Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Desperate Governors

Two initial disclaimers/contextualizers.

First of all, let me say that I’m really sorry that Bristol Palin got pregnant. I’m assuming that this wasn’t a planned pregnancy, and since I wasn’t around for the consummation, I can’t really say much about what kind of discussion took place between Bristol and Levi regarding their choice of whether to use contraceptives, or whether they would have liked to use contraceptives and they weren’t readily available, or what. Fact is, we know how teenagers are.

Second of all, let’s not forget context. The fact of Bristol’s pregnancy, while reported to be an “open secret” in Wasilla, Alaska, was confirmed in an official Republican press release in order to quash a widely-circulated rumor (link is to one of many, many) that Governor Palin had pulled a Bree van de Kamp and claimed the new baby Trig as her own, when in fact the child was Bristol’s. If the point of the press release was actually to refute the rumor, rather than simply to replace it with a juicier bit of confirmed real news, then the unspoken logic was that little Bristol is unlikely to have given birth on April 18, 2008, and already be five months pregnant by August 31. And I’ll concede that the Desperate Housewives scenario desperately needed to be quashed because, if it were true, then the question of whether the candidate participated in falsifying medical records or insurance claims would necessarily arise. The Republicans might then be faced with having to ask the RNC to pick a new Vice Presidential candidate after the convention, and there would be no control over the vetting process. It’s not 1972 anymore; you can’t just pick a Sargent Shriver off the shelf.

In the same way that I’d love to have heard any conversation between President Bush and the JennaBarb twins about why they ought to volunteer for military service and go to Iraq, I’d like to have heard some of the conversations during which Governor Palin and her husband instilled enough family values, evangelical fervor and sex education to persuade Bristol that she shouldn’t have premarital sex, and that if she did then she ought to use appropriate contraception. And I don’t want to hear it for prurient reasons. Rather, I want to hear it so that I have a better understanding of how Governor Palin is going to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons when she can’t even persuade Bristol not to get pregnant by the local “f**ing redneck”. (This assumes that negotiating with a teenage girl is easier than negotiating with Iran, which may be a very untenable assumption.) So, when the candidate touts the experience of being a “hockey mom” as somehow being relevant to her qualifications to hold executive office, then it’s perfectly fair to ask whether or not she’s done a good job of being a hockey mom. Apparently, she’s done a poor job.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I agree mostly with Barack Obama that kids are off limits. An investigation into whether Senator Obama's kids are too grabby during story time would, in my view, be beyond the pale. Besides, as Senator Obama points out, he’s the son of an 18-year-old mother, so he's not one to cast aspersions on young mothers. But I don't think that looking into the Palin household's treatment of this obviously difficult issue really is about bringing the kids into the debate. Rather, the debate is about the parent's fitness to serve. Neither Senator Obama’s mother nor grandmother is running for office, and that’s the apples-to-apples comparison. So, while it may be true that there’s no cause to drag the kids into the campaign because they are innocent bystanders and there’s simply no excuse for visiting the sins of the fathers (or mothers) on the children, here Governor Palin has actually dragged the kids into the spotlight. It’s perfectly fair to ask about her parenting skills if she’s going to attempt to use her parenting skills as a selling point for her candidacy. Unfortunately, to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, Bristol is going to be the "collateral damage" of the process.

Posted by Craig Albert


Tam Ho said...

It's also perverse how people - Republicans and Democrats alike - will now equate family values with the forcing of these two high schoolers into a marriage simply because she's pregnant. It may, of course, be the case that these two are in fact very mature 17 y/os who want to and are prepared to marry anyway. Judging from excerpts from the boy's myspace page, however, this is decidedly not the case here.

So the marriage being forced upon these two kids will just add another layer of irresponsibility and complexity to an already irresponsible and complex situation and is in itself an example of Palin's poor judgment.

Michael C. Dorf said...

More broadly, despite what candidates ritually mouth, politicians routinely do things to their kids to serve their own political interests rather than the kids' interests. The most excruciating examples surely are those politicians--e.g., John McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin--whose kids volunteer for military service in wartime. Some of these kids no doubt do so out of patriotic feeling or the desire for a career in the military. But others, even without express parental pressure, will get the message that to advance their political parents' electoral prospects, they should sign up. Viewed in this light, the fact that the Bush daughters apparently felt no obligation to join the military (see contra Prince Harry) could reflect well on W's parenting. Many will suspect, however, that far from resisting pressuring his daughters to enlist to divert charges of hypocrisy from himself, the thought that asking other Americans to sacrifice sons and daughters entailed some similar obligation on himself never even occurred to W.

Robert H. said...

The Republicans last night took evident relish in comparing Palin's executive experience as dinkytown mayor and novice governor to Obama's and Biden's merely legislative experience as US Senators. Notably missing in this hoot-fest was any reference to that other legislator in the race, McCain. Here then is a question for the Republicans: Why isn't Palin heading their ticket, with the mere legislator McCain in the veep slot? Is it 'sexism?'

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