(Although it may look on the surface as if this blog has become obsessed with Sarah Palin, it really is a chance for me to express some thoughts about politics in general, using her story as a hook. So I hope those who are sick of hearing about Palin will bear with me. For previous posts in this series, see here.)
By now, there cannot be a single person in the country who is not aware of the intimate details of the Palin family. We now know about Palin’s unwed daughter’s pregnancy, that this news was released by the McCain campaign to counter the rumor that this same daughter is the real mother of Palin’s youngest child who was born in April with Down’s syndrome, her husband’s DUI conviction a long time ago, the messiness of her sister’s divorce and their involvement with it, and other problems with the law. It has become a tabloid-style soap opera, putting things that should be private into the full glare of the national media spotlight, with promises of more lurid details to come.
It is important to keep in mind that none of these things reflect on Palin’s ability to govern, though how she handled them in the context of her official duties is relevant and will reveal a lot about her. Of these, the ‘troopergate’ episode is the most troubling.
Even if the suspicion that Palin pretended to be the mother of her daughter’s child is true, it is not by itself a big negative, even though it means she lied to the public. Devoted parents are willing to do extraordinary things to protect their children from harm and it will not be the first time that such subterfuges have occurred and will not be the last. If true and it was at her daughter’s request, it would suggest that Palin was willing to risk her own career to protect her daughter from public disapprobation, surely an act that one can understand and empathize with.
This kind of thing was perhaps inevitable with the choice of a relative newcomer like Sarah Palin for such a high profile role, although the sheer speed and number and scale of the revelations has taken me by surprise.
You can get away with nominating a newcomer if you or anyone you trust and respect happen to have had a long and personal relationship with them and can vouch strongly for them. But there is no indication that McCain knew her well at all since he met her for just the second time the day before he formally announced his pick. There is no indication that any of his staff knows her any better, and since they apparently limited the selection process to a very small group of people, the chances of getting input from people with deep personal knowledge of Palin became remote.
What amazes me is the claim of Palin’s supporters that all revelations about her is positive news and a cause for celebration because it shows ‘family values’ and her strong opposition to abortion. As some conservatives have pointed out, it is not a good thing for high schoolers to have children and this should not be celebrated the way that the McCain/Palin camp is doing.
As Lawrence Auster says disgustedly, conservatism for some has become a caricature, a one-note song about abortion that drowns out everything else:
All that the evangelical and Catholic conservatives care about is opposition to abortion. All that’s required for them to be happy is an illegitimate or defective pregnancy, followed by birth. They have no vision of social order, no vision of an overarching good, but have reduced all goods to the good of avoiding abortion. Which means that they embrace every kind of disorder, so long as rejection of abortion is thrown into the mix.
Jon Stewart finds example after example of this kind of unprincipled somersaulting.
This is not a new phenomenon. The Republicans are demanding that McCain’s Vietnam experience be treated like a religious talisman that must be venerated by all. But recall that John Kerry’s purple hearts received in Vietnam were attacked in 2004 and trivialized and ridiculed by Republican convention goers wearing band-aids with purple hearts drawn on them.
Similarly, Glenn Greenwald in his usual thorough way has documented how John Kerry was portrayed by right-wing media commentators as a gigolo because he married a rich woman, the heir to a ketchup fortune. And yet, this year those same people are not calling McCain a gigolo for marrying a rich heiress to a beer fortune, whose money and family connections he has used to advance his career.
I have been impressed by the ability of some of the Republican party and its conservative Christian base to pivot so quickly, suddenly celebrating things like teenage parenthood that they would have normally been swift to condemn as incontrovertible evidence of the increasing sinfulness of the nation as a result of taking prayer out of the school and teaching evolution (see this cartoon). Now because the person whom they like has these things going on in her family, we are hearing paeans for them as being ‘real people’, that such things show that the Palins represent ‘heartland values’.
I suspect that had McCain nominated someone who later was revealed to be a serial killer but who said he loved Jesus, opposed abortion, and favored policies that favored the wealthy, these same people would suddenly say that ‘real Americans’ have prison records and the ability to kill without compunction is just the kind of toughness we need in a national leader in order to deal with terrorists. They would also decry as wimps the Democratic candidates because neither had the gumption to shoot a man, just to watch him die.
More problematic is whether the McCain campaign knew all these things about Palin in advance. If they didn’t, that reflects badly on McCain and his campaign for being so sloppy in their vetting process, and on Palin’s judgment in not being aware that she must come clean because these things don’t stay hidden for long.
If McCain did know, then it becomes mystifying as to why they chose her despite these problems and why they did not reveal them right at the outset instead of being pressured to do so by rumors. Again, this is Palin’s private life but in such high profile campaigns the private inevitably becomes public and the way to deal with it is to reveal things voluntarily without being seen as forced to do so.
Although the McCain campaign said that Mr. McCain had known about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy before he asked her mother to join him on the ticket and that he did not consider it disqualifying, top aides were vague on Monday about how and when he had learned of the pregnancy, and from whom.
Another conservative Byron York of the National Review adds this perspective:
I don’t usually engage in these scenarios, but I’ll do it here. If the Obamas had a 17 year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if that they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.
When it comes to the kind of ‘families practicing traditional values’ normally loved and praised by evangelical Christians, the best example in the race is the Obama family. The only thing they are missing from being a Normal Rockwell painting is having a dog. The Obama children have been promised the latter after the election, whatever the result.
POST SCRIPT: Folsom Prison Blues
For those who might be a little puzzled by my allusion above to shooting a man just to watch him die, it was an excuse to give you the source of that famous line. You can never have too much of Johnny Cash.