seen, on the Internet. Make no mistake, the Internet is one of the modern marvels of the late 20th Century, and it’s made information quick and easy to come by. It’s also opened the floodgates for conspiracy theorists the world over, who could never get their pet theories published and placed on the shelves of their local bookstores. And, with all these half-baked ideas floating around online, it makes getting attention for a particular one much more difficult. Blaming the Freemasons or the international Communist conspiracy for the ills of the world? That’s so dated, and everyone’s done it.
No, the new thing is taking on organizations long thought beyond reproach, such as the Girl Scouts. Keller, for reasons known only to him, tried to tie the Scouts with one of the tried -and-true boogeymen of the far right in this country, Planned Parenthood. (Of course, the reason Planned Parenthood has become such a target is a misunderstanding or misrepresentation — take your pick — of its mission, but that’s not the discussion this piece focuses on).
“I’m sure you are aware of the information that’s floating around the Internet, and I’d like to give you the opportunity to respond to your connection, the Girl Scout connection, with Planned Parenthood and the activist role in that — is there a connection? Is there not? Frankly, I haven’t looked into it but I see it’s out there. I just wondered if you want to make a statement on that,” Keller said, according to Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News.
This statement — framed somewhat as a question — is a not-so-clever rhetorical device used by those who want to take a controversial stand, but don’t quite have enough courage in their convictions to do so. When pushed back, the person making the insinuation can fall back to a position of “Hey, I was just asking.”
Which is more or less what happened. The Girl Scouts of Alaska pushed back much more respectfully than Keller had a right to expect. A post on their Facebook page stated, in part, “Our position on sensitive issues is quite clear. We take no position on the subjects of birth control or abortion and we believe these topics are best discussed between girls and their families.”
A bit of homework — which Keller admitted at the time he did not do — would have revealed the Girl Scouts of America have several partnerships with corporations, government groups and other organizations — but Planned Parenthood is not among them. And the Girl Scouts are advocates, but not for any controversial or political positions. Instead they try to use their influence to “(encourage) girls’ healthy living through combating Relational Aggression and promoting girl-positive media images; (ensure) girls feel emotionally and physically safe; promote girls’ involvement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); (develop) financial literacy skills; and (give) a voice to girls in underserved communities.” For Keller to attach through insinuation nefarious motives to such worthwhile ambitions is shameful.
Fortunately, it seems Keller got that message and took it to heart this week. The resolution honoring the Scouts — and making 2012 the Year of the Girl in Alaska — cleared committee on Tuesday and the full House on Wednesday, and now heads to Gov. Sean Parnell for what should be an easy signature.
“Parents, girls, scout leaders, moms, families, really care about the values of Girl Scouts,” Keller said, according to The Associated Press.
That’s because they really know those values and what the Girl Scouts do, Representative Keller. Perhaps the next time a chance to honor a worthwhile organization comes across your desk, you’ll either take it, or base your concerns on something other than what you might or might not have seen on the Internet.
• Ward is deputy managing editor of the Juneau Empire. The views he expresses are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Empire’s editorial board. His column will return April 19.