Johnston’s ‘Deer in the Headlights’ a cautionary tale

My daughter started sputtering as soon as she spotted the copy of Levi Johnston’s “Deer in the Headlights” on my bedroom floor.

“I can’t believe you (sputter) … paid money (sputter) … for THAT!”

Well, no, actually, it was a review copy. But after reading it, I’m much more positively disposed toward Johnston, also known as Bristol Palin’s baby papa.

The book is subtitled “My Life in Sarah Palin’s Crosshairs,” and as you might expect, there’s a lot of crossfire involved. While showing an enduring deep affection for Bristol and their son, Johnston freely dishes on her ambitious mother, telling us that Sarah is an unenthusiastic wife, unenthusiastic mother, was an unenthusiastic governor. About the only thing she really enjoys, he says, is making money, which explains her bailing on her gubernatorial seat after two years, and even her decision not to run for president. At least in her case, the financial potential clearly lies outside the public sector.

But Johnston’s book also tells us much about ourselves — as Americans and, in my case, as journalists. Picture, if you will, a 18-year-old, self-professed rough-and-ready outdoorsy type whose interests lie solely in hockey, hunting, fishing and his girlfriend. Yes, his girlfriend’s mother is the governor, but clearly in Alaska that doesn’t mean quite the same thing as it does in, say, California, or New York, where the competition for the job and the stresses that follow are much greater.

And then, suddenly, the teenager finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant (her choice, he says, because she was horrified at her mother’s own middle-age pregnancy, and the statement does seem to ring true). That’s a challenging spot, but one in which a lot of teenage boys find themselves.

But suddenly his girlfriend’s family is on the national stage, and so is he, as the baby papa. He has to change everything about himself (and, frankly, I thought he was much better-looking on the Republican Convention stage than back in his backwoodsy mode, but that’s beside the point), including the way he looks, dresses, acts. He says he even found out that he was going to be married from an RNC staffer.

Yes, he didn’t handle things all that well. Yes, he tried to exploit the situation afterward. But let’s remember this was an 18-year-old kid suddenly plunged into the freezing waters of national attention.
I think he’d have preferred an icy Alaskan lake.

And in his book, he shows a surprising maturity and humility, acknowledging his mistakes while taking us through what comes across as a cautionary tale.

The book has a back-cover blurb from MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, which reads, “I love that kid. He’s honest, he’s straightforward, he’s not embarrassed.” After reading “Deer in the Headlights,” I have to agree.  

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