10/20/2010 04:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

True Patriot: Mama Grizzly or Barbara Jordan?

So I'm hanging around the baggage claim area in the Austin airport waiting for my husband to show up (punctuality is not one of his many assets). I'm sticking near the Barbara Jordon statue. In the Austin airport, you don't meet "under the clock." You meet "at Barbara Jordan." And then it hits me. That statue of Barbara Jordan (US Congresswoman from 1973 to 1979) is the answer to my mama grizzly problem.

Ever since Newsweek's October 4 cover story on Sarah Palin and her mama grizzly cohort, I've been stewing. As if women don't already have enough of an image problem. Mad Men captured it best: You get to be either Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe. That's all female representation in our culture can accommodate. Until now. Now we have to contend with Palin and her cadre of silly women packaging themselves as primal beasts capable only of growls and bared teeth in the service of protecting their own.

The danger of the "mama grizzly" as a public service icon is her stunted development. Violence is a primitive tactic, lacking the reason, creativity, and perspective that leadership requires. She is exclusionary, at a time when we need to tend to all our citizens. She is a vigilante, at a time when we need justice for all, not just our own. She is a reactionary, at a time when we need a visionary.

So Barbara Jordan looms more than life-size before me, taking full occupancy of a massive, square armchair. Those are very sturdy, sensible shoes she's wearing. She is deep in thought, eyes focused inward and fingers drawn together. A book is spread open on one knee, horn-rimmed glasses resting on its pages. She has just laid down that book, prompted to reflection, inspired to wisdom.

This is the image I've been searching for, an antidote to the women pols who claim that being an empty vessel is qualification to govern. I glance at the nearby label. The sculpture (by Bruce Wolfe) is titled: "Barbara Jordan, True Patriot."