Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Palin Family Values

Like you, I'm finding the media's fascination/titillation with Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter to be nauseating.

The only thing more nauseating, however, are the specious comparisons to sex scandals made by junior varsity-level pundits that usually go something like this:

"The Republicans are trying to be this holier-than-thou party that is obsessed with other people's personal lives, yet here they are with this type of thing going on in their own home. This just shows how [insert unflattering adjective here] they are."

Let me see if I get this straight:

Sarah Palin has a teenage daughter. Check.

That teenage daughter has a boyfriend. Got it.

Hormones being what they are, the teenage daughter and her teenage boyfriend have intercourse. Okay.

Biology being what it is, that act leads her teenage daughter to get pregnant. Still tracking, and still not finding either of my eyebrows raised even a nanometer.

The teenage daughter makes a personal and emotional choice to follow her heart and values and bear the child. Good copy.

So far I understood everything. But here's the part I don't get:

Where's the scandal?

First of all, no one broke any laws (unlike, say, Eliot Spitzer) and second of all, no one lied about anything (unlike, say, Bill Clinton, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Gary Hart, etc.)

On top of all this, it wasn't even the candidate herself.

No one held Bill Clinton accountable for Roger's drug involvement (and rightly so). No one made a huge deal when Al Gore's kid got busted with pot (and rightly so). And I don't think anyone should make a big deal over a 17 year-old girl doing something far more "normal," completely within the law, and then having the courage to forsake her own public image/privacy to do what she believed was the right thing.

So I just don't see the scandal here in the first place, but I especially don't see some kind of bogus moral equivalency with other, actual scandals involving leaders who hold, or seek to hold, the trust of the American public.


Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

Deleted my comment accidentally. Here it is again:

Agree completely. But after watching her speech tonight, she is using her family for political purposes. There is a strong pro-life subtext to her nomination (it's been confirmed Lieberman/Ridge were McCain's top choices, just like Hagel was probably Obama's dreamboat -- both parties cater shamelessly to their base on the abortion issue), and tonight, she spent five minutes introducing each member, concluding "no family ever seems typical" -- and then promised special-needs parents they would always have an advocate in the White House. The effect: I have a big crazy family -- and more than one member has made a decision not to terminate a pregnancy -- just like you, Joe and Joanne Bloggs. That, to me, is politicizing your family.

It's not just Palin. A couple months back Obama made a big stink to the media and McCain about leaving Michelle and his young daughters alone. A month later, they were all on the cover of People. Michelle campaigns, and his daughters were used as a clever political prop at the Convention to demonstrate his "family values."

My point is you can't use your family to bolster your political credentials (interestingly, I think both Obama and Palin use their loved ones to demonstrate their deep connection with the American people) and then complain when your family life -- and how it is conducted -- becomes a political issue.

The New Englander said...


Thanks for your post. My favorite part is this blog are the comments and the discussions they spark..good stuff, and your point about the way people want to have their cake and eat it too (i.e. family is off-limits, except when I want to use them as a political prop) is a good one.

My main point, though, is that there's no scandal in the first place. If, say, one of Sarah Palin's kids were caught running the largest drug ring in Alaska, or went on a bank robbery spree, it might be a lot more fair (but STILL not completely fair) to question her family values, her parenting, etc. Even though it wouldn't be her doing, it would still fall under the "Fair Game Doctrine" which we could write to say that if you want to use your family for cute magazine covers, speech backrops, etc. then what they do should fall under the umbrella of appropriate scrutiny.

But in the case of what happened with her daughter, my only point is that since there was neither an actual transgression nor a cover-up, there is no scandal in the first place. Of course, people are (and should be) free to talk about it, but they ought to bear in mind that what they're really screaming and yelling about is that two high-school sweethearts had intercourse and are now dealing with the consequence.

To me, that fact by itself says nothing about their character or the way they were raised.

But the way some of the punditocracy is stretching to draw these bizarre comparisons to actual cases where public figures have acted illegally and/or lied about is beyond the pale.


KMM said...

There is NO scandal; correct! It does however, make a great statement about teaching "abstinance only".

Matt said...

I agree there is no scandal. Pre-marital sex is certainly no sin (though for a funny treatment of it, watch Bill O'Reilly flip-flop on the matter about halfway through this Daily Show clip -- and if your children having sex before marriage were an example of bad parenting, nearly everyone I know would have the worst parents in the world. But I'm not sure I agree that it says nothing to do with how Bristol was raised, and it brings up a larger issue I've been trying to figure out for myself.

As both Mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska, Palin backed abstinence-only sex ed in schools. I'm not sure what she really believes past that; maybe she would rather have an increase in teen pregnancy than sex education programs. When a candidate's political beliefs have a direct influence on their personal life (or vice versa) is it fair to bring the personal stuff into the debate?

I think my answer is only insofar as it relates to a specific policy point. I think if a journalist asks Palin if Bristol's pregnancy changes her opinion of abstinence-only education in high schools that is fair. If it is used to impugn her decency as a parent, then no.

The New Englander said...

Matt and KMM,

Good points about the abstinence-only stuff -- the relevance to policy questions and even the irony itself are fair game under the *rules* we're talking about here. It seems that the issue is kind of dying down a bit now, anyway.

I have been getting in the habit of running each morning on a treadmill in my building. As you can imagine, my workspace tends to be a strong pro-Fox News bastion, but today I got a full dose of 50 minutes of CNN in the morning. Sure enough, it was just story after story about how great Barack Obama is and how terrible McCain/Palin are.

In an alternate universe where Fox and CNN merge, they could probably call themselves "Fair and Balanced" and actually mean it..


Shannon said...

I enjoyed reading the post and comments. Its always nice to hear "drama" get rationalized. Its easy for people to point fingers when someone else's business is out in the open and their own can be hidden. It really is as simple as you said it, two high school sweethearts. And put that way, anyone can relate.

It doesn't make Palin a bad mom, and at seventeen I'm sure her daughter was making her own choices. She's not a bad person or a bad American just because she had a baby. Marriage these days just doesn't work the way it must have a long time ago.

It probably would have been "easier" for her to just get an abortion, then no one would ever know or judge her and the family, but maybe life and quality of life meant more to her than what strangers think about her. It takes a strong person to decide they will take on such a tremendous responsibility, change the course of their(and their family's) life and do it under extreme criticism.

She got pregnant, there is no right or wrong at that point, just, oops didn't plan for that, ok, now what do I do?

But people do criticize. I think its a culture thing, we wait to have babies until we are older because fun, business, traveling, success and money, and marriage are so important to have first. It is a really good way to do things and I'm sure she was brought up to follow that path. When someone chooses not to follow that path its like Oh my gosh whats wrong with her. Or maybe its the "out of wedlock" thing thats freaking people out. Personally, I don't
know anyone who has waited until the honeymoon(except my mom of course, so she says)and thats ok except that if that is the majority then why are so many people pointing fingers?

I agree that there is no scandal. And the fact that her family is supportive is awesome.
I prefer to know a little about how a candidate's family members interact with each other.

The New Englander said...


Awesome post, through and through. That really has to be one of the biggest hypocrisies in our culture -- anyone who goes out and 'tsk-tsks' premarital sex is mocked/lampooned, yet people who have children out of wedlock get 'tsk-tsked' all the time.

So what is that saying? Hmmm...doesn't take a rocket surgeon to see that the equation doesn't add up!

And you're definitely right when you said that it would have been *easier* (at least in an immediate, earthly sense) for her to terminate. The reality is that's what the vast majority of people under that kind of glare from the spotlight would have done.

The bottom line is that what happened to Bristol Palin could have happened to ANYONE -- teenager or not, married or not, who had sex.

So the finger-wagging really has no place...and thankfully, it does seem to be dying down a bit in the media coverage..