Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Kathleen Parker
March 18, 2013 8:00 AM
By Patricia Sheridan Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Washington Post syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2010, and while considered a conservative, she often gives voice to more moderate thinkers. After a brief stint on television in a CNN news program with former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, she returned to concentrate on her writing. She is the author of "Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care," a book inspired by raising three sons. Ms. Parker's column recently moved from the Tribune-Review to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
What should readers expect coming to your column for the first time?
I think they should expect to be surprised. You know the way our business is set up and the way the op-ed pages are arranged, you have to have voices from the left and voices from the right. The expectation is that I am going to have a conservative point of view. While that is probably true a majority of the time, I am occasionally not in step with some of my fellow conservatives [laughing]. This is upsetting to those who have that expectation. But, alternatively, I hope it is refreshing to those people who are interested in thinking about something in possibly a new way rather than just having their preconceived notions reconfirmed.
I'm not an ideologue. When I was on TV at CNN, one of our guests came on -- he was selected because he was a conservative -- and he just jumped on me because he said, "You never say anything ideological." I do not have a specific template by which I judge all things.
I think more or less my column is a very short journey, all 750 words of it. It is a process of trying to get to a reasonable answer. I like the fact that you used the word "reason." I mean, I would hope that my column is based on reason rather than emotion or some ideological proclivity. My thought is the reader and I are sort of in it together, and we are trying to get to an answer or to a perspective that makes sense. And I am often as surprised as anyone else when I get to the end [laughing].
My life would be a lot easier if I came up with a different answer, let's face it, because every now and then I say something that is wildly unpopular. Notably the Sarah Palin column in 2008 [she said Ms. Palin was not qualified or ready to be a vice president]. As a matter of fact, I was not wrong. I rest my case.
Preaching to the choir is basically what a lot of pundits do. I am thinking Rush Limbaugh right now, but there are many.
Sure, a lot of people do that. It's about keeping your base happy, which keeps the bills paid. There is a risk in saying things that are going to turn off your fans. I find that very liberating, personally. I do not want to have to be defined by someone's expectations or feel bullied by the mob, which is the way I interpret that.
The other people I write for are people who have no voice. Traditionally journalists think of people who have no voice as society's underdogs, but in the case of the RINO column [bringing back what the right wing calls Republicans In Name Only], I am giving voice to people who feel the same way I do but who have not heard those ideas articulated before. I have gotten a huge response to that column.
There are a bunch of people out there who are more to the right of center -- generally conservative fiscally and socially a little bit more relaxed -- but they do feel they have been run out of the party. There is no place for them to land. It reminds me of when Ronald Reagan said he didn't leave the Democratic Party; the party left him. I think that is what has happened to a lot of conservatives in the Republican Party.
Do you find your job satisfying?
Most of the time. I have been writing a column now for 25 years, which makes me much older than I could possibly be, but yeah, there are times when ... the demands are relentless. As soon as you finish one you have to start thinking about the next one. But I think like most writers, I am wildly happy when I finish [laughing].
I enjoyed your column describing how newspapers and books have a connection to the natural world vs. digital media.
I am an old timer in that respect. I came up through newspapers, and at my first newspaper job we were still on typewriters. We used two sheets of paper and carbon paper, and we had a copy boy. The reason I value that so much is not only the sensory experience and the tangible hard copy at the end of the day with your name on it, but boy, it is a discipline to write well the first time. You don't get to highlight and move and delete. You have to get it right pretty much from the get go. So you really do nail down your craft. I am grateful that I had that experience.
It has changed.
Yes, and I think we are sloppier because of it. The beautiful thing about a column is you actually have time to think things through, or you should. I haven't responded well to blogging, and I haven't responded to tweeting at all. I just think anything worth saying deserves more than 140 characters. I am a deadline creature, and I do wait rather late to write, and I write quickly and pretty much once over. When I teach writing, I always tell my students you have to have fallow time in there for ideas to germinate. That means blank space and no intrusions. I feel like we are turning into insects, always very busy and noisy. I find I do much better thinking when I am away from all that noise.
You had a kind of crazy childhood.
Yes, I did. I am always surprised when people think I have had an easy ride. It's been a long one and a bumpy one. I grew up with five mothers. My mother died when I was 3, and my dad was a serial husband [laughing]. I forgive him utterly because I understand he was trying to replace my mother, which is not possible. But, by the way, I liked all my stepmothers and I'm still in touch with them. They're all still alive. He, of course, is not -- meaning you couldn't possibly live through five marriages. My childhood was unusual. The thing about children is you don't know it is unusual, and you just adapt. I was apparently a fairly resilient person.
Do you think your childhood played a part in you being a conscious observer?
Oh, yes. I kept a journal as a child. I always went to my room and wrote and wrote and wrote. I think part of that was my attempt to commune with my mother. It felt like a way to connect with this other [side], wherever that was. Of course as a child, I was very sure it was heaven. I thought maybe if I wrote I could get there. It saved me, probably, and gave me an emotional outlet for some of the confusion in my life.
When people are coming and going with the frequency that my families did, you learn to size up a situation. You become fairly watchful [laughing]. I keep wanting to write this book because there is an amazing story in there. At first I waited for my father to die. I always felt like the story doesn't belong exclusively to me. I have a brother and a sister -- it's their story, too. But I think I won't be able to rest until I've actually told it. I would like for it to be helpful to other people who have a little chaos in their lives. There is no direct path to where you want to go. It is a process. Putting one foot in front of the other gets you there eventually.
Since you wrote the book "Save the Males," has your opinion in any way changed or have you seen a shift?
"Save the Males" was a book I wrote for my three sons. I raised three boys. Two are stepsons. I mention that because they have a mother, and I have respect for that. When I had a boy, I was suddenly aware of the world through boys' eyes. It persisted throughout his childhood. At some point I wanted to put it in book form. I was kind of prompted by Maureen Dowd's book "Are Men Necessary?"
The battle between the sexes is a no-win proposition. We are all in this together, and I learned so much raising boys about men and about the male part of our human-ness and discovered they are actually quite lovely -- and trainable. Just kidding [laughing]! I wanted to give their perspective because in attempting to make the world more equitable for girls and women, the culture had become unbalanced, and ultimately what we have to seek is balance.